Clean and Fair Elections: Policy Options for 2011

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Americans are demanding democratic reform after the string of Election Day disasters and questionable results that have plagued our elections since 2000. With polls showing that the vast majority of Americans believe the country is going in the wrong direction, progressive state leaders are realizing that we can no longer ignore or tolerate the significant democracy deficit that undermines our ability to meet our challenges in all areas of progressive reform.

Voters want leaders who stand up to monied interests. Candidates dependent on corporate benefactors cannot fully serve their constituents and invariably become hostages to or outright defenders of a dysfunctional status quo. Voters are frustrated that on issues ranging from healthcare to education to transportation to energy, the changes we need are stymied by a political system soaked in corporate cash. Progressive leaders can distinguish themselves, not just by rising above the political swamp to secure good policies for their constituents, but also by actively working to drain the swamp of corporate lobbying and campaign contributions so that the political process functions fairly and without favor.

Election reforms also support the broader progressive policy agenda. One of the largest impediments to real progressive reform is that our election system often excludes voters – non-white, less-educated, and less wealthy individuals - who are the most supportive of progressive policy changes. Expanding electoral participation to include a larger, more diverse set of voters will increase support for the host of progressive reforms that are supported by the substantial majority of the population whose voices are not always heard at the ballot box. Working state by state to remove barriers to voting and increase participation in the political process will be a fundamental determinant of how successful progressives will be in achieving the broader reforms we are working toward.

Voters are clearly eager for change. We have arrived at a moment where the need to invigorate our democracy and establish clear accountability has become overwhelmingly obvious to a large number of Americans. Americans' demands for change in the face of the epic failures of right-wing policy are ushering in a new progressive era in our nation. How far this transition goes and how long it lasts will be determined in large part by how well progressives use this opportunity to expand the vote. However, progressive leaders need to be vigilant in fighting off right-wing attempts to erode the right to vote, since we are seeing renewed efforts to undermine voter rights and suppress turnout through new barriers to voting and outright intimidation.

Progressive States Network’s Clean and Fair Elections Program: This policy guide presents a series of election and governance reforms that are essential to both invigorating our democracy and achieving other progressive goals.

  • Reducing the Influence of Money on our Democracy: Reform begins with policies such as public campaign finance that will help clean up government and reduce the influence of corporations and monied interests over our democracy.
  • Growing the Electorate: The next steps are changes to our election systems such as universal voter registration and Election Day registration that would increase participation, especially among groups that have traditionally been marginalized politically and socially.
  • Making Every Vote Count: We must also ensure every vote counts and every voice is heard. This includes both securing the integrity of elections, and making sure that systems aren't rigged to prevent meaningful participation, such as establishing a national popular vote for president.
  • Resisting Vote Suppression by the Right-Wing: Lastly, we need polices that beat back the right-wing's attack on voting. Steps include blocking voter ID laws and protecting voters from intimidation and deception.

This task of invigorating our democracy and achieving the promise of equality and inclusion can only be successful if we simultaneously work to reduce the power of corporations by reforming government and establishing publicly-funded elections. We must also endeavor to secure the right to vote and accommodate the electoral participation of every American. The barriers to those goals are significant, and overcoming them will take the considerable effort of a coalition far larger than the traditional voting rights and “good government” communities, in addition to a wealth of grassroots support. Over the last several years, a formidable and diverse democracy reform movement has been building in this country, and public opinion is clearly on the side of a democratic renewal. Ordinary citizens are energized as they haven't been in a generation. Now is the time to build on that foundation by enlisting as much of the broader progressive movement as possible in these critical efforts.