More than 100 Republicans, including former federal and state officials, are prepared to launch a new political party if the GOP fails to make a series of unspecified changes, according to a report in The New York Times.
Whether such a new party comes to fruition, it's worth examining the changes needed to ensure the viability of a new force in American politics. After all, others have tried to end the two-party duopoly but rarely do they play more than the role of spoiler.
The 2019 Hidden Common Ground report produced by Public Agenda, USA Today and Ipsos found that 65 percent of Americans agree it should be easier for third-party and independent candidates to run for office, giving voters more than two choices. And in last year's report, 80 percent of respondents agreed that "Traditional parties and politicians don't care about people like me."
Voters had more options than ever before in 2018. According to Unite America, which supports nonpartisan reforms and candidates willing to work across the aisle, a record 431 independents ran for state legislative seats, governor or Congress in 2018, collectively earning more votes than independent candidates in previous cycles. However, only 14 of them won their races.
"The largest barrier facing new competition in America is not structural, it's psychological: a belief that an alternative can be viable and a new identity to align around," said Nick Troiano, executive director of Unite America (which has provided financial support for The Fulcrum). "Yes, we need ranked-choice voting to eliminate the spoiler effect. Yes, we need fair ballot access and debate rules. However, those things are necessary but not sufficient. What any third party really needs is a brand and a constituency that is powerful enough to transcend the tribalism on both the left and the right in order to win elections."
For disaffected Republicans, the appearance of big names in a new party might be enough to galvanize meaningful support. Miles Taylor, who served in the Department of Homeland Security under Donald Trump and authored an op-ed and book highly critical of that administration, is one of the organizers of the potential new party, according to the Times. Reuters has identified a number of other participants, including former members of Congress and two former governors (Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania and Christine Toddy Whitman of New Jersey).
But that may not be enough to give a new party the standing to win elections.
One structural change would be to allow more candidates into debates. Writing last fall about the presidential debate system, Christina Tobin of the Free and Equal Elections Foundation and Eli Beckerman of Open the Debates argued that the system is designed to prevent candidates outside the Democratic and Republican parties from competing.
"At a time when voters are thirsting for more choices, it is absurd to keep Libertarian nominee Jo Jorgensen and Green nominee Howie Hawkins off the stage," they wrote. "Objectively speaking, there are four tickets on the ballots in enough states to win the election, and yet the debate commission has decided to appoint itself as gatekeeper standing between voters and their choices — and assuring just two of those tickets have a shot."
Unite America's post-election report on the candidates it supported in 2018 identified 10 other structural reforms that would allow third-party and independent candidates to compete with the major parties' nominees:
- In addition to more debate access, independents would stand a great chance at the national level if the Electoral College were replaced by a national popular vote.
- Use of ranked-choice voting could end the argument that independents serve only as "spoiler" candidates.
- Moving to multimember districts with proportional representation would ensure independents have their voices heard in legislative bodies.
- Top-two primaries or top-four RCV primaries would give more candidates an opportunity to earn a spot in a two-person general election, rather than appearing down-ballot as a third candidate.
- Nonpartisan ballots would create a more level playing field, because voters would not have preconceived notions based on political labels included on ballots. All candidates would have to spend resources to explain their position, rather than relying on partisan identification.
- While straight-party voting speeds up the process for voters, it hurts independents by allowing someone to vote for all candidates of one party across all races with one action rather than considering them race by race.
- Ballot access requirements vary by state and in some places can be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming. Easing the rulings to get on the ballot would level the playing field for third-party and independent candidates who lack the resources possessed by the two major parties.
- Similarly, independents and third-party candidates face fundraising disparities when compared to their Democratic and Republican opponents, who can rely on their parties for significant financial support.
- Many states have "sore loser" laws, which prevent candidates from running in a general election as an independent after losing a primary. While the party base may not choose certain candidates, those people may have significant support among other voters.
- Top-four primaries are good, top-two not so much - The Fulcrum ›
- Can two flawed election systems merge into a better hybrid? - The ... ›
- Voters should see more than two candidates in the debates - The ... ›
- Court rejects bid to get more outsiders into debates - The Fulcrum ›
Gardner is the CEO of ReflectUS, a national coalition of nine leading women's representation movement organizations working to accelerate gender parity. Terrell is executive director and founder of RepresentWomen, a member of ReflectUS.
