The Politics Industry – A Politics for the People Conversation with Katherine Gehl

On Sunday, October 18th, people from across the country joined Politics for the People Host and Founder Cathy Stewart for a conversation with Katherine Gehl, coauthor of The Politics Industry: How Political Innovation Can Break Partisan Gridlock.

If you’d like to jump right into the full conversation, you can watch the video below:

Watch Cathy’s introduction of Gehl and the book below:

Cathy kicks off the conversation by asking Gehl how her experience working in the Obama administration influenced her realization that we need political innovation.

…I know that you served in President Obama’s administration, and I wanted to especially ask you what that experience was like…and how that experience contributed to your coming to this realization of the need for political innovation.”

Gehl starts off by describing her nomination to the board of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation under President Obama, and how that process ignited her critical observation of the political system:

There’s two insights for the purpose of this work. One, the senate confirmation process was a mess…my nomination, which was not at all an issue, got held up for political reasons for…about eight months, which meant that the board didn’t have the people that they needed to function optimally during that time, just for sort of political horse trading. But the other thing is that once I was on that board, I will tell you, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation was so phenomenally well run…and I felt, at the time, that it was really interesting, the disconnect between this high-delivery organization that was part of the government as compared to how we functioned in the political policy-making space.”

She then goes on to explain that her realization of the need for political innovation came more-so from development of business strategies and comparing how her business needed to function in service of her customers to how Congress functions in spite of the people’s disapproval:

…I originally developed politics industry theory, which is the basis for all this work, when I was doing my own company strategy back in 2013 and I was trying to figure out, essentially, ‘How do we sell more cheese sauce, how do I grow my company…how do I grow this company?’ And it told a story of ‘How do I make my customers happy?’ And while I was doing that, in the back of my mind…I was saying ‘Hey, how come for me to do well in my business, I have to serve my customers well, and the politics industry doesn’t?’ Meaning, Congress doesn’t have to make their customers happy – 90% of people are dissatisfied – but they seem to be doing better than ever in terms of power and revenue of their whole industry.’ And then second thing I said ‘And if I don’t do well by my customers, there’ll be new competition who will take my customers’ business from me…jeez, that never happens in politics – no matter how dissatisfied we are, we still have the same two competitors.’”

Watch Gehl’s whole answer in the video below:

Cathy frames her next question around Final-Five Voting, a reform that combines nonpartisan primaries that advance the top five vote getters to the general election with ranked choice voting in the general election.

Could you share with us the top-note reasons why you believe this is the star political innovation that could really move the needle in the way that you were just describing?”

To answer Cathy’s question, Gehl expands on the process of deciding what the most effective avenue for reform would be:

I don’t say other things aren’t important, what I say is ‘If we have to make the best choice of our time, resource, money, interest, evangelism, focus, organizing efforts, where are we going to get the most bang for the buck?’ That’s the main question. So I said ‘We don’t want to recommend out of our theory things that would be theoretically powerful, but we could never get them done.’ For example, we don’t recommend any constitutional amendments in our work. Now, certainly it’s still worth working on constitutional amendments because there will come a time when we can pass them…but it’s not the easiest path right now. So, we wanted to recommend things that were both really powerful and also really achievable, and specifically by powerful I mean what we want out of our work is that the things we change affect the likelihood that Congress will deliver legislation and policy that’s in the public interest.”

Watch Gehl’s full answer below:

Stewart and Gehl explore the role of independent voters, now 40% of the country’s electorate, when Stewart asks:

So, my question to you is to ask you how you see this community of voters as a force to drive political innovation in the country.”

Gehl responds by using the viewers on the call as an example:

What’s going to drive political innovation is people from outside the system…The innovation starts with people who choose to spend their Sunday night on a call like this thinking about how things could be different, and then a subset of these people will alter the way they spend their time in the next week, months and years. When enough people alter their time to be spending it on these innovations, which is to say getting Final-Five voting on the ballot or getting Final-Five voting in front of the state legislature, that’s how it adds up to that you win, and that the system is changed and that the results are changed.”

Watch Gehl’s full answer below:

I wanted to ask you whether you’re seeing a change in how the business community thinks about the political parties and the two-party system – what’s that looking like?”

Gehl responds:

What I think is interesting is that, at the same time as businesses and business leaders are grappling with their responsibility within capitalism to all stakeholders instead of just this traditional responsibility which has been to the bottom line – you know, shareholder financial responsibility – I think that that is opening up and sort of participating in their reawakening on what they may owe to the democracy, as well as their power there.”

Watch Gehl expand on her answer below:

The first Q&A question comes from Catana Barnes from Tennessee, who asks:

Given the severity of disunity in the United States created by the two-party voter-prison system – a.k.a. the duopoly – how do you propose creating unity without a unified local plus national effort approach to changing the rules of the game?”

Gehl responds:

…I would love to have the belief that a centrally organized, controlled, perfect organization could come together at the top, at a national level and really push this everywhere, but there are two reasons why that doesn’t happen, and the first is the nature of systems. So, if we just think of what comes first, chicken and egg…any system is just a larger version of ‘what comes first.’ So does the divisiveness come first or the parties come first or the divisiveness – and really they keep feeding back into each other. So, the rules of the game feed into the division and the division feeds into people willing to push those rules of the game even further and make them even more divisive and more unfair.”

Watch her full answer below:

David Belmont from New York talks about scholar Kermit Roosevelt’s view of the U.S. Constitution as a living document, and his assessment that partisanship is the biggest challenge in further developing it. He explains, quoting Roosevelt:

…because party loyalty now dominates over loyalty to your particular branch of government, thereby eroding the checks and balances and separation of powers critical to the continuation of constitutional law.”

David asks Gehl if she agrees with Roosevelt’s observation, to which she replies:

Yes, I agree exactly with what he said…Article 1 of this constitution that Roosevelt was talking about gives the power to change the rules of elections to every state individually – that’s what’s pretty fabulous about this. We don’t have to get the national movement to get everybody across 50 states to agree or congress to pass a law, we don’t need a constitutional amendment – we need, state by state, the state legislature to pass a bill and the governor to sign it, or in half the states, we can use a ballot initiative where the people can use signatures to get Final-Five voting on the ballot and then the citizens can vote for it.”

