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America needs major political reforms to bolster democracy

America needs major political reforms to bolster democracy
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Americans are losing faith in their democracy, as most believe its survival is dependent on fully overhauling the process. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that 65 percent of Americans believe the political system of democracy in this country needs to go through major changes or be totally overhauled to endure. This shows an urgent need for political reforms to make our democracy fairer and more functional.

We should pursue some significant changes to our electoral system that open the political process to unaffiliated candidates. This can be done by enacting ranked choice voting and amending presidential debate rules. To make the system fairer, we should take action on redistricting reforms and preserve the current rules that encourage bipartisanship.

We should also further level the playing field by creating new rules that do not disenfranchise moderate voters. Through gerrymandering of districts, more primaries create safe seats, which bolsters extreme candidates in the low turnout primaries that are attended by mostly extreme voters. This system ultimately makes bipartisanship more difficult and underscores the importance of upholding the filibuster within the Senate.

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Indeed, the recent inaction by the Supreme Court on the rules set by the Commission on Presidential Debates illustrates why Americans feel that the survival of democracy depends upon major changes. The Supreme Court has refused to hear the case against the burdensome rules set by the panel that make it almost impossible for third party and independent candidates to mount more successful presidential runs.

The panel mandates candidates to have 15 percent support in national polls in September of an election year to be considered eligible to take part in the fall debates. This threshold poses an insurmountable hurdle for any candidate who does not have the support of a major party. The same threshold is an unsolvable paradox, as third party candidates do not have major party support to begin with, and there is no way to reach 15 percent in national polls without voters watching them in debates.

Not only is it undemocratic to block so many unaffiliated candidates from participating in debates, and in turn the political narrative, but it also goes directly against the will of the people. Polls about the subject consistently show that most Americans, notably from the younger generations, want to observe more unaffiliated candidates seek office and win.

In addition to reforms of presidential debates, we must overhaul our voting system. The current “first past the post” system enables extreme candidates to win primaries and has hollowed out the political center. Parties are not incentivized to find solutions with broad public support. Parties are motivated to do what they deem necessary to stay in power and raise money. This reveals why six in ten Americans said “too extreme in its positions” describes the Republican Party and the Democratic Party in a former survey conducted by the Pew Research Center.

Ranked choice voting is a far more representative system that allows the people to list candidates in order of preference in an election. This offers unaffiliated candidates a fighting chance while bringing centrist results that better reflect the views of most Americans. There is also the need for redistricting reforms. Legislatures around the country are redrawing maps to make more seats safe for the party in control of the state government. Americans should choose their politicians, not the other way around, and reforms are critical to end this unbalanced gerrymandering.

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It is also important to uphold the rules that encourage bipartisanship. The filibuster is a key tool that ensures a level of bipartisanship is built into the system, and eliminating it would remove the critical step of negotiation in the legislative process. Maintaining the filibuster has arguably never been more important, given how lacking bipartisanship is today, as enormous legislation is passed with limited support by reconciliation.

This was the case with the $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill and will likely be the case with the $3 trillion infrastructure deal. Both bills involve items that have not been evaluated and have not been considered in a critical bipartisan manner. Most Americans probably value direct payments as stimulus. But there have been no hearings, no efforts to build consensus, and very few Americans likely understand all the provisions.

Our current system offers no stable solutions and no consensus of ideas, which is why younger voters across the country in particular want to see more unaffiliated candidates. We must act on these political and electoral reforms, while maintaining those rules that encourage bipartisanship, to make our democracy one that is truly by and for the people.

Peter Ackerman is the founder for Americans Elect. Douglas Schoen is a consultant who served as adviser to Bill Clinton and Michael Bloomberg.