Last week, New Yorkers won a major victory for democracy reform, approving ranked-choice voting on the ballot by a nearly 3-to-1 margin. In passing the ballot question with 74 percent of the vote, New Yorkers follow in the steps of democracy reforms across the nation; 22 pro-democracy measures passed in 2018, and New Yorkers joined citizens in San Francisco, Maine, Syracuse and Kansas in passing democracy reforms in November.
These wins demonstrate the demand for systemic democracy reform that is growing in power and scope across the nation, driven by demand and action from American citizens. While legislative action on issues is often gridlocked amid Washington partisanship, democracy reform efforts are being led by citizens in grassroots campaigns that yield significant wins. These issues unite Americans of all political stripes. Money in politics, a fundamental issue at the root of the systemic problem with our democracy, garners some of the most widespread support, with 77 percent of Americans agreeing that there should be limits on the amount of money individuals and organizations can spend on political campaigns.
Like other democracy reforms, limiting big money in politics wins by huge margins when it makes its way onto the ballot. More than 800 cities and towns have passed resolutions calling on Congress to pass a 28th Amendment to limit big money in politics. Last year in Massachusetts, the question of forming a Citizens Commission to advance the 28th Amendment was on the ballot, and won in every city and town across the state. This year New Hampshire became the 20th state to formally call for an amendment after 82 towns across the state passed local resolutions calling for the amendment. These victories are being won because citizens know what’s at stake and care enough to reach out to others in their communities, to talk openly with their elected officials, and to drive change from the bottom up, starting with local government and building to state-level calls for change.
The underlying sentiment of all of these reforms is the same: Americans want a political system that represents them, not special interests, corporate interests, or entrenched political party power. Of the ranked-choice voting win in New York City, Josh Silver, co-founder and executive director of American Promise partner organization Represent.us says, “Ranked-choice voting and other election reform victories are crucial for the anti-corruption movement. The passage of these initiatives shows a hunger from the American people to fix our broken elections and set our country back on track—where political outcomes are dictated by the best ideas, not the biggest bank accounts.”
Despite a mainstream narrative that paints Americans as more divided than ever, we are actually united on a number of issues: 73 percent of Americans want health care reform; nearly 70 percent of Americans want action on climate change; and more than 60 percent support income tax reform. The reason we see no legislative action on these issues is not because of disagreement among voters; it is because the big money special interests that fund election and reelection campaigns preclude compromise and maintain a state of constant gridlock.
If Americans hope to reform democracy and claim control over our political system from special interests, we must end the domination of big money in our political system, which prevents meaningful action on issues that the majority of Americans agree upon. The dozens of wins for democracy reform across the nation, fueled by citizen engagement and activism, show that Americans are in fact united in serious concerns about—and energy around solutions for—our ailing democracy. Ending the domination of big money is the most important step we can take to move toward a political system that works for all of us.
Leah Field is managing director of American Promise, a bipartisan nonprofit organization working to pass the 28th Amendment to enable Congress to limit big money in the U.S. political system