Reader’s Forum — Jennifer Bullock

June 2, 2000 Pennsylvania primary elections. Jennifer Bullock in front of her polling location…locked out and banned from voting. Photo by Stephen Bouikidis

I loved reading The Politics Industry. I am on my second go around now! Thank you so much for your advocacy and articulation of the need for significant system reforms.

I am a long-time activist in the independent movement challenging the two-party stranglehold on our elections. Our group, Independent Pennsylvanians, is committed to the rights of independents to fully participate in our elections. I so much support your recommended reforms that would infuse needed innovation, let alone basic fairness and functionality to our so-called democratic process.

I am also a psychotherapist committed to helping people develop and grow into who they are becoming. I am thinking about how your signature reform of non-partisan top 5 first round/RCV second round of elections could be a way to support our political process to grow, develop, become.

I wonder about how your reform recommendation can be operationalized and adopted for on-the-ground advocacy and strategy. I question if development of the electorate is needed simultaneous to advocating for significant reforms such as top five nonpartisan primary/RCV. Some of our activists are concerned, for example, that pushing any reforms other than opening the primaries to nonpartisans will “go too far”. Of course, opening closed primaries alone does not go far enough, but do we, as voters and activists, need to be able/willing to stretch and have vision for what more we can reach for?

Jennifer Bullock is the Director of Independent Pennsylvanians, which is a proud founding member of the PA Open Primaries Coalition. She is a social therapist practicing in Philadelphia.


Politics for the People Zoom Call
With Author Katherine Gehl
Sunday, October 4th
7pm EST
Click here to RSVP!


Katherine Gehl — Our Broken Political System

On August 25th, Katherine Gehl, Founder of the Institute for Political Innovation, spoke at the Convention on Founding Principles. Katherine outlined her view on the crisis in our political system and how America could create a pathway forward where “our best days are ahead.”

“I’m not saying November 3rd isn’t consequential, it is. But I will tell anyone, regardless of the side they’re on, the same thing. No matter who is elected President on November 3rd, we won’t be on a trajectory to our very brightest days ahead because on November 4th, the political system that’s breaking our republic, that’s breaking us in two, will remain.”

“…Most of us are still in love, in love with America…with the possibility of these United States of America, imperfect yet striving. What should we do with this love of our breaking country. Let’s put it to work….”

“The only thing each party has to do to win is to convince the average voter to choose them as the lesser of two evils. The one thing neither party needs to do to win is to deliver results for the citizens, results in the public interest writ large….”

“We must change our dysfunctional election system. Which brings us right to Founding Principles, to our Constitution. Article I gives each state the power to make all the rules about their state’s congressional elections. Let’s use that power to solve our problem. Let’s change the rules of how we vote by implementing a system called Final Five Voting. Final Five Voting is a combination of open top five primaries and ranked choice voting general elections. Under this system, party primaries will no longer create a proverbial eye of the needle through which no problem solving politician could ever hope to pass. Voters for new challengers and new ideas won’t waste their votes or “spoil” the election. And the general election will be more important than the primary, as it should be. Change the rules of how we vote, thus change the incentives and change the results we get from Washington, D.C.

I like to call it free market politics. Delivering the best of what healthy free markets promise: innovation, results and accountability. Let’s not forget that the last time we had a balanced budget was…when both parties felt the competitive pressure from Ross Perot’s deficit focused 19% of the electorate. Competition delivers progress….”

You can watch Katherine’s full remarks:

Join us on Sunday, October 4th at 7 pm ET for a zoom conversation with Katherine Gehl as we explore The Politics Industry

Reader’s Forum — Denny Flaherty

A Review of The Politics Industry

Denny Flaherty

Two thumbs up! The Politics Industry is an enlightening read from Katherine M. Gehl and Michael E. Porter. It follows their 2017 paper, “Why Competition in the Politics Industry is Failing America” and examines the political, election, and legislative processes contributing to our rampant partisanship. According to the authors, these processes must be transformed to save our democracy.

Their recommendations include open non-partisan primary elections that identify the Top Five candidates. Open primaries that are designed to produce up to five candidates for the general election will increase opportunities for independent and/or “other party” candidates to get on the ballot.

These Top Five primaries then feed Final Five ranked-choice general elections. With up to five candidates, it’s unlikely one candidate will capture 50 percent of first-choice votes. In that case, vote tabulation is expanded to include first and second-choice votes. If the 50 percent requirement is still not satisfied, the tabulation is expanded again. The first candidate to garner 50 percent of votes cast is the victor.

Ranked-choice general elections eliminate plurality winners. When more than two candidates were on the ballot, the winner typically wins a plurality of votes, but less than 50 percent. Thus, the winner represents less than a majority of the electorate. To win a Final Five general election, candidates have to appeal to a broader cross-section of voters, such as independents. Often, this will necessitate taking more moderate positions on issues.

Some key questions remain. Why would our partisan duopoly accept these changes? How can Republicans and Democrats be persuaded to yield their power? The need for better government is unlikely to compel changes on its own. So, if legislation is not passed to enable these changes, other options such as legislative referenda or voter initiatives may be considered, if they are available.

According to Gehl and Porter, once 10 percent of states have implemented Top Five primaries and Final Five general elections, the victors will present a critical mass for change in both chambers. The authors also believe Final Five victors will be more moderate in their views, more open to compromise, thereby enabling more legislation to pass.

