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This is when government becomes critical | Three Things Thursday

The Knight Foundation study on nonvoters, Select Modernization Committee, and Virginia redistricting amendment Victory!

Brett Maney
Sr. Communications Manager
March 12, 2020

Amidst a rapidly growing national emergency, it may seem strange to talk about why election reform is important. How does voting by mail or ranked choice voting help when entire cities are shutting down and people are beginning to lose their jobs? 

Actually, they help a lot. 

This, right now, is when government matters most; we need a coordinated, functional response from our government (at all levels) to keep the effects of this pandemic to a minimum. And that’s a problem when we don’t have a coordinated or functional government. 

Across the media, we see politicians that are still jockeying to get the upper hand, when what Americans need is a helping hand. 

This is when people must come before party. 

So, here are three things to think about this week:

  1. Lack of representation = Lack of voting

There is a bias in both polling and media reports towards those who vote. Their preferences, their thoughts, and their world perspective are considerably more reported on than the more than 100 million Americans who don’t vote, despite making up more than a third of our population. 

The Knight Foundation, a national organization that broadly seeks to strengthen our democracy, recently published a study on nonvoters, centering their research on who they people are, why they don’t vote, and what would happen if they did. 

The takeaway: there’s a crisis-level of distrust in our system. 38% of nonvoters believe that elections don’t reflect the will of the people because the system is rigged.  They are unmotivated by the candidates that run, and feel as if their decisions don’t impact their lives. To get these people involved, we have to show them that their voice does matter, and that their choices are actually reflected in the outcomes of elections. When our elected leaders are beholden to all of us -- instead of just an active few -- our leaders are more likely to listen to all of us, especially if they want to win reelection. 

  1. A more functional congress starts with better functioning congress 

In a massive bipartisan victory, 29 recommendations on how to improve and modernize congress were passed in the House, 395-13. The Select Bipartisan Committee on the Modernization of Congress was tasked with figuring out how to bring Congress and its processes into the 21st century, with the belief that a more functional congress would lead to a better balance of power in Washington. 

The executive branch, able to move swiftly and directly to advance policy priorities, has become an outsized power, able to command giant federal agencies, which, in the aggregate, chip away at the power of the legislative branch. The recommendations from the committee include policies on how to retain staff, increase bipartisan fraternization, and improve legislative processes. 

It’s a big deal. Here at Unite America, we argue that election reforms are an essential part of maintaining the health of our democracy; these recommendations from the committee are similar maintenance bill that are essential to ensuring that our government is able to operate rapidly and effectively to the enormous problems our nation faces. 

  1. ICYMI: Virginia legislature passes redistricting reform amendment! 

The hard-fought battle for fair maps passed a major benchmark in Virginia last week, as legislators debated into the very final hours of the legislative session to advance an amendment to establish a bipartisan redistricting commission in the Commonwealth. 

SJ18 survived its second passage in the General Assembly. (Constitutional amendments in Virginia must pass two consecutive sessions through the legislature (with an intervening election in between) before going to the voters for a referendum). With the first hurdle accomplished, the next step is the voters this November. We’ll be watching and supporting our friends at OneVirginia2021 as they lead the initiative!

Special shoutout to Commonwealth Caucus co-founders and Unity candidates, Del. Suhas Subramanyam (D) and Sen. Emmett Hanger Jr.(R), who were strong supporters in getting this amendment over the finish line. 

Stay safe, stay away from large crowds, and stay washing your hands.