Watch her full reply below:

Paige Bartkowiak from Michigan asks about the idea of integrating competitiveness with government:

…it seems to me like businesses are primarily concerned with their profitability, yet government’s primary purpose is not that, so I’m wondering if you’ve considered…if there’s any concerns with using competitiveness as a marker for success just do to the business principles possibly coming into tension with our government…”

Gehl clarifies that the extent to which competitiveness would be applied would be limited to the politics industry itself, responding:

…we are never saying that government should be like a business. In fact, our work is not about government…our work is about the politics industry, which consists of private, gain-seeking organizations. I mean, everybody in the politics industry, with the exception of the actual elected officials…are mostly for-profit entities. So the media, the consultants, the pollsters, the fundraising entities, all those people have businesses and they’re making money.”

She goes on to expand even further:

I want to see a free-market politics where what it takes to be successful, what it takes to make that profit, is by getting good results out of congress for the public interest – not getting results out of congress or a gridlock that benefits only certain special interests or donors or party-controlled primary voters.”

Watch Gehl’s full explanation below:

Evelyn Dougherty from Massachusetts asks about the effort in her state to pass Amendment 2, which establishes ranked choice voting, and what the impact would be if it passed:

I know it’s not your full model, but if we win, what do you think the impact will be on Massachusetts, and actually, for the nation?”

Gehl expands on Evelyn’s question to include the effort in Alaska to pass THEIR Amendment 2, which would give the state ranked choice voting AND non-partisan top-four primary elections, and responds:

I think that, similarly as I said to Alaska, the case in Massachusetts is that these states that are making the effort to engage citizens across the state…this is a harbinger for good things, because that’s precisely what it’s gonna take in every other state in the country to change the rules.”

Watch the full conversation below:

Harry Kresky from New York asks:

What I don’t feel completely comfortable with, and I’d be eager to hear your response to this, is the suggestion that there’s a magic bullet – open primaries, top-five. I just think that our problems culturally, economically, politically, historically are just bigger than that.”

Gehl dismisses Final-Five as a magic bullet and encourages other efforts towards political reform in tandem with Final-Five:

Two comments: First, there is definitely no magic bullet, and not just because there are multiple bullets, as in multiple problems, multiple things we’re going to have to address over time, but in part because magic bullet suggests that after we get it off in its right direction…then you would really have a utopia…Winston Churchill said ‘Democracy is the worst form of government out there, except when compared to all the others.’ Meaning, government, self-government, is really hard. So, what I think is that right now in our democracy, we have – it’s messy, it’s hard and we have bad results to show for it. I think that with Final-Five voting, combined with its ancillary benefits and other things, we can have a democracy that is messy, hard and with some good results to show for all of that.”

She continues:

…the second comment, which gets more at the heart of your question, is there’s so many problems and some of them are contextual and cultural and all-encompassing and date from the founding of our country and how do we get at those? And here’s where I go back to a core tenant of strategy and business, and I’ll quote my co-founder, Michael Porter: ‘Strategy is about choosing what not to do.’ So while I know that a sufficient number of us must get involved in Final-Five voting…I definitely don’t suggest that every single person should make Final-Five voting their top priority because there are other things, there are other huge problems, that need to be fixed in the country and addressed, and lots of other people have agency and passion and leadership around those problems.”

Watch her full explanation below:

Patrick McWhortor from Arizona asks:

Do you have any sort of notions of how, once you get reform – hopefully Alaska, Massachusetts, Florida, wherever it happens – once you get it in place, of following it up with essentially an additional political movement to take advantage of the new system that hopefully will forestall – as much as possible – the parties, the powers that be…that have the capture of the current model, so that you can forestall their effort to capture the new system?”

Gehl responds:

You’re right, there’s going to be an ongoing battle – and I don’t mean that like a good versus evil battle, but just a battle – which is to say that organizations and humans will constantly optimize under the system that they’re in. So, when we change these rules, then all of those players in the political industrial complex will work to figure how they need to engage the best to do well in that system. Now my hope, candidly, is that they will find that this new politics industry doesn’t necessarily make their life worse.”

Watch her full answer below:

Jane in North Dakota asks Katherine Gehl to comment on the separation of powers in government and cites Measure 3, a ballot effort supported by the Badass Grandmas that would have established open primaries and instant run-off in North Dakota but was ultimately thrown off the ballot on a technicality:

I’d like you to talk about the separation of power and the disintegration of it.”

Gehl responds:

So, when change to the political system is made in any state – I would say, over the course of making these changes, they’re completely partisan neutral. They’re not a Trojan horse for hurting one party more or benefiting the other party more…But if one half of the duopoly has a lot more power in one state, then in that particular state, this could be seen as leveling the playing field. And although they can’t understand that we’re not talking about leveling the playing field between two, we’re talking about opening the whole thing up to open competition, the existing powers that be see change as a threat.”

Watch the full discussion below:

Gehl concludes our Politics for the People conversation with a final comment:

I have always thought that if we, not just me but any of you here, take this to our fellow citizens who love this country the way we do, they’re not going to say ‘Oh no, let’s keep it how it is. No, this thing is great. I want to keep being divided. I can’t think of anything better.’ No!”

Watch her whole statement below:

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:

Let All Voters Vote–Politics 4 the People Book Club Recording

On Monday, July 29th, Politics for the People members from 21 states joined Cathy Stewart and attorneys Jeremy Gruber, Michael Hardy, and Harry Kresky to discuss their article Let All Voters Vote: Independents and the Expansion of Voting Rights in the United States, published in The Touro Law Review. If you haven’t read it yet, you can find it here.