However, the authors caution that even in states with existing versions of Top Five primaries and Final Five general elections, partisan forces and special interests continue their efforts to return to partisan elections.

Still, The Politics Industry is a thought-provoking book, well worth your time.

After 30 years of active military service and 14 years in state government, Denny is retired and living in Arizona with his wife of 59 years. He served on Independent Voting’s Eyes on 2020 Cabinet and continues to advocate for structural changes in Arizona’s election processes.


Politics for the People Zoom Call
With Author Katherine Gehl
Sunday, October 4th
7pm EST
Zoom info coming soon!


UNRIGGED – A Politics for the People Conversation with David Daley

On Sunday, May 31st, over 90 people from across the country joined Politics for the People Host and Founder Cathy Stewart for an energizing conversation with David Daley about his new book UNRIGGED: How Americans are Battling Back to Save Democracy.

If you’d like to jump right in, you can watch the whole conversation in the clip below:

In response to the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police and the protests for racial justice that exploded in its wake (which, as of June 9th, are still ongoing), Cathy opened the call with a note of trepidation, saying:

I was so upset, horrified, by the killing of George Floyd in broad daylight, by the complicity and the silence of the three other officers, by the despair and the sense of hopelessness that so many people feel, and the protests which include both peaceful demonstration and acts of violence by some. So, I thought ‘What am I doing hosting a conversation about political reform? That seems at best, inadequate, and at worst, irrelevant.’”

However, she describes taking a step back in her thinking, assessing the big picture and asking others about how best to move forward. Ultimately, she decides that not only should the call take place, the call must take place, and explains her reasoning:

…we have a profound and systemic problem: the political processes that we use for self-governance are failing us, not only in some abstract sense but literally in the last 50 years of partisan politics preying on the tendency in America towards division and hatred, and exploiting that tendency to win elections and to keep elected officials in line…while I deeply care about social justice and ending poverty and healthcare…I have come to believe that unless, and until, we transform our political system and the way we choose leaders, we are going to be unable to address the profound failures in social policy and address the social and moral issues that we face.”

Before starting the conversation with David Daley, she offers one last thought to the listeners on the call:

This conversation tonight is one of many conversations across the country that Americans are having where we’re discussing and sharing and evaluating ideas and actions that we can take so that every American can live a life that is free from fear, from violence and poverty, and live in a country where the government is responsive and accountable to us.”

Watch Cathy’s full introduction to the call in the clip below:

In her first question to David Daley, Cathy recalls the last time he had joined them for a conversation on the Politics for the People blog, and asks him to catch us up to speed on the development of UNRIGGED from then to now:

I wanted to ask you to share your journey from writing Ratf**ked to writing UNRIGGED. How did you come to write a book about these citizen-led initiatives and campaigns to improve our democracy?”

Daley explains his change in thinking from writing Ratf**ked after encountering more and more people that were looking to develop solutions instead of just highlighting problems, some of whom were on that last P4P call:

As you mentioned, we did this call a couple of years ago and I often, in those days, felt as if I had this dark, stormy rain cloud over my head…I was talking about these big, systemic problems and the knots that our democracy had been tied up in and, especially after the election in 2016, I often would find myself in rooms where people wanted to talk about what they could do, and I was talking about the problem and how hard it would be. I started looking for solutions, and I heard some of those solutions on the call with all of you.”

He describes deciding to lend his voice to these growing movements for political reform, which were now far from being in short supply:

The world didn’t need another book about how democracies die – we had plenty of those. We needed a book about how determined people were to stand up and fight back for this democracy, and the examples were everywhere; all you had to do was go out and look around.”

Watch his full response in the clip below:

Cathy talks about the intimacy of the stories in the book and expresses her appreciation for Daley making the effort to be a part of these movements, giving him to ability to capture the passion and challenges experienced by the activists he writes about. She asks him:

Can you share a bit about the decision to not just report on the stories, but to actively participate and spend time in each of the key states you write about?”

In response, Daley recalls the time he spent in Idaho with activists fighting for Medicaid expansion:

It was an honor and a thrill of a lifetime to go out and ride along with these activists as they made this unbelievably amazing change. I mean, every day was amazing. And I learned so much. You know, I could have don’t these interviews from home I guess, or made a couple of phone calls, but if I had done that, I wouldn’t have had the experience of walking up this driveway in Idaho Falls, Ohio…with these activists who were determined to get Medicaid expansion on the ballot in a bright red state where it had never – legislators had no interest in going there…and we walk up this driveway and there’s this bumper sticker on this truck that says ‘Vietnam: We were winning when I left…’ But they didn’t notice it. They just marched right on up to that door and they knocked on the door and they started talking to this guy, and it turned out he and his family fell into the Medicaid gap as well. And as they talked to him, he said ‘Yes, I know about this, I’ve signed your petition, I’m voting yes.’ And it was that kind of persuasion, this kind of trans-partisan persuasion, this sort of going up and talking to your neighbors, that was the solution there in Idaho…You see the most amazing things when you go out and do this.”

