David Daley’s first book, Ratf**ked, opened my eyes to the extent – and stakes – of partisan games that have infested every state. UNRIGGED, while inspiring our struggle against seemingly overwhelming forces, also reinforces the message that the closer you look, the worse party politics get. The heroes that are so deserving of the author’s praise for their hard-won victories know this oh-so-well; so do those (like me) who have fought in the trenches and lost. The Maine ranked-choice voting story was déjà vu for me, as I had seen the same thing happen with term limits in Wyoming in the 1990s. If state law happens to allow voter initiatives and we have the audacity to use them, the legislature can reverse our measure and change the rules to discourage future initiatives. Secretaries of state and judges are creatures of the party system and inclined to protect the status quo, even if they are not dedicated to enhancing their own party’s advantage. Here in Virginia, a constitutional amendment to form an independent redistricting commission was passed by the General Assembly in a nearly unanimous vote just last year. However, when the Democrats took control of both chambers in the election last fall, they had a change of heart and almost managed to kill it when it came up for a (mandatory) vote again in this year’s session. It will not become law unless voters approve it in November – which gives the Democrats at least one more opportunity to defeat it and redraw the lines to their advantage while pretending to improve the proposal.
As Daley says in his excellent Conclusion, we have entered “the polarized hell that is red versus blue.” Democracy has been broken, he says, “actively and intentionally, by partisans who put their narrow ideological interests above all else, who chose to aggressively suppress and ignore the will of the people rather than committing themselves to listen to and represent all the citizens of a vibrant and ever-changing nation.” In “a battle for power and control as ancient as our republic itself,” thousands of Americans are joining together to assert our authority. Therein lies hope that we can reverse this pernicious trend and create the bright future we yearn for.
Clearly, we share a deep belief in equal representation. I am pleased to see, in this book, documentation of threats to democracy such as voting rights discrimination against former felons, Native Americans, Hispanics, African Americans, and even college students. Most of these offenses belong to Republicans, who have not managed to appeal to these groups and, apparently, would rather avoid doing so. However, Democrats have not been champions of all voters, either. If that were the case, they would have opened their primaries in every state to welcome independents and other voters who chose not to join the party but might have wanted to support one or more of the two dozen candidates for president.
I echo Dr. Jessie Fields’ concluding remarks on this blog, which call for reforms that go beyond partisan balance and reject party control altogether. We should continue to fight injustice wherever we find it and celebrate any and all wins. But we should not lose sight of the fact that these tactical battles are being fought on terms established by our opponents. Nothing short of a revolution in voters’ attitudes about partisan power will turn the tide. While we gather evidence of specific abuses and promote our solutions, we will have to convince our fellow Americans that no, we do not have to choose red or blue, and we do not have to “lean” either. Chapter 11 of UNRIGGED, which describes the remarkable journey of ranked-choice voting in Maine, indicates Daley’s awareness that even in a state with a proud history of independent politics, real election reform is extremely difficult. I hope he will consider applying his enormous talent and energy to telling the story of independent voters in his next book.
Steve Richardson is a founding member of the Virginia Independent Voters Association. Steve is a member of the Eyes on 2020 National Cabinet.
Friends Building a Movement of, by and for the People
Do you know what I like most about David Daley’s 2020 book, UNRIGGED: How Americans are Battling Back to Save Democracy? It’s a book about my friends, some known by me personally and some not.
Do you know what else I like? I like how David Daley was able to illustrate, through examples, that “Keeping a democracy, it turns out, requires lots of work,” and he shows how ordinary people like you and me have the power to make meaningful change, and to keep fighting for government of the people, by the people, for the people — when we get push back, as inevitably happens.
Not only did I enjoy learning about some democracy reforms, or the standing up to anti-democratic legislation, in Alabama, Florida, Ohio, Kansas, North Carolina, Idaho and elsewhere, but I also had the pleasure of reading about such citizen actions I’m more familiar with, such as those in Michigan, New Hampshire, Utah and Maine.