Listen to Cathy’s description of the article in the call’s intro:

Cathy goes on to introduce her guests and provides a little background info on them:

Cathy kicks off the interview by thanking the authors for writing such an educative article, an invaluable tool to many of the activist leaders on the call. She asks Jeremy Gruber, who spearheaded the article, and asks him why he chose this moment to write the piece, and what he hopes to accomplish by publishing it. He responds:

…in developing the idea for the article, I was really struck by how little academic literature there is on primary elections in this country generally; legal literature is almost non-existent. So, I see this article as fulfilling a core responsibility we really have as advocates, and that is to educate the public about the need for reform and the facts that are driving that need for reform, and the judiciary really fits firmly within that goal…that’s what we’re hoping to begin to address here, is to educate the judiciary a little bit more and take a step forward with their understanding of independents and the fight for equality.”

Listen to his full response:

Cathy’s next question is directed at Michael Hardy. She expresses the hope she gleaned from reading the article, as well as the sobering effect it had on her when it reiterated just how long it took for the African American community to secure full voting rights. She brings up one principle touched on in the article, that of how the legal standard of equal protection is not set in stone, and asks Michael how he believes this principle will operate in regards to voting rights for independents:

…as time always demonstrates, what may be correct yesterday is not necessarily correct today, and therefore, as we saw in the court of appeals case in Nader v. Schaffer…which was decided in 1976, in that opinion, the appeals court stated…“No one party’s primary election is completely determinative of the outcome.” Now, that may have been true in 1976 – it is not necesaarily true today…there is no doubt that the two major party primaries, today, are not just elections of particular interest, but elections of a general interest that are functioning, in essence, as arms and agents of the state, and not as private associations, and should therefore be subjected to the first amendment and the rules of due process and equal protection.”

Listen to Michael break down his statement:

In her next question, Cathy asks Harry Kresky about the tension that has formed between party rights and voter rights, and how that tension has developed over time. Harry uses the increased activism of the independent voting community as an example, stating:

I think it’s important not to think of party rights v. voter rights as an abstraction. It takes on particular meaning at various points in this history. So initially, and for some time, the interests that were actually overtly represented in the court cases were the state, various states, and the parties. One of the things that I think our movement has helped bring about is that voters, independent voters in particular, are now more actively bringing litigation and participating in litigation in their own right.”

Listen to the rest of his response:

The first P4P member question comes from Jenn Bullock, the director of Independent Pennsylvanians. She references Obergefell v. Hodges, the landmark case that established constitutional protection for same-sex marriage, and brings up a quote the article pulls from this case:

The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times.”

She asks the authors what their opinions are on how open the supreme court is to a fuller, more inclusive vision of democracy, especially considering that a majority of voters now identify as independent. Michael Hardy responds first, saying:

I think Obergefell is a great pathway to where we have to go, and more importantly…it really does speak to, at least, what we can believe is the courts continued support of that premise…but I think we’ve seen, down through time, that the court does not exist in a vacuum, and there are times throughout history (and it happened when the nation was confronting the Jim Crow laws, and Brown v. Board of Education, it happened in other voting rights election cases, of course it happened with the passing of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendment) that the nation begins to confront situations in the nation that have to be addressed, and the court becomes the arbiter of that in terms of when Congress, or the other two branches of the government, cannot really move it forward. It has really fallen to the court to open those doors so people can move forward.”

Listen to all the responses:

Zachary Boyd, a student at the New York Institute of Technology, asks the authors about the only independent presidential candidate ever elected to office, George Washington, and inquires about the effect that allocating electoral votes by district, as opposed to by state, would have on electing independent candidates. Harry Kresky responds:

The electoral college is in the constitution and it’s here to stay, but states do have the right to determine how electoral votes are allocated, and clearly, changing from a winner-take-all system by state to allocating the electoral votes, or choosing electors, on a district basis would be a very positive step because right now, an independent candidate (unless he or she achieves the majority in the state) won’t get any electoral votes. If it was allocated on a district basis, that would change immediately and dramatically, and I think it would open up a lot of positive possibilities.”

Listen to their discussion:

Ohio resident Sadie Moore Stewart puts forth the next question. She asks the authors about the constitution being written with no mention of political parties, and how elections might occur without the involvement of political parties. Harry Kresky responds to her with examples of how some states organize non-partisan elections:

Under a top-two system or a non-partisan system, which is in effect in many places…parties really are irrelevant. Voters vote for the candidate, not for the party…there are lots of non-partisan systems, and we can easily have elections without parties having a controlling role or even an identifying role.”

Jeremy Gruber also contributes his opinion to the discussion, saying:

For me, the real question is where does the power over our elections – where is that power going to originate from? Is it going to come from the people, or is it going to come from the parties? Who are going to be the gatekeepers of our elections, who are going to be the deciders of our elections, and who are going to be the participants in our elections? For me, the parties have developed this unusual and really destructive role as gatekeepers of our elections…what we’re trying to reach is a new way forward that is really connected to a lot of the other reforms that Americans around the country are pursuing, and that is to put the people, the American people, firmly back in charge over their own elections, over their own government, and to get the gatekeepers, frankly, out of the way.”

Listen to the full discussion:

Dr. Jessie Fields asks about the roll of “gatekeeper” that parties play in elections. She discusses the difficulty our country has in removing that role, with some states holding non-partisan elections, and some merely holding open partisan-primaries. She asks the authors to define the distinction between eliminating partisan gatekeepers and holding non-partisan elections, and letting parties maintain their roll as gatekeeper with open partisan-primaries. Jeremy Gruber responds first, saying:

Partisan open primaries are an important first step. They let every voter participate in an election, but as you note, they still allow the parties to remain the gatekeepers, and as a result, they aren’t nearly as transformative in terms of a political culture that can develop in states like California and Washington and Nebraska for state legislative races, where the non-partisan system isn’t just about letting all voters vote, but it creates a whole new level of accountability, a whole new political culture, that allows different factions to work together without fear of retribution from the party leaders, and a whole new level of productivity that can occur as a result.”

