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Turnout boost of '18 will complicate a repeat ballot initiative surge in '20

Ranked-choice voting for California. Automatic voter registration across Arizona. Independent redistricting in Arkansas, Oregon and South Dakota.

Ballot initiatives to accomplish these things, still lacking the required numbers of signatures, are facing the same reality as many other citizen-led ballot initiative campaigns in the run-up to 2020 — the need for a larger bankroll.

The surge in turnout in 2018, credited to a record number of good-government ballot initiatives as well as an intense battle for control of Congress, may have been a boon for representative democracy. But now the law of unintended consequences is coming in to play.

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Committee on the Modernization of Congress

The House Committee on the Modernization of Congress convened Thursday to hear experts on civility.

With impeachment underway, one committee spends a day talking about civility

While many members of Congress spent Thursday talking about impeachment, one House committee held a hearing on promoting congressional civility. Those two ideas may not seem likely to co-exist, but those who testified hold out hope that Congress can come out of the coming drama in better shape.

"There is an overarching question we have to engage," Jason Grumet, president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, told the House Committee on the Modernization of Congress. "Are we facing a crisis in a democracy that is durable and capable and up to the task? Or are we actually facing a crisis of democracy in an institution that's strained and brittle and at real risk?"

It remains to be seen what, if anything, a divided Congress can accomplish in the midst of an impeachment inquiry. But, he noted, it somehow functioned under similar situations in the past.

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Courtesy Peter Miller

Research Peter Miller found that public comments can have a significant impact on redistricting decisions.

What to say (and not to say) if you're a regular citizen hoping to shape redistricting

Can the public influence the drawing of legislative districts?

That's what graduate student Peter Miller wanted to know when he drove to Long Beach City Hall for a public hearing on redistricting.

Seventy-two people spoke at the April 2011 meeting, often offering the same request: Combine the Port of Long Beach and the city of Long Beach into a single congressional district.

The reason? Winds carry pollution from the port, one of the busiest in the country, into Long Beach itself, and residents wanted their House member to be responsive to those environmental concerns. California's commission of citizen line drawers pulled up the map and agreed. The port and city have been represented by the same person ever since.

The result of that session in Long Beach underscores how regular citizens can shape a process that's gotten an awful reputation as dominated by professional partisans. It also provides reason for optimism in light of the Supreme Court's ruling this summer that federal courts have no power to decide when the politicians have gone too far in picking their voters — and as public hearings have begun in some states in advance of the nation's political remapping for the 2020s.

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