The United States has a crisis of representation in government. Women are 51 percent of the population; yet only hold 27 percent of seats in the House of Representatives. Over the last decades, a myriad of training programs, including leadership development solutions, have been created specifically to get more women elected. Even with these increased resources to support women running for office, at our current rate we won't reach gender parity in political leadership in our lifetimes.
In 2000, the United States ranked 46th for women's representation in government at the national level; now we rank 67th, alongside Mali, Kazakhstan, Bulgaria, and Afghanistan. And the U.S. ranks well behind most well-established democracies in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
In other words, 66 countries have outpaced the United States in women's representation – not because their women are more qualified or ambitious, but because they have implemented electoral systems and policies to ensure more level playing fields and greater opportunity in the electoral process. Consider New Zealand, a country often lauded for increasing women in leadership since adapting its electoral system from the "first past the post" model to the more modern mixed-member proportional system.
Similarly, in the nation of Georgia, political parties are incentivized to recruit more women and receive state funding for doing so, while in Ireland political parties lose funding for failing to recruit enough women to represent their party. The evidence is clear – if our nation wants to accelerate greater gender representation and demonstrate that we truly value women's political leadership, we need both leadership development programs and changes to our political and electoral systems. The history of women's representation best demonstrates this need.
In 1992, a record number of women ran for and were elected to Congress – in fact, more women won that year than in any previous decade. The year became known as the Year of the Woman and set in motion other political gains. During this same period, our government failed to change policies and voting systems to make it more equitable for women to run. For instance, it was only in 2018 that women running for federal office were allowed to use campaign funds to cover childcare expenses. This important policy still isn't in place in most states. In the year 2021, 29 years after the Year of the Woman, it is hard to imagine that women are still fighting these same battles.
Many have touched on the history made with Joe Biden's selection of Kamala Harris as his vice presidential running mate. One hundred years after the 19th Amendment granted many women the right to vote, Harris is the first woman of color and the fourth woman overall to be on a major-party ticket for a presidential election. While no woman has served as the U.S. President, 13 countries around the world have women heads of state. Along with becoming one of a small handful of women to be featured on the ballot during a presidential election, Harris' nomination illustrates the unique power executive leaders have to accelerate gender equality and parity by appointing women as running mates and to key leadership positions. Local, state and national appointed positions often perform a great deal of government work – writing policies, making decisions, presenting ideas and so forth. More women in these roles increases women's influence in the policymaking process.
While other countries have adopted innovative strategies to improve women's representation, lawmakers in the U.S. have done little to address the constraints of our system. Additionally, more than 100 countries have implemented targeted recruitment practices to increase the number of women who run in the first place. In the U.S., women's moderate successes in spite of these institutional barriers remain uneven across ideology, age, geography class and race.
The ReflectUS Coalition's work on systemic change runs the gamut: We believe that every person and institution plays an important role in this work. Political parties must commit to recruiting women to run for office and commit to gender equality standards. Political donors can put their resources behind women early on in primaries and later in general elections to ensure women have the funding they need – funding that attracts other donors to contribute. Individuals can donate, volunteer and vote for women who are running for office. Those in charge of appointments to boards and commissions must commit to gender-balanced appointments. There are also policy approaches that would greatly accelerate women's political leadership such as modernizing legislative workplace norms with onsite childcare, paid leave and proxy voting so women can serve effectively and rise to leadership positions.
Without women, we are missing a vital opportunity to address real concerns for more than half the population in the United States. Gender equality should not be reliant on the success of one party over another; for equality to be achieved and sustained it must happen across the ideological, racial, economical, and geographical spectrum. As we move beyond the suffrage centennial and celebrate the women leaders who made the 19th Amendment possible, we must harness the energy for change and the hunger for women's representation on the ticket and in the Cabinet. And we must commit to systemic changes that will last longer than a presidency.
- Want different politics? Pay attention to women like these. - Debilyn ... ›
- Ranked-choice voting would create a more representative USA ... ›
- Biden leans into gender parity with Cabinet picks - The Fulcrum ›
- Why multi-member districts with fair voting rules would be a boon to ... ›
Terrell is executive director and Goral is a communications fellow at RepresentWomen, a nonpartisan group advocating for policies that would result in more women holding office.
