An Agenda for Revitalizing Our Democracy

by Richard Kirsch, Next New Deal, 11/19/12

As part of our series “A Rooseveltian Second Term Agenda,” important steps that can get us back to a truly representative form of government.

This election was ample reminder of the myriad ways we urgently need to fix our democracy. As Justice Brandeis wrote a century ago, “We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” The greatest barrier to achieving the next Rooseveltian agenda proposed in these posts is the deep flaws in our democracy. To move forward on our aspirations, we need to integrate a democracy agenda into all of our battles for a fair economy and sustainable environment. Here is a short list of crucial reforms to revitalize our democracy:

1. Bolster voting rights. President Obama can make good on his impromptu remark that “we should fix that” when he addressed Election Day voting problems in his victory speech by pushing for passage of the Voter Empowerment Act, sponsored by New York Senator Kirstin Gillibrand and Georgia Representative John Lewis. The act’s two major provisions would automate voter registration whenever people interact with the government and allow for same day voter registration nationally. Other provisions address barriers to voting such as using mail to purge voters, partisan voter administration, and felony disenfranchisement. Nationwide early voting should be added to this agenda.

2. Change the Electoral College. After another election in which the presidential candidates ignored the electorate in 40 states — with fewer people in those states bothering to vote — federal and state representatives from the outcast states should be eager for change. While it would be wonderful if that led two-thirds of Congress to amend the Constitution, an easier and more feasible path is offered by National Popular Vote. NPV is a compact between states representing more than half of the Electoral College to cast their votes for the winner of the national popular vote. The movement is halfway to its goal with legislation passed in 12 states that together hold 132 Electoral College votes, including California, Illinois, and New Jersey. Republican Governor Jan Brewer added her support after this year’s election. Imagine an election in which presidential candidates had to focus on issues and voter turnout in every state! The result would impact not just the presidency, but down-ballot races across the country….

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