Michael Hardy adds:

…the parties, again, are structures by which, technically, exist to serve the interests of the people that are being governed, if you will, and their ability to create the backwards partisanship, the negative partisanship, the partisanship that really doesn’t serve the interests of the residents of the districts, the states, and the nation that may associate with that party, are empowered when they can control who participates and who doesn’t…I think having both top two and/or open party primaries brings about that kind of change where the parties have to become more responsive to the will of the people and the will of the voters – and the needs of the citizens.”

Listen to the full conversation here:

Steve Richardson asks the authors about constitutional challenges made against requiring to indicate party affiliation when they register to vote. He says of the issue:

I am hoping that one of you gentlemen has heard or can speak to whether there’s been a court challenge to the constitutionality of voter registration requirements to indicate party affiliation or not. The only conceivable purpose I can see for asking that question is to permit discrimination or exclusion.”

Harry Kresky gives a somewhat sobering response:

In several of the cases that have occurred in recent years, the issue of whether or not requiring people to register into a party (which many states do) violates people’s right to privacy has been raised, and has been rejected.”

When Steve goes on to clarify that he’s asking whether the question of affiliation should even be allowed to be asked during registration, Michael Hardy jumps in, saying:

It’s an idea to strive for, and I’m not just saying that to put it off into the future. But I think again, unfortunately, you’re also dealing with the structure that is there and the ways in which you can dismantle it, and in many states, the structures are the two parties, and whether there’s an open primary process or not, you have to register…there are states where you don’t have to indicate your affiliation, but then again, depending on the laws of that state, it may prevent you from having a meaningful vote.”

Listen to the full discussion:

Listener Michael Maxsenti asks the next question in regards to empowering the independent movement:

As a campaign issue to empower the independent movement, what could an individual congressional representative do to help move this process of opening up our federal election primaries?”

The authors respond by suggesting the re-introduction of Congressman John Delaney’s bill to open federal elections, and discuss how more elected officials are taking a public stance in support of independents’ right to vote. Jeremy Gruber says:

We need more and more elected officials, and more and more are, taking public stands in support of the right of independents to vote, in support of a more open system. We’re seeing more legislators across the country doing that, and it’s having a real effect.”

Listen to his full response:

The next question was from a Las Cruces, New Mexico participant. He described his experience moving from Nebraska and realizing that in his new state, he was not allowed to vote in partisan primaries. He asked the authors to speak on the control major parties have over ballot access for non-major party candidates, something he has witnessed in New Mexico’s election system. Harry Kresky gave the following explanation:

The parties control ballot access in a variety of different ways. The legislature decides how many signatures a person needs to get on the ballot. In almost every state, it’s easier to get on a party primary ballot than it is to get on a general election ballot as an independent. The parties in some states, including New York, have engineered takeovers of minor parties by either raiding them by having people join them, or by making deals with leaders of minor parties in which they allow party members to carry their petition and in exchange for that, support party candidates. Those are some of the ways in which the major parties, through the control of ballot access, disadvantage independents and minor parties.”

Listen to the full discussion:

We close out the questions with one from Al Bell calling in from Arizona. He notes that parties are in the process of dying, and wonders what would become of them if unrestricted voting rights for independent voters were achieved. Jeremy Gruber expresses his hope that parties would continue as participants in the election process as opposed to gatekeepers, organizing voters and educating them on the voting process:

…parties play a role in organizing people. People organize themselves, that’s how parties first developed. I would like to see parties play a role as participants in these elections, in educating the public, in organizing the public, but not in running our elections and not being the gatekeepers of our elections. I think that is where the growth of the parties has become harmful to our democratic evolution.”

Listen to their conversation below:

You can listen to the full call below:

P4P Call TONIGHT & Reader’s Forum — Nancy Hanks

I come to issues of democracy and voting rights as a grassroots political activist, and I’m not in the habit of reading legal briefs or articles with no less than 389 citations of court cases!  In this case, I took the plunge and couldn’t put it down.

This frame-by-frame panorama of the fight for democracy in American history by authors Gruber, Hardy, and Kresky  is stunning. The detail is both heart wrenching and heart warming, maddening and inspiring. Indeed, this article, as the history that produced it, is truly from the heart.
The Tuoro Law Review article begins:

“For Americans, the issue of sovereignty and the legitimacy of government rests on the consent of the people and that consent is expressed through the ballot box. Indeed, the right to vote is deeply valued by the public: An overwhelming 91% say that they consider the right to vote as essential to their own personal sense of freedom.”

Thank you, gentlemen, for your passion and dedication! Let’s hope that the courts and litigants hear you. Certainly the American people have heard the call and have fought for fair and free elections as a fundamental right in our democracy since the beginning. My guess is that we’re not about to give up that fight.

Nancy is a long-time community organizer in the independent and developmental cultural movements. Born and raised in Northeast Arkansas under segregation in the 1950s and 1960s, she now lives in Philadelphia, where she is a member of and activist with PA Independents.


Politics for the People

Conference Call Tonight

Let All Voters Vote: Independents and the Expansion of Voting Rights in the United States

With Authors

Lawyer Triptic


Monday, July 29th at 8:30 pm EST.
Call in number: 605-313-5156
Passcode 767775#


Reader’s Forum — Steve Hough

Steve Hough receiving an Anti-Corruption Award from Stephanie Harris, 2017

“The recognition of the rights of unaffiliated voters is a new frontier in the civil rights/voting rights struggle.”

I agree.

Voters in my home state of Florida just approved a constitutional amendment to automatically restore the voting rights of most felons once completing their sentences. Although the state legislature has passed a bill redefining the “completion” of a sentence, the amendment potentially restores the franchise to 1.5 million citizens. In our state, 3.6 million voters are registered without a party affiliation and are therefore barred from voting in the most important elections- the primaries.

“The direct primary was one of several measures instituted by the Progressive movement in the early twentieth century to destroy what they viewed as “the corrupt alliance” between wealthy special interests and the political machine.”

