The Times They Are a-Changin'
It seems a tad ironic that Presidents Day is celebrated in honor of George Washington’s birthday, considering he wasn’t actually a fan of birthday celebrations. In fact, diary entries from his 28th birthday indicated that he was busy working on a fence rather than commemorating the occasion with downtime, much less any extravagance. Yet nearly 300 years later, Americans now observe this day as a national holiday.
While the day was first celebrated in honor of our nation’s first president, it is now widely considered a collective homage to the office, allowing us to reflect on the many chapters of our nation’s history. For those of us advancing the mission of the Voters First Movement, Presidents Day is also an occasion to think about the power and potential of democracy. President Theodore Roosevelt said, “Men forget that constructive change offers the best method of avoiding destructive change; and that reform is the antidote to revolution.” One of his successors, President John F. Kennedy, said, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.” We continue to work for reform to make our government more representative of the people and our future more secure.
So, with that in mind, here are three things to consider this week:
1. New research from the Unite America Institute!
A little-known fact about Louisiana is that it has one of the most distinct electoral systems in the country: it effectively has no primary elections, instead allowing all candidates to compete in a general election, open to all voters. Additionally, in contrast to some alternative election models passing in cities and states across the U.S., Louisiana's system affords researchers a unique benefit: a large-enough sample to determine what kind of effect it’s had on governing outcomes. A new Unite America Institute paper digs into the history and details, and has findings that bode well for other states that have ditched and are exploring ditching partisan primaries.
We actually saw one of the benefits of this system play out last week during a special election in New Orleans, for a state house seat. In states with partisan primaries, there would only be one candidate from each party on the ballot by the time it reached the general election — not ideal for the voters of a district that favors Democrats basically 90/10. However, because of Louisiana’s system, voters could select one among five Democrats and a Republican on the ballot to fill the safe blue seat. Meaning more competition, candidate choices, and policy differences for voters to consider. We can have this type of situation anywhere; all we must do is give partisan primaries the boot.
Read our latest white paper to learn more about the benefits of the Louisiana election model.
2. Representative Mary Peltola encourages bipartisanship in the Alaska legislature
Congresswoman Mary Peltola has broken ground yet again, as for the first time in 31 years, Alaska’s sitting U.S. representative addressed a joint session of the Alaska legislature. While this is out of the norm in recent history, it perfectly aligns with how Rep. Peltola has been operating since being elected to Congress under Alaska’s new nonpartisan primary + ranked choice general election system — she has shown she’s not afraid to blaze new trails or collaborate with legislators and political professionals across the aisle.
According to an article by the Anchorage Daily News, Rep. Peltola praised the bipartisan coalitions that control the Alaska state house and senate, saying “we’ve sparked the interest of Americans who are tired of a broken system in D.C. that too often highlights gimmicks over policy.” This sentiment is a reminder, yet again, the profound impact that election reform has had on Alaskan politics. While some naysayers are seeking to overturn it because the reform has disrupted the norm, it is essential to zoom out and remember how the status quo of doing elections wasn’t benefiting the voters the way that the new election system is now. Sometimes, while uncomfortable at first, shaking things up is needed to produce better representation and results.
3. Securing the 2024 election is already underway
While the 2024 elections are still a ways out — we’re talking more than 600 days away — efforts are already ramping up to ensure the next election is safe, secure, and trusted. If recent history tells us anything, elections always seem to arrive in the blink of an eye; next year will be here before we know it, so time is certainly of the essence. And don’t just take it from us: Take it from secretaries of state across the aisle.
“Upholding democracy is not some passive venture. It doesn't happen by accident. It takes concentrated effort and eternal vigilance,” write secretaries of state Jocelyn Benson (Mich.) and Adrian Fontes (Ariz.), in promotion of the Democratic-aligned NewDEAL Forum’s Democracy Playbook.
Then there are these tidbits from the National Association of Secretaries of State’s conference earlier this month:
Swiftly addressing and combating false information about how elections are run was a priority for many, including Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate, a Republican who lamented "so much misinformation" — including by some in his own party.
Another challenge in 2022: federal authorities have confirmed cyberattacks took down election websites in "a handful" of states on Election Day. No cast ballots or official vote tallies were affected.
"We were hit with an attack," recalled Secretary of State Michael Watson of Mississippi, the state with the largest sustained outage on Election Day. Watson, a Republican, had predicted the day after the attack, in his first interview about it, that cyberattacks against election infrastructure are "only going to get worse."
Three months later, Watson said he's now stressing "education" to prevent a repeat. "As we work together, communicate, I think will much you know, the whole state will be better prepared in future."
America’s leading election officials understand that election administration is all about the voters’ interest, not political interest.