Watch Daley’s full answer sharing his experiences with the reform campaigns in Idaho and Alabama:

The first question comes from Dr. Jessie Fields, who asks Daley to weigh in on ongoing campaigns for non-partisan elections, given that the efforts he writes about in his book are non-partisan and citizen driven:

I think this is a very relevant time to make the political process directly responsive to, and inclusive of, all people. David, a key feature of the initiatives that you describe in the book is that they are non-partisan, citizen-driven coalitions that include Democrats, Republicans and independents across partisan, racial and ideological divides. But when those people who have come together in this new, this inclusive way, when those people go to vote for candidates in states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Florida, and in fact in almost all the states – even the ones with open partisan primaries – they will be divided again…So, there are ongoing efforts to change the partisan, divisive structure of our elections…what are your thoughts on these campaigns for non-partisan elections?”

Daley responds:

Listen, our system is broken, and it’s broken in so many ways – around polarization, around partisanship…our party has become so closely wrapped up with identity and it’s all happened in a way that has put more pressure on the two-party system than it’s able to actually handle. And so, I think you’re right…all of these initiatives, all of these ideas are very, very popular, but our political system isn’t set up to deliver them. Part of that is our polarization. Part of that is polarization has been exacerbated by gerrymandering, and all kinds of ways in which politicians are no longer accountable to voters – indeed, they’ve become insulated from voters and they don’t need to listen…I think we need to find new and creative ways to get ourselves out of this…

Watch their full exchange in the clip below:

David Belmont poses the next Q&A question on the topic of citizens initiatives. He asks:

Dave, most of what people are able to achieve in affecting process changes in 2018 was don through the citizens’ initiative process. However, only 20 states have this process. Would you favor a national citizens initiative process? For example, if the nation had an initiative process that allowed citizens to pass constitutional amendments – 18 states have this – we could implement non-partisan redistricting for congressional elections nationwide.”

Daley responds with a cautious but concurrent answer:

I think you’re absolutely right; all of the major gains in 2018 came through the initiative and the states that don’t have that are going to have a lot harder time getting these kinds of reforms. I think we have to look pretty carefully at the initiative and I am perfectly in favor of the idea…I think we have to be careful about constitutional amendments, especially in this day and age, but I certainly think that the spirit there is absolutely right on. Whenever we can handle try to handle these issues as voters and citizens, it’s better than handling these issues filtered through politicians who have been set up in districts in which they don’t have to actually represent us.”

Watch their full exchange in the clip below:

Katie Fahey, director of The People, asks David about how to navigate change and what motivates people to devote themselves to it:

I think that in this moment you can just see and feel – all my friends, but also people I work with, talk to around the country – people so recognize the systemic problems and the failures, and they want to make change but where to channel that energy, or where to know what the right change is, is sometimes really hard…I was just wondering if you were noticing any similarities in the timing – but also, with you getting to meet so many people across the country who decided to go beyond their day jobs to want to really, sometimes, upturn their lives to try and make change, were their any similarities in those moments when people went from thoughts to action, or any other things you noticed that was similar between the people who were spearheading these things?”

Daley starts his response with:

I think if you look at what unites people, people woke up and they realized that the change they wanted to make was not beyond their ability, that they had something to offer to the process and that they could simply join in…

He then goes on to discuss the Idaho education initiative that the efforts of two grad students, who saw that their hometown needed them, took a break from their studies to fight to pass. He also cites the efforts of Desmond Meade in California and even Katie Fahey herself in Michigan, describing the creative problem solving they used to overcome obstacles they faced throughout their campaigns:

I think all of these activists realize these are big structural problems but the way to push back is one brick at a time, and that each of us have skills that can be useful to a movement. And when we start talking to our neighbors, the kind of change that can be made is sometimes change that we just can’t even imagine otherwise – and once people begin doing that, and they see what happens and how that makes them feel and the connections that get made and the power of the people, again – I think that gets kind of intoxicating.

Cathy adds:

I think what you’re describing, Dave…is that the American people are building new muscles, or muscles that we’ve forgotten that we have, and they’re the muscles of democracy and participation and owning our government and its mechanisms.

Daley wraps up the exchange responding:

We maybe didn’t think we had to use them, and honestly, when our government is functioning properly, we shouldn’t have to use them. You know, something is profoundly broken when we need to, in some ways, go to war with our own representatives over questions of representative democracy.

Watch the full conversation between the three in the clip below:

Steve Richardson prefaces his Q&A question with a quote from Daley’s book:

[Democracy has been broken] actively and intentionally by partisans who put their narrow, ideological interest 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.”

He then asks:

I believe representing all the citizens means looking beyond those who identify as party members, but the 43% of voters who as independents do not have equal rights. [Do] you agree that both major parties have failed us, and what do you think they should do to represent us?”

Daley responds:

I think a two-party system has failed us, I think these two parties have failed us and that we – the trouble is that it’s so hard to see structural ways around and through that because of all of the things that folks have identified in other questions…You see it in the voting records of members [of congress] and the ideological position of members – it’s all just gotten pushed so off to the left and to the right and you’ve lost that entire overlap in the middle where the art of politics as trying to build consensus and solve problems has just disappeared and I think we have to really re-imagine the system if we want to get a different outcome.”

Watch Daley’s full response in the clip below:

Bryce Johannes, who is also a political author, poses the next Q&A question about a national conversation:

I would like to know if the author thinks it would makes sense to have some form of a moderated national conversation about what changes are needed to make representation work…if you agree that such a discussion would make sense, also, do you have any ideas who might be able to encourage and moderate this discussion?”