The United States is facing a growing representation crisis. While our population continues to grow, the number of elected officials representing us at the highest levels of government has not changed in more than a century. As a result, our Congress has among the most disproportionate representation ratios of any legislature in the world.
The constituency of the average representative will be 760,000 after the upcoming redrawing of House district lines, and at the current rate of population growth that number will be 1 million by 2050. These enormous numbers compound the feelings of inadequate representation that already permeate our democracy.
Fortunately there is an easy solution: expanding the House of Representatives.
From the very beginning the members of the House have been directly elected, so that they would have "an immediate dependence on, and an intimate sympathy with, the people, as James Madison said.
When the House first convened in 1789, its membership of 65 ensured a ratio of one representative for every 60,000 people. The number of seats in the House then grew steadily decade after decade, expanding with the population and the findings of the decennial census, until the Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929 capped the "People's House" at 435 members — where it had been for almost two decades, and where it remains today.
It has been more than a century since the number of seats was expanded. In 1911, there was one member for every 216,000 people in a nation of 94 million. Now, that same number of people cast votes setting policy on behalf of 331 million — leading to inadequate representation of constituents, inequalities in representation among states, and a partisan skew of what was supposed to be the body of government most responsive to the people.
Expanding the House — which we believe should be populated with several members for each of a reduced number of districts, chosen in ranked-choice elections — would have a profound impact on our democracy, solving several problems that have arisen from the current crisis of representation.
First, expansion would decrease the sway that big-money donors and political action committees have over the members. A larger House would encourage grassroots campaigning and person-to-person interactions, which cost less than current campaigns —which had expenses averaging more than $2 million last year.
This will particularly help women and people of color, who are more likely to run as challengers or for open seats, because they would have a viable chance to win while relying on small-dollar networks of donors, and fewer financial resources overall than what almost always flows to the incumbents.
Second, expansion would have an immediate impact on the diversity of Congress. Due to the incumbency advantage, individuals running as challengers have very low success rates. Unfortunately the majority of women running for the House continue to be challengers. Last year there were 192 such candidates, and only nine won. (Another 17 women won open seats, while a record 98 congresswomen were re-elected.)
Expanding the House will increase the number of open seats available to political newcomers who are more likely to be women, younger and more racially diverse. Recent projections by our organization suggest that expanding the size of the House would significantly increase the number of women on Capitol Hill.
Third, expansion combined with multimember districts would create more engaged constituencies. Because people would be able to have more direct and intimate relationships with their representatives, the nation could look forward to an increased feeling of trust in and accountability from its government.
Finally, expansion would mitigate partisanship and polarization. A larger legislature would increase opportunities for members to cross party lines and form inter-party coalitions on policies.
Despite last year's record turnout for the presidential and congressional elections, too many citizens continue to feel alienated by politics — and too many feel unheard by their elected officials. Fixing this will take commitment and leadership on the part of Congress, but it also demands institutional changes like growing the membership of the House.
- Electoral systems matter when it comes to electing women - The ... ›
- Biden orders inclusion of undocumented in reapportionment - The ... ›
- What a Democratic sweep would mean for democracy reform - The ... ›
Feinstein is a co-founder of the Green Party of California. He was mayor of Santa Monica from 2000 to 2002 and an unsuccessful 2018 candidate for California secretary of state.
Last week the House voted 220-210 to pass HR 1, the Democratic majority's sweeping electoral reform bill intended to strengthen voting rights, enhance campaign finance reform, and address government ethics and corruption in politics. But the legislation also contains a poison pill designed to reduce political competition and voter choice, entrenching the polarizing duopoly electoral system that made Donald Trump's presidency possible.
In practice, the single-seat, winner-take-all system that controls American elections leads to only two electorally viable parties, forcing most voters into one of two large political camps. The "us versus them" mentality that results suppresses nuance and a respect for diversity — and exacerbates divisions in our society and politics, as the violent insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6 laid bare.
But instead of broadening and deepening our democracy, the provision labeled Section 502(a) would make it harder for minor parties and their presidential candidates to appear on the ballot. It would do so by raising the fundraising threshold required to earn presidential federal matching funds by 500 percent, and the minimum number of contributions to reach that threshold by 625 percent. Without these funds, minor party presidential nominees would have fewer resources to promote their messages, with the public seeing a narrower range of policy approaches and perspectives.
