Johnson is executive director of the Election Reformers Network, an organization of election experts advancing nonpartisan reforms to American democratic institutions.
Americans have been long talking about different reforms to our election system, but it's a young upstart — ranked-choice voting — that is rocketing to center stage.
In New York City, most people had never heard of ranked-choice voting when the city's Charter Commission announced in April that the reform would be on the November ballot. Yet a week ago, nearly three-quarters of city voters embraced the reform, despite opposition from the NAACP and the City Council's Black, Latino and Asian Caucus. The result tripled the number of Americans living in jurisdictions using RCV to more than 12 million, with many more likely to follow.
In part the appeal of ranked-choice voting is practical; it is a simple, intuitive change that gives citizens more choice and more impact, and ensures election results reflect the will of the majority. In places like New York that rely on runoffs, it also saves taxpayers' money.
But practicalities don't propel popular movements; ranked-choice voting is on the rise across the country because it offers hope, hope to citizens who are fed up with polarization, who want civility and consensus in an era dominated by divisiveness and discord.
Johnson is executive director of Election Reformers Network, an organization of election experts advancing nonpartisan reforms to U.S. democratic institutions.
With all eyes on the threats outsiders pose to the next presidential election, it seems we have forgotten the self-made dysfunction at the center of our democracy. Another presidential election approaches, with another victory to the popular vote loser a distinct possibility. Campaigns will again focus exclusively on a handful of states, and voting will be an inconsequential civic gesture for the vast majority. Other pitfalls lurk that we largely ignore, like another Florida-style recount or the decision getting "thrown to the House," which could give final say to the minority party.
A verdict Wednesday from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver may add another Jack-in-the-box element: electors free to vote as they choose, regardless of the results in their state. If the Supreme Court agrees that Colorado's removal of a faithless elector in 2016 was unconstitutional, a new level of uncertainty will pervade our presidential elections.
A solution to these many problems, the National Popular Vote, has made considerable progress in blue states this year, but faces a long road. NPV needs to win enactment in purple states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and then survive this Supreme Court, where the majority seems to have little concern for the needs of our democracy, as the Rucho v. Common Cause decision illustrates. In the words of scholar Edward Foley, the majority "rejects the primacy of democracy as an organizing constitutional principle."
At least with stopping partisan gerrymandering, we have a fallback after the Supreme Court decided not to act: state level independent redistricting commissions. We have no such developed, viable alternative to NPV; Rucho makes clear it is time to start working on one.
Johnson is the dean and professor of public interest law and Chicana/o studies at University of California, Davis.
Immediately before the Supreme Court's summer recess each year, it releases decisions in some of its most challenging and significant cases.
This year was no different.
On June 27, the last day of the term, the Supreme Court decided Department of Commerce v. New York, a case exploring legal issues surrounding the addition of the question, “Is this person a citizen of the United States?," on the 2020 census.
The decision is of great practical importance, as the final numbers generated by the census will affect representation in Congress, allocation of federal dollars and much more. The political implications of the citizenship question made the case politically volatile and controversial.