Daley responds:

There’s a lot of energy around voting and democracy reforms because people are earnestly trying to repair the system. I mean, you’re asking a bigger question in some ways as to whether the system can be repaired through democracy and voting rights reform. I think a lot of us have to believe that it’s so because to not believe would probably leave us spiraling into despair. We work on what seems possible in what’s in front of us…I think we have to have a real national conversation on voting and participation. I mean, maybe that’s what comes out of all of this on the other side.”

Watch the full question and answer in the clip below:

Tiani Coleman asks her Q&A question on the timing of reform:

I’m just wondering what role you think timing plays in passing democratic reforms. I ask this because, as independents voters, we support most of the reforms that you write about and these are reforms that have been talked about for a while…and now they’re starting to pass. But as independents, we also support some of the newer reforms, such as the top-two and top-four non-partisan primaries, so I’m wondering if you think that these grassroots movements need to be in the public consciousness for a while before they take enough root to be successful with the activists, or – how can we speed up the passage of these new reforms?”

Daley highlights how the ranked choice and non-partisan systems may actually benefit the parties, and that adding that perspective may help to funnel reform through such a strongly partisan system:

The trick, I think, is that we’re trying to get these reforms passes but they have to be passed by the two parties in power in so many of these places, and that makes it super complicated because things don’t move through these legislatures if they don’t have a base in one side or the other, and as soon as these ideas have got a base on one side the other side hates it and thinks its out to get them – it’s really tricky. I think that there are ways though to have all of these conversations change. I think about Justin Amash and how he was thinking about a libertarian run for the White House and decided against it. In the weeks in which he was pondering this seriously, you had Republicans and Democrats both screaming at him that he was going to tip the election to the other side – he was going to be the spoiler…so there’s a solution here right? Ranked choice voting is a great solution here. It’s helpful for Amash and the libertarians and the independents because they get a seat at the table, in some ways, without have to be called a spoiler all the time…but it’s also good for the Democrats and the Republicans…These are reforms that I think can be cast in ways that are good for the two parties and are good for independent voters and are good for fair hold democracy.”

Cathy chimes in with her experience witnessing the fight for ranked choice voting in Maine and seeing droves of independents come out to support reform in a primary election that they could not vote in:

…I think you see something there about the character of this new community of voters – now somewhere in the order of 42% to 44% of Americans consider themselves independent. So just to add that in the mix of this very interesting moment, an engine for reform.”

Watch the full discussion in the clip below:

Next, Harry Kresky asks about the connection between political reformers and the social just protests that have been taking place in all 50 states:

…how do you reach out and overcome our own cynicism and despair and the cynicism and despair that abounds in the aftermath of the murder of Mr. Floyd, the pandemic – what do we reformers have to offer that can take on the whole picture and the social-political-moral crisis that the country is undergoing? How do we not simply want to get out in the street and protest, but how do we not simply want to get out in the street and protest, but how can we make that connection which is so important?

Daley offers his thinking in return:

I think that we have done this to ourselves…some of this does feel sort of meaningless in a moment like this – the idea that if we have ranked choice voting, we won’t have cops killing people in the street and we’ll fix centuries of institutional racism. It’s not going to happen, right? But we need a better way of solving problems, and I think that our electoral system has divided us and intentionally fomented so many of these divisions, and that if we’re able to change that system, we can at least start talking about these problems in different ways again. That’s what we need to do, we have to find a way to talk to one another in a different way and solve problems. The current way isn’t working…we’ve got a lot of work to do. These systems that we are working with are not only broken, but they’ve been wired to be deeply and profoundly – I mean, unfair is too weak of a term.”

Watch Daley’s full answer in the clip below:

The final Q&A question comes from Mike Rakowsky. He describes his experience fighting for criminal justice reform in New England and how they seemed to hit a certain point where they couldn’t take the reform any further. Now in Arizona, he asks:

In Arizona, where I am now, they have terrible restrictions on ex-offenders regaining that eligibility [to vote]. What do you see is the prospect for what has been really started strongly in Florida to have the opportunity to gain a foothold in other states across the country?”

Daley offers this response to wrap up the final question of the call:

[The Florida campaign was] able to frame the messaging in that debate around second chances and fairness and they were able to build this impressive left-right, black-white…it was a really amazing campaign…Americans understand this as being a question of fundamental fairness, and I think that’s the amazing thing about what passed in 2018. Whether we’re talking about redistricting or felon voting rights or ranked choice or Medicaid expansion – and I hope that this gives us hope as we go into 2020 and voting in a pandemic – we can do this, because to most Americans, these are still elemental questions of fairness. They’re questions of right and wrong, not right and left. They still resonate with people.”

Watch the final question in the clip below:

Watch the full conversation below:


Politics for the People Zoom Call

with Author David Daley

TONIGHT, May 31st


Daley Oped on Missouri Legislature’s attack on the will of the voters

Republicans Have a New Plan to Thwart the Will of the People


A Missouri initiative would undo voters’ preference for nonpartisan legislative districts — and perhaps shift representation itself.

By David Daley

Mr. Daley is the author of “Unrigged: How Americans Are Battling Back to Save Democracy.

May 21, 2020

When Karl Rove laid out the Republican plan to win back power by weaponizing redistricting in a March 2010 op-ed, Democrats failed to pay proper attention.

