Skip to content
Search

Latest Stories

Top Stories

A solution to take-it-or-leave-it democracy

Donkey and elephant both crossed out

We can take a step toward improving the political system if we collectively walk away from the political parties, writes Frazier.

OsakaWayne Studios/Getty Images, with additional illustration by The Fulcrum

Frazier is an assistant professor at the Crump College of Law at St. Thomas University. Starting this summer, he will serve as a Tarbell fellow.

There’s a troubling narrative setting in about our political system. I call it “take-it-or-leave-it democracy.” It’s characterized by the idea that our elected officials, our policies, our culture are beyond our control. Its side effects are substantial. People who catch this virus tend to infect those around them. A friend says they want to vote for a third party ... and someone responds, “You know your vote doesn’t matter, right?” A colleague talks about donating to a candidate ... and someone scoffs, “Why? Don’t you know special interests control everything?”

You get the picture. You know the type.


Given the increase in cases of take-it-or-leave-it-itis, it comes as no surprise that I often find myself asking similar questions. It’s a heck of a lot easier to talk about everything that’s destined to go wrong with our democracy than to map out what we’re actually going to do to change it. The minimal effort required to point out fatal flaws with our political system can sometimes feel unavoidable. By way of example, here’s Paul Krugman of The New York Times:

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter

“I wish this election weren’t a contest between two elderly men and worry in general about American gerontocracy. But like it or not, this is going to be a race between Biden and Trump.”

This statement and this sort of thinking has limited value when it comes to improving our democracy. Krugman's fatalistic framework may inadvertently discourage engagement with our democracy. It’s not, unfortunately, unsurprising to find this “take” filling up the pages of opinion sections. The widespread acceptance of take-it-or-leave-it-itis is the product of decades of Americans being told that “special interests,” the “other” party” and “them” have absolute control over our politics.

The minimal value of such thinking becomes clear by pointing out a single action that many Americans could take in under 10 minutes that would upend our politics and disrupt the election we apparently have no agency over: register as a non-affiliated voter. This action could be taken by everyone tomorrow and, as a result, directly undermine the conclusion that we have a “like it or not” system.

If you don’t like the two-party system, you can opt out and, in doing so, open a lane for more intellectually diverse and demographically representative candidates. We can and should have more options than the two candidates before us. A collective change to no party preference would signal to parties, officials and candidates that we’re done accepting a binary choice. Whether you are currently an R or a D, more and more of us can agree that something isn’t working; so, let’s collectively do something about it for the better of the whole system.

Would the switch to no party preference solve everything? No. But could this very, very small step remind people that we’re not locked into the status quo? I think so. Let’s imagine a hypothetical: Assume we declared March 1 to be No Preference, Not Parties Day; next, let’s estimate that even 10,000 people used that day to change their affiliation. Would you not take notice? Would you not feel a little more inspired that things might be more within our grasp than we’ve been led to believe?

This isn’t meant to be an attack on Krugman or anyone who is struggling to see beyond the current barriers to a more representative and responsive democracy. Instead, suggestions like a No Preference, Not Parties Day demonstrate that small but significant steps can change the fundamentals of a democracy that is in need of adjustments, not apathy. In short, we cannot and should not settle for a disappointing democracy; let’s resist the urge to assume its demise and, in the alternative, brainstorm ways to support a political system that could use some TLC – thoughtful, logical changes.

Read More

Trump and Biden at the debate

Our political dysfunction was on display during the debate in the simple fact of the binary choice on stage: Trump vs Biden.

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The debate, the political duopoly and the future of American democracy

Johnson is the executive director of the Election Reformers Network, a national nonpartisan organization advancing common-sense reforms to protect elections from polarization.

The talk is all about President Joe Biden’s recent debate performance, whether he’ll be replaced at the top of the ticket and what it all means for the very concerning likelihood of another Trump presidency. These are critical questions.

But Donald Trump is also a symptom of broader dysfunction in our political system. That dysfunction has two key sources: a toxic polarization that elevates cultural warfare over policymaking, and a set of rules that protects the major parties from competition and allows them too much control over elections. These rules entrench the major-party duopoly and preclude the emergence of any alternative political leadership, giving polarization in this country its increasingly existential character.

Keep ReadingShow less
Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Voters should be able to take the measure of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., since he is poised to win millions of votes in November.

Andrew Lichtenstein/Getty Images

Kennedy should have been in the debate – and states need ranked voting

Richie is co-founder and senior advisor of FairVote.

CNN’s presidential debate coincided with a fresh batch of swing-state snapshots that make one thing perfectly clear: Robert F. Kennedy Jr. may be a longshot to be our 47th president and faces his own controversies, yet the 10 percent he’s often achieving in Arizona, Michigan, Nevada and other battlegrounds could easily tilt the presidency.

Why did CNN keep him out with impossible-to-meet requirements? The performances, mistruths and misstatements by Joe Biden and Donald Trump would have shocked Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, who managed to debate seven times without any discussion of golf handicaps — a subject better fit for a “Grumpy Old Men” outtake than one of the year’s two scheduled debates.

Keep ReadingShow less
I Voted stickers

Veterans for All Voters advocates for election reforms that enable more people to participate in primaries.

BackyardProduction/Getty Images

Veterans are working to make democracy more representative

Proctor, a Navy veteran, is a volunteer with Veterans for All Voters.

Imagine this: A general election with no negative campaigning and four or five viable candidates (regardless of party affiliation) competing based on their own personal ideas and actions — not simply their level of obstruction or how well they demonize their opponents. In this reformed election process, the candidate with the best ideas and the broadest appeal will win. The result: The exhausted majority will finally be well-represented again.

Keep ReadingShow less
Person voting at a dropbox in Washington, D.C.

A bill moving through Congress would only allow U.S. citizens to vote in D.C. municipal eletions.

Chen Mengtong/China News Service via Getty Images

The battle over noncitizen voting in America's capital

Rogers is the “data wrangler” at BillTrack50. He previously worked on policy in several government departments.

Should you be allowed to vote if you aren’t an American citizen? Or according to the adage ‘No taxation without representation’, if you pay taxes should you get to choose the representatives who help spend those tax dollars? Those questions are at the heart of the debate over a bill to restrict voting to U.S. citizens.

Keep ReadingShow less
people walking through a polling place

Election workers monitor a little-used polling place in Sandy Springs, Ga., during the state's 2022 primary.

Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

What November election? Half of the U.S. House is already decided.

Troiano is the executive director ofUnite America, a philanthropic venture fund that invests in nonpartisan election reform to foster a more representative and functional government. He’s also the author of “The Primary Solution.”

Last month, Americans were treated to an embarrassing spectacle: Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Jasmine Crockett (D-Texas) tradingpersonal insults related to “fake eyelashes” and a “bleach blonde bad built butch body” during a late-night committee hearing. Some likened it to Bravo’s “Real Housewives” reality TV series, and wondered how it was possible that elected officials could act that way and still be elected to Congress by the voters.

The truth is, the vast majority of us don’t actually elect our House members — not even close. Less than 10 percent of voters in Crockett’s district participated in her 2024 Democratic primary, which all but guaranteed her re-election in the safe blue district. Greene ran unopposed in her GOP primary — meaning she was re-elected without needing to win a single vote. The nearly 600,000 voters in her overwhelmingly red district were denied any meaningful choice. Both contests were decided well before most voters participate in the general election.

Keep ReadingShow less