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Reform doesn’t have an off-cycle year

Three things to think about this March 9th

Alana Persson
Digital Marketing Associate
March 9, 2023

On March 4, 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt became president of the United States and was left to face the calamity of our nation’s worst economic period: The Great Depression. Standing before a divided, despondent, and fearful nation, he delivered his famous inaugural address outlining his plan for the New Deal — “an expansion of the federal government as an instrument of employment opportunity and welfare,” as the History Channel put it succinctly.

More than FDR’s specific policy agenda, however, the speech stands out in history for its hopeful and unifying rhetoric, including the famous line “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” It closes with:

“We face the arduous days that lie before us in the warm courage of the national unity; with the clear consciousness of seeking old and precious moral values; with the clean satisfaction that comes from the stem performance of duty by old and young alike. [...] We do not distrust the future of essential democracy. The people of the United States have not failed.” 

Today, our nation faces its own set of unique — and generational — challenges. Our current political system places party over country, resulting in a divided government that is not truly representative of all voters. Yet, amidst the division and mudslinging in Washington, we’re called to come together in the same spirit FDR urged his fellow Americans to. Now is a time for putting country over party, instead, by elevating election reforms that ensure the future of that “essential democracy” is upheld. While it has been nearly a century since FDR’s address, the sentiments remain true: the people of the United States have not failed. From our point of view, in fact, the recent victories in the reform movement show that we’re headed on the right track.

1. Check out the Bipartisan Policy Center’s new report, “2022 Primary Turnout: Trends and Lessons for Boosting Participation”

As promised last week, the Bipartisan Policy Center has released a new report detailing the state of primaries. The topline finding is that nonpartisan primaries see higher voter participation rates than partisan primaries, and the data from 2022 backs up this assessment. According to the report, in the last election, about 37% of eligible voters participated in Alaska’s first top-four nonpartisan primary, while states with top-two systems averaged nearly 30% turnout — and mind you, the top-two models still yielded higher participation than states with partisan primaries, which struggle to average over 20% participation. As seen in the graphic below, low primary turnout directly correlates with the state's primary system and directly contributes to The Primary Problem.

The report concludes with several recommendations for states to increase future participation in primaries, including opening up primaries to all voters and establishing a single national primary day. To learn more about the highlights from the report, check out our blog post.

2. Ranked choice voting saw more victories this week in Redondo Beach, CA, and Burlington, VT

Even though this isn’t a big election year, there’s still movement at the local and municipal level on election reforms, including ranked choice voting. On Tuesday, Burlington, Vermont, and Redondo Beach, California voters said YES to adopting RCV for future city elections.  This win comes on the heels of renewed attention and interest in ranked choice voting (RCV) — also known as instant runoff voting (IRV). 2022 saw RCV’s second statewide implementation in Alaska, and 10 new jurisdictions voted “yes” to using RCV in the future. And traction for RCV hasn’t ended there. Since the 2022 election, lawmakers in 14 states have already introduced 27 bills proposing ranked choice voting models, according to an NBC News review.

The bottom line: Interest in election reforms is snowballing across the nation, and it’s not limited to ranked choice voting. Momentum is growing for other election models, including nonpartisan primaries and Top-Four + Top-Five voting. Check out our Tweet thread to learn more about the races' highlights this week. 

3. The Alaska Model is garnering national attention and support

How can we fix our broken government? According to Katherine Gehl, founder of the Institute for Political Innovation (IPI), the solution is simple: the Alaska Model of voting, which IPI labels “Final Five Voting":

“Final Five Voting is designed to elect Democrats (or Republicans or moderates or centrists). The purpose of the system is not to elect someone from a particular party or ideological group, or perspective. It is to change the incentives of legislators, whatever their ideology, by freeing them from the harmful grip of the party primaries on both sides.
In an ironic way, Final Five Voting has already unified left and right. [...] In Alaska and Nevada, both parties opposed the ballot measures, with the Democrats spending in the seven figures in a failed attempt to defeat the Nevada referendum. Yet FFV has also begun to unite voters and donors from both sides in support of the measure. The ballot initiatives in Alaska and Nevada passed with bipartisan voter support, and well-known Republican and Democratic donors contributed to the FFV effort — even as they remained on opposite sides of the candidate races.”