The vision set forth — called Redmap, short for the Redistricting Majority Project — proved simple yet revolutionary: In most states, legislatures control the decennial redistricting that follows the census. So in November 2010, Republicans invested tens of millions of dollars in these ordinarily sleepy local races and swept elections.

Through gerrymandering, they drew themselves huge advantages in Congress and state capitals, firewalls that have allowed Republicans in Wisconsin, North Carolina, Michigan and elsewhere to survive wave elections in which Democratic state legislative candidates won hundreds of thousands more votes.

It’s a census-year election again, and this time both sides understand the stakes. Democrats know down-ballot elections this fall are the last opportunity to close the redistricting gap before next decade’s maps are drawn.

Republicans appear to have a different strategy for 2020 — subtler, more technical and instructed by successful legal challenges that overturned Republican-drawn maps in North Carolina and Pennsylvania as unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders.

Last week, Republicans in Missouri presented a dress rehearsal of this plan. If left unchallenged, it could once again dye many states red for a decade or more.

In 2018, nonpartisan movements in five states, including Missouri, won redistricting reform via ballot initiative. (Oregon, Oklahoma and Arkansas are attempting to follow suit.)

So last week, Missouri lawmakers looked to dismantle the initiative — called Clean Missouri and supported by 62 percent of the state’s voters — that would have taken mapmaking authority away from politicians and handed it to a nonpartisan state demographer. If Republicans have their way, that demographer won’t draw a single line and control over maps will be returned to a commission of party insiders.

That’s not all they want to do, and it’s entirely likely that the fine print tucked inside this proposal will make its way into redistricting bills in Republican-controlled state capitals nationwide.

First, the new bill would add language to the state constitution that makes it harder for Missouri citizens to gain legal standing to challenge a gerrymandered map in court. Voters living in districts intentionally “packed” with members of one political party — which allows a mapmaker to hand the surrounding seats to their own side — would not be eligible to argue that their rights have been harmed by a statewide plan, because they were still able to elect a member of their choosing within their own specific district.

Second, under the new plan, if a legal challenge did make it into the courts, the state constitution would limit the remedies available to judges. A judge would not be able to throw out the entire map as unconstitutional but merely to order smaller changes to individual districts — essentially retaining most of the advantages embedded into the map by partisans.

The Clean Missouri proposal required the state demographer to draw a map that reflected Missouri’s overall political balance. The legislature’s new plan would have insiders drawing a map that prioritized compactness. In a state like Missouri, where Democratic voters are concentrated in two cities at opposite ends of the state, weighting the criteria in favor of compactness would artificially benefit the party whose voters are spread more efficiently across the state.

While the Clean Missouri plan required a map that achieved “partisan fairness” as closely as practical, the Republican plan allows for a much looser calculation of partisan fairness — which would allow for a map that is more gerrymandered than some of the nation’s most one-sided maps in Wisconsin and North Carolina.

Perhaps most dramatically, the Republican plan would open the door to drawing state legislative districts in a way that could shift the essence of representation itself. The longtime standard has been to count everyone — the total population — when drawing up equally populated legislative districts.

Republicans, however, have urged states to redistrict based on voting-age population instead — and so count only American citizens over the age of 18. What impact would this switch have? Before his death in 2018, the Republican redistricting mastermind Thomas Hofeller completed a study to assess the impact of drawing political maps that were based not on a state’s total population — the current practice virtually everywhere in the nation — but on citizens of voting age. Looking at Texas, he concluded that the switch would pull power away from cities and toward older, rural populations. It would also, he said, “be advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.”

Last summer, at the American Legislative Exchange Council’s gathering of conservative lawmakers, a panel of Republican election experts urged state legislators to redistrict based on voting-age population as well.

The redistricting wars of 2021 will not be the same as 2011. The effort in Missouri should ring alarm bells that failed to go off after what amounted to a warning from Mr. Rove 10 years ago.

Republicans are looking ahead and planning carefully. If Democrats look to win last decade’s battle and fail to fight this one, they’ll be staring at another decade in the wilderness — and America’s creep toward anti-majoritarianism will accelerate.

David Daley (@davedaley3) is the author of “UNRIGGED: How Americans Are Battling Back to Save Democracy” and “Ratf**ked: Why Your Vote Doesn’t Count.

Politics for the People Zoom Call

with Author David Daley

Sunday, May 31st


Reader’s Forum — Ben Walton and Diana Dakey

Chapter 5: Native Americans fight back

Ben Walton

Ben Walton (r) with David Daley

The story of the Navajo in San Juan County, Nevada and the Native American counties in North Dakota is a story of the endurance of patriotic spirit.

In San Juan County, Nevada, a man by the name of Gray Eyes was unlawfully removed from the ballot. This was done by city officials and representatives who claimed that Gray Eyes did not live in the state of Nevada, but Arizona, even though he had provided adequate documentation of his property and activity of his business. Ultimately, the judge ruled in favor of Gray Eyes and he was immediately reinstated on the ballot. After Grey Eyes won the election, he said to a reporter “Whatever they do, it is just a game, a political game and the only way to address it is not to give up.”

In North Dakota, the 3 counties of Sioux, Benson, and Turtle Mountain are home to more than 90% of the Native American population. New voter ID laws directly targeted the commonly known fact that reservations do not have addresses. Of course, the state was no help in trying to rectify the situation. So, in response, people began to step up. In only 25 days, leaders needed to map out and assign addresses to the homes within the reservation, print new tribal IDs and get people to the voting station. This was an incredibly daunting and expensive task, yet with the help of community leaders, volunteered resources/technology and will of the Native American community, all 3 counties responded with voter turnout that surpassed that of the 2016 presidential election.