There is no argument that the implementation of a primary system for selecting party nominees was a reform in its time but due to a shift in demographics, including the trend of voters registering without party affiliation, new reforms are required for the very reason primaries were originally devised. While some of the blame can be placed on voluntary low participation rates, excluding millions of independents leaves “representatives” accountable only to the tiniest portion of the population.

Those voting in primaries tend to be the most active, and the most partisan. In many cases their votes are dependent on hardline positions on social issues. In order for lawmakers to avoid being “primaried”, they must adhere to these hardline positions. While that can lead to inflexibility on particular issues, it also frees legislators to pretty much do as they please in other areas as long as their base of primary voters is appeased. When that is the case, the same “corrupt alliances” thrive.

“Illustrative of this point is the 2016 presidential primary, wherein 14% of eligible voters—9% of the whole nation— voted for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton as the nominees, but half of the primary voters chose other candidates.”

While Donald Trump prevailed in the presidential race, there were multiple obstacles which helped deny Bernie Sanders the Democratic nomination- one of which was the inability of many independent Sanders supporters to cast a vote in a primary. Donald Trump now operates in our highest government position as if he only need be accountable to the primary voters responsible for his nomination.

“What is significant about the reapportionment cases is that they rested on the proposition that each and every voter was entitled to equal treatment. A voter’s status was independent of race, gender or sexual preference. The Court did not say if you want your vote to count more, then move to farm country. Voter equality was recognized as an undeniable right of citizenship. If that is the case, then the choice to remain free of party affiliation cannot deprive a voter of full participation in every phase of the electoral process. The state can no more condition a voter’s right to vote in the primary phase of the electoral process on party affiliation than it could condition it on race, gender or sexual preference. The only status that matters is citizenship. And all citizens must be treated equally and as fully enfranchised.”

I enjoyed the read, and I thank the authors for their time and dedication. The article presented a good history of voting in our country and the struggles to extend the right to all citizens. I also enjoyed learning of numerous related court cases that have shaped our present-day electoral system. As a result, I am more cognizant of the role played by the judicial branch in settling disputes, and I have a greater appreciation of the need for the judiciary to assess independent voting rights in the context of the new political demographics where the rights of citizenship, and a duty to insure equal treatment, is the primary concern of the court.

Steve Hough is a lifelong independent and became an activist for political reform after retiring as an accountant. He is the director of Florida Fair and Open Primaries.


Politics for the People

Conference Call

Let All Voters Vote: Independents and the Expansion of Voting Rights in the United States

With Authors

Lawyer Triptic


Monday, July 29th at 8:30 pm EST.
Call in number: 605-313-5156
Passcode 767775#


Reader’s Forum — Al Bell

This report is a highly useful summary of key legal milestones in the long, winding, arduous road toward universal voting rights for all qualified American voters. We have long paid a terrible price for sliding into the partisan practice George Washington warned us about in his Farewell Address. But that is where we have been ever since he left office.

The authors start out by positing the question, Who are the people and to whom is the right to vote extended. That is, indeed, the right question. The answer has been a moving target.

The tale is a sad one, accented along the way with manipulation by those who believe they are superior to everyone else in managing the Nation’s affairs. Challenges to their power are viewed as evil attacks on their ideological fortresses. There is more along this line, of course, but we all know that litany.

My focus is on the conclusion. Here are some key points I get from it.

At issue is how we eliminate barriers to voting in achieving “equal voting rights for all.” It took us until 1924 to get there legally and we are still struggling to make the fact real. That tells us something about the real world as well as the robed halls of jurisprudence.

Two broad categories of cases inform the situation: 1) white primary cases, aimed at disenfranchising poor and (mainly) black voters by arbitrary rules, and 2) malapportionment cases that affirm “voter equality…as an undeniable right of citizenship.” That achievement is
diminished by large-scale exploitation of voters by the two major parties.

Two sentences leap out at me: The only [voter] status that matters is citizenship. And all citizens must be treated equally and as fully enfranchised. If you meet the basic qualifications (e.g., age and
residency) you should be allowed to vote in all phases of the election process that are funded with tax money. That is the battle we are waging in several states regarding the Presidential Preference Election.

The cases reviewed paint a picture of fractured and tortured thinking within our legal system, as manifested in various court decisions, findings, and dissents. The hope is that this report will become a useful tool in sorting all of that out, and eventually, getting clarity established by the Supreme Court.

The Democratic and Republican parties have been conducting an ongoing war on voter rights, despite their becoming universal almost a hundred years ago. I note that it took 123 years for women to gain voting rights nationwide. Maybe we can beat that record by a decade or two.

The elephant in the room is this. America is at war with itself. That is reflected in and aggressively fostered by the parties. Our Nation is bleeding from 10,000 self-inflicted cuts and the parties seem to believe that we have an unlimited supply of blood. Many other democracies are doing the same. We are just the first and most robust democratic republic on the world stage and you would think we would treat that remarkable truth with a little more respect. Our beacon of light is flickering madly in a hurricane of our own making.

Which leads me to a final point that actually appears in a potent op-ed authored by two of the three authors (Jeremy Gruber and Harry Kresky) in The Hill. Its message: be careful what you ask for. How can we insure that the voting process is not manipulated by partisan gamesmanship?

The paper’s authors, instead, ask, “How can we avoid embedding parties in the Constitution via statutes that trade piecemeal gains for long-term controlling status that was never intended and should never be granted?

The article wraps up with this: The decision in Rucho (calling cracking and packing a political issue and not a legal one) very well may be discouraging for those seeking to curb hyper-partisan gerrymandering. But changing focus to addressing party control of the electoral process in all forms will have more powerful and lasting effects.

Indeed. This insight, combined with the documentation of applicable legal history in the larger report, offers an excellent resource for those of us who are engaged in gaining unrestricted voting rights for independent voters, state by state, county by county, district by district.

It turns out, we are not just trying to protect voters from predatory parties, we are trying to protect the Constitution from them as well.

