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Honoring service members by strengthening our democracy

Honoring service members by strengthening our democracy
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Kevin Miller, from McFarland, WI, is an Army Veteran and Wisconsin VPI State Task Force Leader

Courage, sacrifice, duty, honor, and country. If you attended a Memorial Day event, you likely heard these terms used to remember and honor military members who gave their lives in service and defense of our nation.

And while thousands of Americans did attend such ceremonies, a significantly larger number instead “celebrated” Memorial Day by shopping appliance sales, attending cookouts, or having a beer with friends and family. Full disclosure: I absolutely had a Memorial Day cookout with family and friends, and took advantage of a Memorial Day military discount at a local greenhouse.

But the truth is, we cannot honor fallen service members with one day of remembrance or honor all who served with one day of Veterans’ Day events in November. To honor service members and their sacrifices requires everyday actions that actually help preserve our country and its democracy.

I joined the military in 1986 and have continued to serve for over thirty-seven years. But I consider the other work I am doing more important to ensuring the future of our democracy in honoring fallen service members and fellow veterans. This work is not exclusive; it is work available to every American.

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Unfortunately, this work is not easy in the current political environment. It requires real critical thinking and an ability to block out the rhetoric coming from the left and the right. One must be willing to dismiss as fact the arguments of those who benefit from our current election process.

I work with a nonpartisan nonprofit organization called Veterans for Political Innovation (VPI). We are one of several organizations working on congressional election reform that will hold elected officials accountable to their constituents rather than political parties and wealthy campaign donors. This reform is Final Five Voting (a top-five open primary and instant runoff general election).

We are advocating for Final Five Voting because the current partisan primaries and plurality general elections are actually quite undemocratic. Under the current system, over 80 percent of Congress was essentially selected by less than 10 percent of the electorate. In addition, half of all military service members identify as independent—unaffiliated with a political party—and are consequently entirely shut out of many states’ primaries.

Essentially, this reform works by having all candidates for a U.S. Senate or Congressional seat run together on a single primary ballot, regardless of party affiliation, if any at all. Each primary voter selects one candidate. The top five vote recipients from the primary face off in an instant runoff general election through which no candidate can win without securing an actual majority of the votes cast (e.g. no plurality winners and no spoilers or wasted votes).

This simple change is incredibly powerful in addressing the most toxic aspects of elections— attack ads, pandering to extremists, out-of-control campaign spending, and a lack of accountability. Even more important, those elected through these reforms can actually get things done, putting their constituents’ needs ahead of political parties, wealthy donors, and extremists.

We are fortunate that in Wisconsin there is already bipartisan legislative support for Final Five Voting. On June 12th, there will be an event in Chippewa Falls with Republican State Senator Jesse James and Democrat State Senator Jeff Smith discussing proposed legislation for Final Five Voting.

As a veteran, I am regularly thanked for my service and see and hear the phrase, “We support our troops.” If you’ve ever expressed such a sentiment and wanted to walk the talk, I strongly encourage you to learn about and support the efforts to implement Final Five Voting in Wisconsin. You can learn more at (for info on the June 12th event, select “Menu” and “Upcoming Events)”.

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