Reverend John Floberg said it best in a radio interview:

Is this finding a loophole? If the state of North Dakota wants to play games, then we’ll find ways to do that.”

Here is what I take away from this: Representatives want to win and to stay in power, and in order to protect their seat they will create barriers for individuals and communities to vote. I do agree with standard voter ID laws, but I do not agree with the clear intent to take away the ability/accessibility to vote from any citizen in this country. The reason for the Native American situation is clear and continually taken advantage of by those who should want to enrich these communities. It’s wrong. The fighting spirit of those in Nevada and North Dakota beat to a larger drum of the good government and democracy reform movement in this country, and like many of us on here and across the country, I am proud to be a part of the fight.

Ben Walton is the Head of Program Development for The People. Prior to working for The People, Ben served as the High School and College Coordinator for Voters Not Politicians. Ben received his BA in Political Science from Aquinas College in 2018

Diana Dakey

Diana Dakey

This is an important book. Thank you to the author for inspiring others by the stories it tells, and thank you to the Politics for the People book club for this discussion.

What the book drove home is how citizens must fight for equal rights with their elected officials.

Even in states with various forms of citizen initiative, there are stories of sitting politicians raising the bar to place citizen initiatives on the ballot, challenging single-subject wording, or, most egregiously of all, undoing voter-mandated reforms.

How, upon being elected, did politicians decide they were no longer among us? Weren’t they once ordinary voters like us? How did they become corrupted by power so that power in-and-of-itself is an aim?

I blame the two-party system and its reinforcement of power plays at all levels of what should be democracy. Most importantly, when independent voters are denied a voice in the primary, we continue to elect candidates who campaign on party purity (an absurd but enduring notion.)
I am acutely and sadly aware of partisan politics in Pennsylvania, where we are engaged in a fight for redistricting reform as well as equal voting rights for independent voters.

But I am encouraged by the nationwide trend of voters to reject partisan categorization by asserting their independence and demanding equal rights as voters.

Diana Dakey is an independent voter because she rejects the notion for herself and others that voters can be ideologically categorized into some notion of what is a Republican or a Democrat, when, really, those constructs are awkward coalitions kept together by party leaders to maintain party power. Politics should be about ideas and solutions, not power. She resides in Pennsylvania.

Politics for the People Zoom Call

with Author David Daley

Sunday, May 31st


Reader’s Forum — Al Bell

Al Bell is writing some short commentary on each chapter in UNRIGGED as he reads it. Join him in his exploration of David Daley’s book.

In this installment, Al reads Chapters 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and the Conclusion.

Chapter 7: Donald Duck and Goofy No More

Let’s be clear about this. Politicians who choose to play games with our electoral system rather than doing the hard work of serving the people they allegedly represent are behaving in immoral, anti-American, duplicitous acts for which they should be deeply ashamed. That goes for lobbyists, campaign strategists, fundraising operatives, donors who contribute to such behavior and anyone else complicit in that kind of activity. They may be clever; they may even be highly intelligent. But they are patriotic dwarfs and they dishonor the very heart of the Great American Experiment.

I do not know how they find it in their wildly distorted moral code to justify such behavior.

What I do know, now that I have read this chapter of David Daley’s exceptional experience living with real American heroes for many months, is that true Americans exist and they are able to create leverage that operates far beyond their individual fighting weight. One of the most distorted legislative districts in America is—was, that is—in Pennsylvania, home to a cesspool of cartoonish characters betraying the public trust. The story of how this cabal was outmaneuvered by a piano teacher, a youth pastor, a pro bono attorney, a young number cruncher and a computer whiz. We would probably label the last two as nerds. In this case, they enabled a map to tell a truth that not even a loaded court could ignore.

One of the most impressive aspects of this tale is the amazing pivoting power of the team for the people in dealing with obstacles thrown at them by the power structure. Perhaps, in this case, the small size of the team was a blessing in disguise that allowed them to move fast and focus brilliantly.

I do not know what seed of commitment grows in Americans like the sterling examples described here, but the evidence is overwhelming that it has immense power to make the truth invulnerable to the forces seeking to conceal it. Now, this is a tale of woe for the distortionists worth reveling in!

Chapter 8: Mathematicians Enlist for Duty

The minds populating this chapter leave mine so far behind, you could wonder if they are made of the same cell structure. I do. They talk a language I will never understand and view the world through prisms I cannot perceive. And they blew apart bankrupt theories about why candidates should select voters instead of voters electing candidates.

What is even more inspiring to me—you can be inspired by what you cannot possibly understand?— is that they not only knew how to unearth the devious practices of political operatives dedicated to exploiting voters; they knew why their unprecedented application of genius mattered. In the words of one of them, “I would like some day to live in a democracy.” Yes, wouldn’t we all (well, most of us)?