Al Bell lives in Peoria, AZ and is an activist with Independent Voters for Arizona. Al is a member of 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

Conference Call

Let All Voters Vote: Independents and the Expansion of Voting Rights in the United States

With Authors Jeremy Gruber, Michael A. Hardy, & Harry Kresky


Monday, July 29th at 8:30 pm EST.
Call in number: 605-313-5156
Passcode 767775#


Reader’s Forum — Dr. Jessie Fields

Dr. Jessie Fields (Center)

Let All Voters Vote: Independents and the Expansion of Voting Rights in the United States by Jeremy Gruber, Michael Hardy, and Harry Kresky.

This is a comprehensive law review article that helps us understand where we are in terms of constitutional law in the current battle for equal voting rights for unaffiliated voters.

The U. S. Constitution begins, “We the people of these United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America.” The active subject in this sentence is we the people.

It was Abraham Lincoln, whose Gettysburg Address is aptly quoted in the first paragraph of the article, who pointed out that free blacks were among the voters who ratified the Constitution in 1787. It is the right to vote that is the most basic unit of citizenship and American history can be viewed through the nation’s long and ongoing struggle to extend that right equally to all of its people.

Throughout the article the lawyers, Jeremy Gruber, Michael Hardy and Harry Kresky, emphasize the identification and protection of fundamental rights as an enduring part of the judicial duty to interpret the Constitution. They state that the fundamental principles of equality and freedom of association including the freedom of voters to choose not to affiliate with a political party are violated by the closed partisan primary system in which only members of the two major parties can participate in the selection of candidates who will appear on the general election ballot.

The article outlines the constitutional principles for equal voting rights for unaffiliated voters in primary elections and raises questions about the fundamental structural bias of party control of our elections. Included in the article is a review of the conflicting precedent over a party’s right to limit participation in its primaries…The inconsistent treatment of party primaries stands in contrast to cases treating equality of voting power as paramount.

In Tashjian v Republican Party of Connecticut the Supreme Court’s ruling supported “the right of the party’s members to determine for themselves with whom they will associate and whose support they will seek, in their quest for political success.” The Tashijian ruling made clear that the state could not compel a party to restrict primary voting to party members. However, the question of whether a state could compel a party to open its primary to unaffiliated voters remained unanswered by the Supreme Court.

The review points out that the Supreme Court has been willing to extend greater protection to a political party’s right of association than to the association rights of the individual voter.

It has always seemed to me ideal to move beyond partisan primary elections altogether to a nonpartisan system that gives all voters equal voting rights to vote among all the candidates and takes elections out of the confines of partisan gate keeping and political party control. Examples of nonpartisan public elections of the top two California model come to mind.

The last paragraph of the law review article states, “This article, we hope, demonstrated that the right of unaffiliated voters to vote, and to vote in what are now closed primaries, is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person and her rights to freedom of speech and association under the First Amendment, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

One of the many brilliant accomplishments of this law review article is that it lays out the future usefulness of its arguments on behalf of voting rights and freedom in the further development of American democracy. Such legal foresight has been key to advances in civil and voting rights in cases such as Brown v Board of Education and Smith v Allwright, which found racial segregation in the Democratic Primary to be unconstitutional.

I know the authors to be lawyers whose work even beyond this article has made enduring contributions to the cause of a more perfect and just union.

Dr. Jessie Fields is a physician practicing in Harlem, a leader in the New York City Independence Clubs, and a board member of the All Stars Project and Open Primaries.


Politics for the People

Conference Call

Let All Voters Vote: Independents and the Expansion of Voting Rights in the United States

With Authors Jeremy Gruber, Michael A. Hardy, & Harry Kresky


Monday, July 29th at 8:30 pm EST.
Call in number: 605-313-5156
Passcode 767775#


Reader’s Forum — Frank Fear

Frank Fear responds to the Gruber/Kresky The Hill Oped and Let All Voters Vote.

Gerrymandered to Death

Didn’t We Draw Crazy Maps in Grade School?

Here’s my rendition of Italy, drawn in 5th Grade. That’s a fib, even though it could be true. I didn’t draw this map. Politicians did. It’s a map of Florida’s heavily gerrymandered 5th Congressional District.

Christopher Ingraham sees it as an example of ‘a crime against geography.” How so? Politicians toy with democracy, configuring districts to get an advantage in the electoral process.

Frank Fear

Michigan’s Bob LaBrant is an example. LaBrant wrote a boastful book, Pac Man: A Memoir, about how he tilted Michigan’s Congressional districts in the Republican’s favor. In doing so, LaBrant subverted the electoral system for partisan purposes.

A subversive activity, such as gerrymandering, is even worse when it starts being interpreted by the public as ‘normal.’ That happens when a situation persists over an extended period of time (as gerrymandering has in Michigan). The more something hangs around (I call it my ‘Hanging around Theory’), the more it seems okay. Some people forget how things were done previously, and others are too young to have experienced ‘before.’ Voilà! It gets normalized.

The big question is how to change a subverted system. As a general rule, never expect the subverting party to budge much, if at all. The subverter isn’t going to risk losing hard-won gains. So other options need to be pursued, including legal/court action, state and federal legislation, activist organizing, and policy modification/changes. A combo approach is often best.

But no matter the route, any action must be based on a solid understanding of what’s happening, why, and which options are sensible, workable, and philosophically compatible. And when it comes to the fight for electoral reform, that’s what Jeremy Gruber, Harry Kresky, and Michael Hardy offer in their Touro Law Review article, and what Gruber and Kresky do likewise in their piece published in The Hill.

Their work is an excellent example of what it takes to make change possible. The big lesson is this: a situation can’t be taken at face value. Reality is nuanced. Gruber and Kresky tell us that when it comes to electoral reform. “The accepted approach to electoral reform has been to concede control of our electoral system to the two major parties,” the authors write, “while using legislatures and the courts to smooth over the excesses as a consequence.”

What’s wrong with taking that approach? “It has contributed significantly to the deterioration of democratic governance,” Gruber and Kresky conclude. How so? The penchant “to create boundaries, regulations, and limits” (to negate gerrymandered excesses) affirms party rule. And that’s a mistake. After all, the authors write, parties are “private organizations with no constitutional basis and interests separate from the body politic.”