It’s been so inspiring to learn about Katie Fahey’s work in Michigan, where she led a true bottom-up grassroots movement for redistricting reform, and to then meet Katie and feel assured that she and what she stands for is indeed “the real deal.” It’s been exciting to watch unfold, and even be a small part of, the independent voter partnership with The People, a group that is working to model this kind of successful reform mobilization by average people trying to fix what’s broken and keep our democratic republic vibrant and working for everyone.
Reading some of the details connected to Utah’s 2018 redistricting and Medicaid reforms that passed was reassuring as well. Sometimes, we wonder if fighting in the unseen trenches is even worth it. Will it ever make a real difference? But to read about the difference made by some of the people I interacted with closely a decade and two decades ago in Utah, only to discover that some of those people who I had high hopes for — but who I thought had faded away — were really still at it and were key in bringing about success in Utah, was deeply satisfying and inspiring. I was also taken aback by the telling of some of Utah’s chief opposition to democratic reforms, as I had also worked closely with some of those people in the past, before I became an independent. But . . . that’s another story. Of course, I had been following the initiatives and watched them pass with anticipation in 2018, but to read about it from an outside journalist and hear some of the details you don’t get from the typical coverage was empowering, actually.
The story in Maine is nothing short of amazing. Not only was it remarkable that they succeeded at getting enough signatures for a ranked-choice voting (RCV) ballot measure and got it passed, but to turn around and do it again when the legislature thwarted them, in the midst of intense legal challenges and freezing temperatures — with even higher percentages than the first time — is awe-inspiring. It’s an honor to have been, and to continue to be, in personal contact with Diane Russell, Kyle Bailey and Cara McCormick, as I lead NH Ranked Choice Voting, a citizen group aiming to accomplish something similar here in New Hampshire.
Daley briefly covers how democracy reform groups and voters on the ground here in NH have worked to push back on legislation aimed to suffocate the voting rights of college students. Now, with COVID19, NH citizens have been working to expand vote-by-mail. It’s also time to give greater voice and greater choice to voters via RCV. Voter Choice Massachusetts, not covered in Daley’s book, just got RCV on the ballot in MA for 2020. They’ve built one of the largest grassroots statewide movements I’ve ever seen. We’ve been working with Adam Friedman, the founder of Voter Choice Massachusetts, in addition to FairVote, the Ranked Choice Voting Resource Center, Unite America, and others. Putting some of their principles into action has helped us see some success we had been struggling to find. We learn from Fahey, Friedman, Bailey, McCormick and others that if we go directly to the people and build a people-powered movement, we can overcome the power of entrenched party interests, entrenched money interests, and entrenched special interests in general. We can finally succeed at passing reforms that strengthen our democracy.
Although the many activists Daley writes about find themselves having to keep fighting the good fight, as a victory is never the end of the road, we won’t quit. The powers that be always have more tricks up their sleeve, and never seem content to concede to “the people.” But the message of this book bids us to keep marching for democratic reforms that will help us have both greater liberty and full equality in our democratic republic. When we’re fighting for a just cause, and it’s a real movement of the people, nothing can stop it.
Something to think about in closing: one thing I noticed in the book is that most of the reforms Daley covered have been around for a while, but are just now picking up steam in the mainstream, and starting to see success. As independent voters, we support most of those reforms PLUS some reforms that are newer. . . such as “nonpartisan” primaries, fairly new to Washington and California, and are now being fought for in Florida and elsewhere; and top-four primaries that are being fought for in San Diego and Alaska. With patience and hard work, we can learn the lessons of not giving up and working to build a people’s movement around reforms that will give us all a level playing field. As Daley says in his conclusion, “Let us commit, all of us, to building a nation in which every voice is heard and carries the same weight.”
Tiani Xochitl Coleman is a mother of five, a graduate of Cornell Law School, and president of NH Independent Voters.
Politics for the People Zoom Call
with Author David Daley
Sunday, May 31st
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