Default by the Supreme Court places crafting common sense legislative district boundaries at the state level, where maps are beginning to tell the only story logic would normally require. Logic and politics, of course, have trouble occupying the same space; sort of a mental law of physics. I was particularly fascinated to learn that the secret to unraveling thousands of district map boundary schemes actually originated with the Manhattan Engineer District, the mystical organization that produced the first and second atomic bombs in 1945. Who would have guessed that this esoteric product of the world’s top physicists would come back to help rescue the nation again—this time, not from axis forces dedicated to destroy democracy from the outside, but from political forces intent on doing the same thing from the inside? Ironies abound.

Chapter 9: People Power

In a sense, the title of this chapter manifests in all of the stories related to us by Mr. Daley. One of the central messages weaving throughout the book is that people power, properly recognized, is capable of accomplishing great things, especially when the power structure is overplaying its hand.

This chapter reveals one of the more sordid features of the “stacking, packing, and cracking” strategies embodied in legislative district boundary manipulation in recent years. It entails collusion between both parties and gamesmanship to preserve representation by citizens of color that helps to create byzantine, distorted maps that intentionally avoid legitimate representation. It is more complicated than that, but the point is that party strategists are looking through the wrong end of the tube.

Competent, highly motivated, energized people are making the difference. They may or may not have a lot of experience with political matters, but that can be an advantage. They see things the traditional party players miss. What stands out to me in this chapter is the combination of extreme personal commitment—far beyond what most of us would make—and technical moxie that most of us don’t have. These are highly impactful people and they apply their talents fighting the hard knocks the system routinely delivers. We read here about real American patriots in the finest tradition of that term.

I hope I live long enough to see their names on a desk somewhere in a state or federal legislative chamber, knowing what they know, applying what they believe and heading off at the pass the lobbyists, campaign machines, bought-and-sold legislators and other ne’er-do-wells who fail to grasp that our democratic republic is actually worth treating with respect.

My sense, so far, from the stories through Chapter 8, is that we have an almost perfect trifecta of circumstances to give us hope: 1) experience with an administration that has neither the intent nor the capacity to govern; 2) a pandemic that threatens to turn reality on its head and our economy on its ass; and 3) a cadre of caring, competent, recently experienced, mostly young Americans who can make better things happen. Reminds me of the can-do desperation during World War II that enabled the US and our allies to turn back the forces of destruction. Battling Back is an apt part of David’s book. Chapter 9 admits us to the trenches.

Chapter 10: Punching Up Down-Ballot

We tend to think from top down. Who’s the leader? What is the top brass saying and doing? What’s the point in having leaders if we don’t follow them?

The only problem with this picture is that it is increasingly upside down. Some really sharp (mostly) young people figured out that the way to rebuild our democratic republic is from the foundation up. Many observers have long bemoaned declining participation in clubs, organizations, city and district offices, and similar opportunities that have historically bred candidates for higher office.

Mr. Daley tells how this came about, offers some arresting examples and, in the process, leads my mind down a rabbit hole to a scene something like this.

I’m sitting in a football stadium. It’s a practice game, but with actual opposing teams. The Dems’ team is larger, but the Repubs are still fielding all the positions. Somehow, there seem to be a lot of coaches on the field, far more on the Dem side than the Repub side. Despite this being a practice game, the stands are full of Dem party members on one side and Repub partiers on the opposite side.

The game starts and it soon becomes obvious that the Dems are rolling all over the Repubs. This must be because there are so many Dem coaches still on the field. Does the rule book allow this? It is all lost, however, on the party members in the stands. Instead of the cheering and shouting, as you would expect, they sit forlornly with their eyes sort of glazed over; witnessing, but not seeing or feeling. Almost as if they were watching a game of high-speed chess.

I ask a game official who those coaches are. Why, they are young turks who are rounding up and training players to overcome being cut out of so many games in the past. This is retribution time. And they are winning games in places they couldn’t even get tickets for, let alone play in, before.

Says me, So why is this so lopsided?

The official says, Well, it seems the Repubs spent a lot of time designing the rules so their players could run the ball unopposed. Both parties played that game, but the Repubs were much better at it.

Is that what the game is about?

Not at all, but the point wasn’t just to beat the opponents, it was to make sure their chance at winning was impossible. Who cares why? Now, those coaches are changing the ball game whether the rules change or not.

Then I snap back to the page and try to digest what a powerful sea-change is going on. This is big, on its way to becoming huge. Brought about by ultra-competent and highly energized Americans who actually believe in the Great American Experiment.

Chapter 11: Maine’s Ranked Choice

I do not know a lot about ranked choice voting. What I do know is that one of the most powerful tools we have in the U.S. is the fifty states and the experimenting they can offer in doing governance better—or at least trying. What the Maine story conveys is how entrenched power structures can sometimes do anything and everything to flaunt the will of the people they allegedly serve. It also presents evidence of how a bizarre character from out of a leadership nightmare can serve as a spark plug to ignite cumulative gases of rotting incompetence through every fault of his own. Novelists would be hard pressed to invent such a character.

The experience in Maine is powerful testimony to the resilience and persistence of highly motivated citizens in the face of immoral, cowardly and self-serving behavior by elected officials who feel their power is threatened. As it clearly deserves to be.

The Maine voting system, now finally in place, will teach us all some important things about their approach. As always, that system needs to be evaluated not only in terms of its declared intent, but also in comparison to other experiments and practices in other states.

What I think of as the Phantom Question is always appropriate, even (or, especially) when it is never consciously articulated: Compared to what? There is always a “what.”

