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Dear presidential candidates: Use your manners

The National Institute for Civil Discourse has a message for the 20 Democratic presidential candidates who will participate in debates on Wednesday and Thursday nights: Remember first grade.

In other words, don't poke your neighbor, wait your turn, and if you can't say something nice, don't say anything.

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Seriously, the institute, which studies and promotes civility in political debate is reminding candidates of standards it developed in 2015 in advance of the last presidential election season.

They say that politicians living up to basic standards of civility, especially when they're on national television, is essential if the angry tribal nature of America discourse is ever going to ease. "Zingers and insults might get headlines, but it's leading to a culture of candidates who stand out by throwing punches and amplifying the polarization of our politics," said Keith Allred, the institute's executive director.

The guidelines for the candidates are:

  1. Be respectful of others in speech and behavior.
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  3. Answer the question being asked by the moderator.
  4. Make ideas and feelings known without disrespecting others.
  5. Take responsibility for past and present behavior, speech and actions.
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  7. Stand against incivility when faced with it.

The institute also developed guidelines for the moderators of the debates. (NBC and MSNBC are providing the ones for these debates.) They are:

  1. Address uncivil behavior by naming it and moderating the conversation to move toward more respectful dialogue.
  2. Enforce debate rules equally.
  3. Hold candidates accountable by challenging each candidate to speak the truth and act with integrity.
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  5. Treat all candidates equally in regard to the complexity of questions and debate rules.
  6. Be respectful when interacting with candidates.
The NICD said its five-point plans for all the participants emerged from research on deliberation techniques, surveys to gauge citizens' definitions of what constitutes civil and uncivil language in public life, and conversations with elected officials and members of the press.
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Sen. Elizabeth Warren in South Carolina on Saturday.

Warren unveils expansive and expensive political system overhaul

Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday unveiled her comprehensive plan for securing the election system while making voting easier, the first among the front-running Democratic candidates to detail an agenda for fixing flaws so many voters find in the political process.

The timing of her announcement, her prominence in the presidential field and the wide-ranging ambitions of her ideas -- which she said would cost $20 billion over a decade – make it very likely that addressing the challenges of the broken democracy will become a topic in this week's first Democratic debates.

"Voting should be easy. But instead, many states make it hard for people to vote," Warren wrote in outlining her platform on Medium. "Elections should be as secure as Fort Knox. But instead, they're less secure than your Amazon account."

The core of her plan is to create an array of national requirements for all federal elections, which are now run by about 8,000 local and state jurisdictions. Most ambitiously to the cause of election security, Warren would buy new voting machines, computerized but with an auditable paper trail, for the entire country and have them programmed with a standardized ballot.

In addition, Warren has embraced versions of most of the most prominent ideas of the democracy reform movement, many of them also enshrined in the bill (dubbed HR 1) Democrats passed this spring in the House only to face a deep freeze in the Republican Senate, where the majority says too many of the changes could subject the system to fraud.

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Rep. John Lewis and his fellow Democrats unveiled HR 1 on Jan. 4, 2019. It has since been passed by the House on the party-line vote but isn't going anywhere in the Senate.

With the For the People Act, organizing is paying off

Weissman is president of Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization.

One good thing came from the Supreme Court's horrendous Citizens United decision a decade ago: an ever-expanding grassroots movement to rescue our democracy from the iron grip of Big Money.

The organizing is paying off.

In 2014, it led to a Senate vote for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. It almost certainly would have led to that horrid decision being overturned by the Supreme Court – if Merrick Garland had been confirmed as a justice.

Now, thanks to that movement, the Democratic leadership of the House of Representatives made the For the People Act – the top priority legislation considered by the House – a sweeping pro-democracy and anti-corruption package. The House passed the bill, known as HR 1, in March by a vote of 234-193. It is the most consequential pro-democracy legislation of the past 50 years.

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Protesters gathered outside the Supreme Court in April, when justices heard oral arguments regarding the inclusion of a citizenship question in the census. The court is expected to rule on that case, and redistricting cases, this week.

Rulings in two landmark election equity cases due within days

Landmark rulings in the two biggest disputes before the Supreme Court, each with enormous consequences for the cause of better democracy, are coming by the end of the week.

The justices will next announce decisions Wednesday, and probably the day or two after. Four cases were decided Monday, meaning eight are still up in the air – including potentially historic challenges to partisan congressional gerrymandering and a citizenship question on the census.

It's rare for the court to climax its term with a pair of rulings that get to the heart of such similar questions, in this instance about the constitutionally permissible reach of politics in setting the ground rules for representative government. Whether the back-to-back opinions from the court, now with a clear-cut 5-4 conservative majority, amount to a unified message or mixed signals could determine for decades how deeply partisanship can permeate the system.

At a minimum, the decisions will have fundamental consequences on elections for Congress and the state legislatures, and on the annual distribution of billions of dollars in federal aid to the states.

Advocates for a more functional democracy care deeply about both cases.

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