All blogs
All three things
All news
No items found.

The American Democracy Summit couldn’t come at a more critical time

Three things to think about this September 28th

Ross Sherman
Press Director
September 28, 2023

It’s an exciting week for us at Unite America and the Voters First movement. That’s because many of us are currently in Los Angeles for the American Democracy Summit (ADS)! The Summit is the premiere right-left event to solve America’s political crisis. It’s a chance for us to connect with other organizations and leaders in the movement, hear from election reform champions, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski, and yes — even enjoy some live music and entertainment. Unite America is also hosting or participating in a few exciting panels at ADS, which we’ll report back on.

ADS couldn’t be happening at a more critical time. A recent Pew Research Center report found that Americans’ feelings about our democracy and government are, well, bleak. An overwhelming bipartisan majority — more than 80% — believes there’s too much partisanship, too much money in politics, and too much special interest influence. Nearly 75% say that, overall, our political system isn’t working. While this polling is undoubtedly grim, it also represents an incredible opportunity for structural reform. We’re proud to be part of this movement to deliver all voters better choices and more power to hold elected officials accountable.

1. How the Primary Problem is fueling a possible government shutdown

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Congress is on the brink of a shutdown. If they can’t pass funding bills by midnight on Saturday, all “nonessential” government functions must stop. NBC News has a nice brief explainer on the chain of events and potential impact.

The Primary Problem helps explain why we’re barreling toward a shutdown. At the moment, a group of about eight Republican House members — who we’re calling the “Chaos Caucus” — are preventing Speaker Kevin McCarthy from getting the votes he needs to fund the government. Speaker McCarthy has an extremely narrow majority in the House, and can only afford to lose four votes.

None of the eight members of the Chaos Caucus have competitive general elections, so the only election that matters for them is the Republican primary. We crunched the numbers: On average, they were effectively elected to the U.S. House in partisan primaries by 12% of eligible voters in their districts. Because the Chaos Caucus only has to worry about catering to this tiny sliver of unrepresentative voters in partisan primaries, they’re unlikely to face a political cost for taking this stand.

To fix these backward incentives, we need to abolish partisan primaries state by state so that a tiny extreme minority isn’t able to bring our government to the brink of a shutdown. And we’re seeing a lot of exciting momentum on that front.

2. Former governors boost campaigns for open and nonpartisan primaries in Pennsylvania, Idaho

Speaking of momentum, all five of Pennsylvania’s living former governors recently endorsed ending the state’s closed primary system. Because of this restrictive system, over one million Pennsylvania voters are banned from participating in primary elections that often determine the outcome. Every Pennsylvania voter should be able to cast a ballot for any candidate, regardless of party, in every taxpayer-funded election. Our partners at Ballot PA are trying to do just that. They introduced a bill in the 2022 session to repeal closed primaries, and are still working to get it passed into law.

In similarly exciting news, former Idaho Gov. Butch Otter endorsed nonpartisan primaries in his state. Otter headlines a list of more than 100 Idaho Republicans who support a ballot initiative that would end Idaho’s closed primary system and replace it with a top-four system, where all candidates of all parties would appear on the ballot. Every eligible voter would have the freedom to cast a ballot for their favorite, and the top four vote-getters would advance to the general election. The group leading the effort, Idahoans for Open Primaries, has until May 1, 2024 to collect enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

3. NPR’s picture-perfect story on the Primary Problem

In perhaps the best story on the Primary Problem to date, I bring you the following headline from NPR: The U.S. has a 'primary problem,' say advocates who call for new election systems. The entire story brilliantly explains why our broken primary system is the biggest solvable problem in politics today. It also details how states including Alaska, California, Louisiana, and Washington are leading the charge on solutions. Two of our partners were interviewed for the story — American Enterprise Institute’s Kevin Kosar and Open Primaries’ Jeremy Gruber — and they did a fantastic job.

This is an extremely encouraging sign that our movement’s message is starting to sink in with national media. It’s well worth your time to read the piece, listen to the radio segment, and last week’s NPR Politics Podcast — which all covered the Primary Problem. Once you do that, share it with your friends!