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A Political Reform Primer Worth Your Time

Voters looking for a solid introduction to the biggest drivers of dysfunction in Washington, and some of the most prominent proposals for making things better, have something new for their reading lists.

It's an easy-to-digest, 36-page report, rich in graphics, from a bipartisan panel of experts and former federal officials assembled by the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress.

Unlike so many other documents in the almost bottomless ocean of blue-ribbon studies, this one does not bite off more than most concerned citizens will be able to digest. Instead, the recommendations are tightly focused on taking partisan power politics out of the mapping of congressional districts and creating more genuine contests for House seats.

The panel, dubbed the Commission on Civility and Effective Governance, narrowed its scope after concluding there is more cross-partisan interest in curbing gerrymandering and the closed-loop primary election systems than in tackling two other core challenges to the functioning democracy: the burgeoning influence of money in politics and the "partisan echo chambers" of so much mainstream media.

The center's president, Glenn Nye, a former one-term Democratic congressman from Virginia, said the commission's work "is not fully comprehensive but serves as a good primer for the potential reform advocate who knows we need change but needs guidance understanding the links between gridlock in Washington and warped incentives coming from lack of real competition in election systems and districting."

The core recommendations are not outside-the-box: turning all political mapmaking over to non-partisan commissions, like those now in effect in nine states, and adopting either ranked-choice voting (as in Maine) or top-two finisher primaries (as in California) in an effort to push more candidates toward the ideological center. The report crisply explains how those ideas work and includes solid data to back the arguments.

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