Where Thursday's Democratic debaters stand on issues of democracy reform
Voters who consider democracy's dysfunction among the nation's most pressing challenges are hoping the Democratic candidates say more on the subject Thursday night than they have in the first two rounds of presidential debates.
Only the 10 leading candidates have been invited to spend three hours, starting at 8 p.m. Eastern, on the same stage at Texas Southern University in Houston – their encounter broadcast and co-hosted by ABC and Univision.
The table below signals where those candidates stand on 17 of the most prominent proposals for improving the way democracy works – in areas of campaign finance, access to the ballot box, voting rights, election security, political ethics and revamping our governing systems.
For a more detailed explanation of the positions of the White House aspirants, see this comprehensive story from July.
There's no counting on the moderators to ask about any of these ideas, but if they do this chart offers a quick guide on what to look for.
Our earlier package covers not only the top-tier candidates debating Thursday but also most of the rest of the remaining field. Three whose positions we detailed this summer have since dropped out: former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. The positions of one recent entrant in the race, billionaire Tom Steyer, will be on the chart in time for his debate debut next month.
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Neal is federal government affairs manager at R Street Institute, a nonpartisan and pro-free-market public policy research organization.
The term "democratic norms" has become a misnomer over the last year. America's governing institutions are undermined by elected officials who dishonor their offices and each other. Standards of behavior and "normal" processes of governance seem to be relics of a simpler time. Our democracy has survived thus far, but the wounds are many.
Free speech and free press have been the White House's two consistent whipping posts. Comments such as "I think it is embarrassing for the country to allow protestors" and constant attacks on press credibility showcase President Trump's disdain for the pillars of democracy. Traditional interactions between the administration and the press are no longer taken for granted. Demeaning, toxic criticisms have become so common that they're being ignored. As the administration revokes critics' press passes and daily briefings are canceled, normalcy in this arena is sorely missed.
Having had remarkable success at signing people up to vote in Texas last year, an Austin group of activists is expanding its pilot program into a full-blown national effort to overcome the sometimes ignored first hurdle for people in the voting process — registration.
"There are millions of voters who are registered who don't get out to vote," said Christopher Jasinski, director of partnerships for Register2Vote. "But the unmeasured part of the pie is the actual number of unregistered voters."