The authors speak directly to those who decried the recent Supreme Court decision, Rucho v. Common Cause, which let stand partisan gerrymandering in Maryland (by Democrats) and North Carolina (by Republicans). Yes, the Court’s decision seemed to put a crimp in the gerrymandering reform movement as it is often undertaken, but it also opened the door to ending the dominant approach to electoral reform, which is party-based. Reducing party influence is the real prize, the authors contend—not just for all Americans, but for Independents, especially.

“Meaningful political participation requires the opportunity to influence electoral outcomes and cannot be predicated on one’s membership in one of the two major political parties,“ Gruber et al. write in their law review. It’s particularly troubling when millions of Independents are denied the right of voting access—as they are in many primary elections across the country—because of their decision NOT to affiliate as either Democrat or Republican.

Equal protection (under the law) is violated, the authors continue, “when the electoral system is arranged in a manner that will consistently degrade a voter’s or a group of voters’ influence in the political process.” It means that unaffiliated voters become second-class citizens in electoral terms. “Segregating unaffiliated voters, preventing them from meaningful participation in the primaries,” say Gruber et al. “is inherently unequal and deprives them of what is due them under the Constitution.”

Activists, litigants, and the courts can all benefit from reading and acting on what these authors offer. Theirs is a critical interpretation of those core words of democracy, “One person, One vote.”

Frank A. Fear is professor emeritus, Michigan State University, where he served as a faculty member for thirty years and worked in various administrative positions for nearly twenty years. Frank also writes about issues that intersect sport and society.


Politics for the People

Conference Call

Let All Voters Vote: Independents and the Expansion of Voting Rights in the United States

With Authors Jeremy Gruber, Michael A. Hardy, & Harry Kresky


Monday, July 29th at 8:30 pm EST.
Call in number: 605-313-5156
Passcode 767775#


Electoral reform should not further entrench the political parties

Jeremy Gruber and Harry Kresky weighed in on the recent Supreme Court ruling on partisan gerrymandering with an oped in The Hill.

Please join us on Monday, July 29th when we will be talking with both Jeremy and Harry, along with Michael Hardy about their Touro Law Review article, Let All Voters Vote.


07/10/19 03:00 PM EDT

The recent Supreme Court decision in Rucho v. Common Cause, which let stand partisan gerrymanders by Democrats in Maryland and Republicans in North Carolina, may put an end to the dominant approach to electoral reform in the United States. That’s not a bad thing.

For far too long, the accepted approach to electoral reform has been to concede control of our electoral system to the two major parties, while using legislatures and the courts to smooth over the excesses that came as a consequence. But political parties are private organizations with no constitutional basis and interests separate from the body politic. And while this approach to reform — continue the partisan electoral process, but create boundaries, regulations and limits — has allowed for considerable progress for individual rights in this country, it also has contributed significantly to the deterioration of democratic governance.

Consider, for example, the “white primary” line of cases. Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision in Smith v. Allwright, the political parties in several states excluded African Americans from voting in primary elections. Reformers argued that, where the selection of candidates for public office is entrusted by statute to political parties, a political party in making its selection at a primary election is a state agency and, consequently, may not under the 15th Amendment exclude African Americans. In Smith, the courts finally agreed that African Americans must be allowed to fully participate in primary elections.

A critically important outcome, clearly, but in failing to challenge the state’s entrustment of the first round of elections to the political parties in the first place, this case and others that have built upon it since have helped solidify the Supreme Court’s support for private party control over primary elections for decades.

Campaign finance reform likewise acquiesced to two-party dominance. In New York, for example, a major-party candidate gets matching funds in both the primary round and the general election. Independent and minor-party candidates receive public funding only for the general election. In Connecticut, a public finding program that favored major-party candidates was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 2010, rejecting a challenge by the Green Party.

Republicans and Democrats have used their positions to exclude independent voters from taxpayer-funded and state-administered primary elections even as the numbers of such voters have grown to exceed that of party voters themselves. The second-class status of voters who opt not to join one of the major political parties contributes heavily to the election of unrepresentative and hyper-partisan politicians and the failure to make meaningful progress on critical issues facing our country from immigration to climate change.

Jurisprudence in the area of gerrymandering rests on the constitutional principle of “one person, one vote.” This means that each congressional or legislative district must have roughly the same number of voters. And, even if that standard is met, the Supreme Court has struck down gerrymandering that seeks to minimize the voting power of African Americans and other people of color. However, on the subject of gerrymandering designed to allow the dominant party to elect a greater percentage of legislative and congressional delegations than their level of support statewide, the Supreme Court majority in Rucho held that it was a political question, not a legal one.

It’s a setback for the gerrymandering reform movement. But had the court decided differently, it would have given formal, constitutional sanction to political parties, by requiring that districts be drawn with an eye not just to representing every voter fairly, but to representing each party fairly. Such a result would have prevented extreme partisan gerrymandering, but at a cost: giving the parties unprecedented constitutional status and protection.

At a time when 40 percent of voters self-identify as independents, the granting of constitutional protection and legitimacy to the major parties as the gatekeepers of what is fair and democratic would be particularly troubling.

The gerrymandering reform movement already is pursuing the important goal of depoliticizing the redistricting process by promoting the creation of nonpartisan redistricting commissions. By wide margins, voters have supported the creation of such commissions via referendum. Nonpartisan redistricting commissions — in place in eight states — focus on the rights of voters and the goal of competitive elections, regardless of partisan affiliation or non-affiliation and regardless of partisan interests, extreme or not.

The decision in Rucho very well may be discouraging for those seeking to curb hyper-partisan gerrymandering. But changing focus to addressing party control of the electoral process in all forms will have more powerful and lasting effects.

Jeremy Gruber is senior vice president of Open Primaries. Harry Kresky practices law in New York City and is counsel to They, along with Michael Hardy, are the authors of “Let All Voters Vote: Independents and the Expansion of Voting Rights in the United States” (Touro Law Review, 2019).