It is also evident that it is the voters whose opinion counts. The parties and other interests certainly have a legitimate (sometimes) stake in it, but the system belongs to the voters. Let me say it again: the system belongs to the voters. Not the parties. Not the pundits. Not the naysayers. Not the lobbyists. Not the news junkies or the armchair analysts. The voters.

One could even say, the people.

Chapter 12: Youth Saves the Day

Ah, youth. I remember it well, even though it’s quite a stretch with 86 years on the odometer.

David shares with us the dynamics of an almost ubiquitous target of voter suppression: college students. They congregate, as one might imagine, on college campuses and live there or nearby most of the year for however long they are enrolled. They also have feet at home, often miles or states away.

That isn’t the real problem for control freaks who want to cut certain voters out of the pattern, though. College campuses foment thinking that often doesn’t sit well with power structures. These are young people who are figuring out who they are and what they believe. It is a time of life intentionally intense—and unpredictable. Even worse, impervious to control beyond certain practical limits. And sometimes even those boundaries are vulnerable.

We meet young people who take on the system, are lied to by duplicitous legislators, become the targets of mostly Republican kingmakers (they wish), overcome ridiculous odds, and end up not only changing voting laws, but actually getting elected!

I am reminded that several of our revolutionary leaders in 1776 were in their early 20s and some even younger. Key ally, the Marquis de Lafayette, was 19 when he commanded his first American troops.

It’s in our genes; we just forget sometimes.


I was not prepared for the conclusion.

In a just a few pages, Mr. Daley makes clear the degree to which the Republican party operates with blatant disrespect for huge swaths of Americans. I can only conclude that its leaders do not believe in the idea of America at all. The Democratic party, on the other hand, has mostly checked out of the fray, leaving citizen patriots to represent our best interests. Thus, we are confronted by the dual specters of extortion and incompetence, respectively, by our dominant political organizations, reinforced by apathy, inattention, and outright ignorance by too many of us. Only after Mr. Daley’s documented parade of extraordinary civic heroes is it possible to digest the dismal truth about the state of the union; only with those examples is it possible to envision rescuing the Great American Experiment from its darker side.

It is no wonder that some 45 percent of registered American voters are unaffiliated with the parties. The wonder is that the number isn’t 65 percent or more.

What this intrepid author has exposed by living with real Americans in action as they took on the alleged “windmills” and mostly prevailed, is that we common, everyday, regular Americans actually do have solid values that respect fairness and concern for our fellow Americans. We just need to hear the right voices more often. Which includes those who are drowned out by the noise of cynicism or silenced by partisan subterfuge. This is why the stories we just read matter so much. This is the why; they are the how—just as promised by the book’s title.

I cannot leave this page empty of the supreme irony of these times and these (mostly) younger people who are, battle by battle, saving us from ourselves. After playing a leading role in rescuing the world from the Axis onslaught decades ago and treating our devastated enemies with unprecedented decency, we have gone on to leave our children and grandchildren with a mountain of financial debt, incomprehensible environmental desecration, mindless institutional destruction, and a social fabric fraught with painful injustice and inequity. The foundation remains, but the edifice is suffering badly. Repair has never been easy, nor will it ever be.

We are reminded once again that democracy is not a spectator sport.

These spirited Americans are taking up the challenges that threaten us despite the seriously decimated inheritance we pass on to them. If we are fortunate, they will treat us in memory more generously than we deserve. In any case, they are busy forging a future that “bends the arc towards justice.” As David reminds us, that requires the loving grasp of hands that care.

I am humbled by their inherent wisdom and their demonstrated patriotism, energy, dedication, and vision. It is true we are all in this, but certainly not together. That will never be achieved. We can, however, get much closer to that ideal than we are today with leadership of Americans like these to count on and be inspired by.

I am grateful to David Daley for devoting a slice out of his life to capturing the experiences and sharing them with such gripping detail and clearly respectful insight. His contribution to the cause is certainly a gift that will keep on giving—as long as we keep on paying attention.

Late Breaking:

If ever we needed evidence that the people chronicled in this book are showing up at the right time, read two articles in the June issue of The Atlantic magazine, one about QAnon and the other about Russia’s IRA, the Internet Research Agency. They both seek to destroy America, using the freedoms we enjoy against us. While the first is internal and the second an arm of a foreign adversary, they share a similar belief about America: it deserves to be brought to its knees through the process of death by a thousand slices. The first is practicing treason, the second, subversion.”

If we combine just these two forces with successive waves of virus invasions, the decimation of our economy, the glaring evidence of our dependence upon each other in ways we have denied for decades, and the intentional cynicism of way too many of our elected leaders, as evidenced by their dedication to hijacking our votes, we do have a challenge of epic proportions.

Many Americans complain a lot and still hope for the best. Others hope for the better and step into the fray to bring that about. Unrigged is vehement applause for the latter.

Thank you, Mr. Daley. Exceptionally well done! Compelling. Pivotal—if we listen and act.

Al Bell lives in Peoria, AZ and is an activist with Independent Voters for Arizona. Al served on Independent Voting’s Eyes on 2020 National Cabinet, working to get the 2020 presidential primaries open to independents across the country.

Politics for the People Zoom Call

with Author David Daley

Sunday, May 31st


Reader’s Forum — Steve Richardson and Tiani Coleman

Steve Richardson

Steve Richardson with Jackie Salit

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

Tiani Coleman

Tiani Coleman

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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