Onerous state laws passed by Democrats and Republicans also make it difficult for minor parties to gain and maintain ballot status. Minor party presidential candidates often have to qualify themselves and their parties on an election-by-election, state-by-state basis — requiring gathering large numbers of signatures in a short time.
These expensive petition drives are often financed by presidential matching funds earned during the primary season. So, without the money, minor parties and their candidates are unlikely to appear on the general election ballot in many states. In many states, being left off the top of the ballot consigns a party to political exile, so the same exclusion may befall many third-party candidates for Congress, and state positions and in many places such local offices as city council.
Since my party began organizing across the United States, voters have elected more than 1,200 Greens to municipal office and have cast millions of votes for Green candidates at all levels. The authors of HR 1 apparently believe the voices of citizens who've voted Green (and for other minor parties) don't matter.
Democrats ignored that when their presidential nominee Al Gore lost Florida by 537 votes in 2000 — and Green Party candidate Ralph Nader gained 97,488 votes in the state — and more than 300,000 Democrats voted for Republican George W. Bush. Instead, Democrats blame the Green Party for their losses, consistently chanting "Vote Blue no matter who!"
But in 2016, with Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton the least popular major party candidates in modern U.S. polling history, "lesser-evilism" reached its nadir with the historic, "evil-of-two-lessers" presidency that has just ended. The message? Don't be surprised what voters will do when they feel deprived of meaningful and representative choice — or if they conclude the major parties offer no clear ideology or platform, but only represent a guaranteed spot on the ballot to be exploited.
Instead of trying to drive minor parties off the ballot, Democrats should put country over party, and support increased voter choice and representation, by promoting a viable multi-party democracy. They can do that by making ballot access easier, supporting ranked-choice voting for president (eliminating the vote-splitting "spoiler"' issue) and creating multimember districts with proportional representation for the House and state legislatures.
Legislation pending in the House would assign more than one member to each congressional district, and they would be chosen using ranked elections. It should be added to HR 1, which would make states create independent commissions to draw House district lines. The bill should also be altered to mandate a meaningful increase in the size of the House of Representatives, which has essentially been frozen at 435 members since 1911 — when the country's population was 94 million, compared to 330 million today.
These reforms would create a House that's truly representative of our demographic and political diversity. They would also eliminate the deeply problematic gerrymandering and lack of representation that comes from using single-member districts. By contrast, the half-measure HR 1 would still leave large numbers of losing voters in every district without representation reflecting their views — a recipe for voter alienation and blowback.
Millions are relieved our democracy appears to have survived the immediate existential threat posed by the Trump presidency. But the structural conditions that made his 2016 election possible remain in place, meaning a more competent authoritarian could end our democracy in the future.
"The biggest risk is not going too big," President Biden said when he unveiled his $1.9 trillion plan to combat the health and economic crises posed by the pandemic. "It's if we go too small."
In confronting our democracy crisis, HR 1 is going too small, by focusing on band-aids instead of wholesale transformation of our outdated electoral system, instead of transforming it. If we are going to truly meet the moment, Congress must transcend partisan self-interest and myopic, duopoly-based thinking.
To voting rights and good-government groups supporting the bill: Voting matters when your ballot can help elect someone who truly represents your view. We can't achieve that using single-member-district elections, regardless of what public matching funds are provided.
That's why HR 1 needs to be altered to promote proportional representation elections, and a viable and representative multi-party democracy overall. That would be genuinely seizing this historic moment for needed reform.
- Senate must end filibuster to pass democracy reform bills - The ... ›
- Will 2021 be defined by voting rights and electoral reform? - The ... ›
- End Citizens United makes proactive game plan to pass HR 1 - The ... ›
- With the For the People Act, organizing is paying off - The Fulcrum ›
- For the People Act doesn't curtail states' rights - The Fulcrum ›
- Survey finds bipartisan support for HR 1 - The Fulcrum ›
- Democrats tweak For the People Act, but to what end? - The Fulcrum ›
- For the People Act falls victim to partisan dysfunction - The Fulcrum ›