Politics for the People

Conference Call

Let All Voters Vote: Independents and the Expansion of Voting Rights in the United States

With Authors Jeremy Gruber, Michael A. Hardy, & Harry Kresky


Monday, July 29th at 8:30 pm EST.
Call in number: 605-313-5156
Passcode 767775#


Reader’s Forum — Tiani Coleman

The Day Will Come

Tiani Coleman

I envision that someday, before I die, I’ll be able to beam with satisfaction that the U.S. Supreme Court has more fully recognized the rights of unaffiliated voters in our nation’s ongoing struggle to achieve full and equal voting rights for all of its citizens. And this Touro Law Review article, Let All Voters Vote: Independents and the Expansion of Voting Rights in the United States by Jeremy Gruber, Michael A. Hardy, & Harry Kresky will be pivotal, as a key turning point in that noble fight.

I remember when the light went on for me: once I saw that electoral reform to expand voting access for unaffiliated voters wasn’t just “a nice idea,” “a self-interested cause for independent voters,” “an intriguing challenge,” – but that this was actually a constitutional issue, a civil rights issue for a whole segment of the population who are being disenfranchised, and it’s central to the preservation of our Democracy – I could no longer rest, or “move on to other issues.”

For me, it started with a simple question posed to me in 2011, unbeknownst to the questioner. Up until that point, I had become personally aware of the ways in which party-controlled caucuses and conventions could be corrupted and manipulated by party insiders to adopt rules and select candidates not reflective of the will of the people. I had also seen the negative effects of gerrymandering, and how a district heavily lopsided towards one party sees all of the competitive action in its party nomination, and not in the general election, as the party nominee of the majority party is basically the de facto winner of the general election.

Nonetheless, I hadn’t looked outside the box. Though I was a disgruntled Republican by 2011, I hadn’t yet unaffiliated, and in my mind, I was still thinking in terms of advocating to transition our state (UT at the time) from a caucus/convention system of nominating candidates to a party primary system. Yet I knew that such a change would only correct for the first problem, not the second, especially in closed primary states.

But then a state public officeholder (R), asked me a question, via chat, not specifically related to party primaries. It was a theoretical question more related to the proper role of government and proper use of funds. He wrote:

Should party affiliation be listed on the ballot – is that an inappropriate role of the government to favor those businesses (aka political parties)? In other words, should party affiliation be left to candidate and party literature and marketing collateral, not government records and ballots?”

My response:

Well, now, that’s an interesting question. It would surely change the dynamics, wouldn’t it? I do think it’s disingenuous for parties to always claim they’re private entities and do whatever they want when they play such a [quasi]-public role.”

I couldn’t get it out of my head: that things didn’t have to be done the way they’ve always been done. I started researching the law, by reading the Jones and Washington State Grange cases, and I became familiar with California and Washington’s top-two primary systems. By the middle of 2012, I had unaffiliated with the Republican Party and had taken up the cause of advocating for a nonpartisan primary system (jungle primary) that utilizes ranked choice voting and/or allows for more than two candidates to emerge, by using ranked choice voting in the general election. I was mostly just working with “what was allowed by law,” but felt – with little validation or support from others – that the Court should be striking down an egregious system that disenfranchises so many voters.

Soon thereafter, the independent movement ( found me, and pulled me in.

It was so good to be put in contact with so many people who have been on the forefront of these issues for decades, as well as others who were newer to it.

I was thrilled to witness the unfolding of the New Jersey case, Balsam, wherein Harry Kresky and Chad Peace (two of my favorite people) represented unaffiliated voters in challenging New Jersey’s closed primaries. Then I got to meet Michael Hardy, as well, another attorney who has been part of this fight for a long time, and thoroughly understands the civil rights nature of this issue. They have continually been involved in other important cases pertaining to voting rights and independent voters.

During these last several years, we’ve seen more and more people unaffiliate and become independent voters, and more people join and create vibrant independent, democracy-reform-oriented groups. We’ve seen important developments take shape, and have celebrated small and large victories here and there.

But this Touro Law Review article is unmatched on this issue, as it covers the legal case for unaffiliated voters in more depth than I have yet seen. The article very clearly and beautifully lays out how the next step in our country’s march towards full voting rights for every citizen is “the recognition of the rights of unaffiliated voters as a new frontier in the civil rights / voting rights struggle.” It demonstrates how the “judicial system is [currently] insufficiently sensitive to the rights of those unaffiliated voters and to the impact of their disenfranchisement,” but that our current circumstance of now having more people identify as independent than with either major party is an opportunity for an awakening by the public and the courts — that allowing the full participation of unaffiliated voters in primary elections is an Equal Protection issue under the Constitution.

Harry, Michael and Jeremy walk us through: the history of the party system; the case law of balancing the rights of association of the parties with the rights of individuals and the interests of the state; the ways in which the Court has and has not allowed for the regulation of primaries and the exclusion or inclusion of voters; and the Voting Rights Cases and White Primary Cases that together demonstrate an enlightened evolution to recognize voting as a fundamental right, not only in general elections, but in primary elections as well. This article aptly and soundly reveals how, when taking all of the principles articulated by the Court through the years, including the fundamental principles upon which our Country is founded, calls for the full integration of unaffiliated voters into the process and the rejection of party membership as a qualifier to vote in an integral part of the electoral process.”

The plight of unaffiliated voters and candidates needs to be revisited by the Court as the “next step in the further development of our democracy.” This superb article is critical, and a must read for every judge, attorney, politician, activist and citizen who has any interest in strengthening our democracy.

Tiani Xochitl Coleman is a mother of five, a graduate of Cornell Law School, and president of NH Independent Voters.


Politics for the People

Conference Call

Let All Voters Vote: Independents and the Expansion of Voting Rights in the United States

With Authors Jeremy Gruber, Michael A. Hardy, & Harry Kresky

Monday, July 29th at 8:30 pm EST.
Call in number: 605-313-5156
Passcode 767775#


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