Galen is an independent political consultant and advisor to The Lincoln Project, an organization of conservatives working for President Trump's defeat. He has been active in the electoral reform movement since 2016.
The coronavirus pandemic has affected every part of our lives. We've seen shelter-in-place orders, schools dismissed, and restaurants and shops shuttered. Every day we see new examples of Americans doing their part in the face of a crisis no one could have predicted and too many of our institutions did too little to prepare for.
Our elections are a prime example. In just the past few weeks we've seen primary and special elections postponed in the interest of social distancing and public health. Maryland, Kentucky, Georgia and Louisiana have pushed voting until later in the spring or summer. While this may provide a small hiccup for the Democratic presidential campaign, these decisions were prudent.
Ohio, which was slated to vote Tuesday, called a halt to the primary just hours ahead of time. On its face, Gov. Mike DeWine's request for a state judge to intervene and halt polling makes sense given the universal admonition not to gather in large groups.
However, when the court refused, DeWine's public health director canceled the election unilaterally, citing the coronavirus. Given that neither the governor nor the General Assembly had statutory authority to do so, DeWine used a legal end-around to achieve an otherwise reasonable goal.
This willingness and ability to use such extraordinary authority is concerning for several reasons.
First, when left with no other option, DeWine found the fastest and most efficient means necessary to take an action for which he didn't otherwise have authority. Indeed, incredible times sometimes call for incredible measures, but the ability of an executive to take unilateral action — especially when it concerns voting — is an uncommon act in America, to say the least.
This leads to the next issue: Other governors and state elections officials view DeWine's action — and the lack of reaction from the Legislature, the media or the people — as a precedent for taking similar action should they deem it necessary and appropriate. Given this hyper-polarized moment, we should insist that leaders of both parties commit publicly to not taking actions that will adversely affect their political opponents.
Lastly, and perhaps most concerning, is that President Trump, given his ignorance and disdain for both law and tradition, will attempt to utilize a similar "public health emergency" declaration to cancel elections in November. This must not be allowed to happen.
Although this week Trump said he didn't believe it was necessary to postpone other primary elections, we should not take that, or anything he says, as a blanket statement. Given the president's predilection for saying whatever comes to mind or is the most expedient, it is not beyond the realm of possibility to see him leaning into a "cancel the election" stance and pressuring Republican governors and secretaries of state to go along with his wishes.
To prevent such an outcome, elections officials, both in the statehouses and the counties, need to immediately begin preparing for more flexible means of allowing voters to participate this fall. The good news is that most of the infrastructure already exists to make this a reality.
All states provide for at least some voting using an absentee, mail-in ballot. They are split about evenly between those that require some sort of reason (illness, military service, planned travel or advanced age) and those that provide the option to any registered voter who asks. Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Utah and Hawaii are the standouts — because in those five states ballots and return envelopes will be proactively sent to every voter for use in the general election.
Given most states' abilities and the traditions of issuing absentee ballots, elections officials should immediately begin the process of determining how best to ensure every voter can participate — either in person or at home in November. Most state ballots are not finalized until late August or early September; this should be sufficient time for county officials to organize printing and delivery.
While they are preparing to allow people to vote from their homes, states must also work with civic groups such as the League of Women Voters and other electoral reform groups to accomplish several key objectives.
Initially, states will need to implement a public service campaign to inform the electorate that the state will be moving to mail-in or all-absentee balloting. This must include resources, both mail and digital, that ensure voters clearly understand how to vote their ballot at home.
Given that many poll workers and election judges are older Americans, states must begin a recruitment drive for new poll workers and election judges. Younger Americans should take up the mantle of protecting the integrity of our elections from their parents and grandparents.
Lastly, there must be a concerted and coordinated campaign by us, the American people, to demand these changes and reforms be put in place as soon as possible. With the help of many national, state and local reform groups, we can ensure that come Nov. 3, every American voter's voice is heard.
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Galen is an independent political strategist who left the Republican Party in 2016. He has worked for President George W. Bush, Sen. John McCain, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Serve America Movement.
The chaos, clutter and confusion of the 2020 campaign is already in full swing. With President Trump embroiled in yet another scandal of his own making and Democratic presidential candidates finding new and interesting ways to turn off independent and moderates, now is the time for the reform movement to make its move. But it must be fearless, it must be well-financed and it must be now.
Those of us in the fight to repair American politics must step away from the "first do no harm" ethos. The system has rotted from within and its effects are now felt without. We must be willing to stand up tall and tell those who would deter us that we are not afraid of them and that indeed we work everyday to topple their duopoly. Incrementalism is a must in policy. It is a death-knell in politics.
The numerous groups, individuals and parties currently working to reform, replace or break the American political system must come together strategically. Each has specific goals that are often not aligned with anyone or any other. Many who claim the reform movement as home do not remotely agree on any idea other than that the American political system needs massive restructuring.
Objectives also differ greatly. For example, one redistricting reform group may want the power to draw political boundaries taken away from politicians to effect more fairness in the make-up of legislative districts. The one next door may believe in the same reform, but simply to advantage the party they happen to call home.
For now, we should welcome all comers, regardless of how they found themselves on the outside looking in. If an effort is in favor of systemic change, it should be welcomed with open arms.
But now is not the time to nibble around the edges of the American political establishment.
Many who call the dusty, lonely plains of political independence home are content to support the least objectionable members of either the Republican or Democratic parties, in the belief that more moderates will lead to better governance. In theory, this should be true.
Is the country better for having these members in office? Yes, in that a more extreme replacement speeds our political descent. But we should be clear about what they represent: a bulwark against worse instincts, not a channel to political recovery. They are manning the trenches and we appreciate them for it. They haven't, and likely won't, risk their own electoral lives to step up and speak out against the current system and what it is doing to the country.
When it comes to political reform, redistricting and ranked-choice voting sit atop the list. I have personally helped pass anti-gerrymandering measures in California and Utah, and an open-primary initiative in California. Again, these are incremental. As proud as I am of citizen-drawn legislative maps, it's a once-in-a-decade reform that has yet to demonstrate true effectiveness.
Instead of taking candidates and reforms piecemeal, we must find ways to concentrate strength, resources and priorities. Only when we bring the full quiver of external threats to bear will we start to see real, tangible cracks in a system we all know to be broken — likely beyond the sort of patching we've been attempting up to now.
What is needed is not a top-down organization, but an effort based on the idea that there are groups and leaders who have specific goals and objectives. We must provide collective assistance so that each channel is initially seen as no more critical than another. Most importantly, we must ensure that when the duopoly attacks one group, their efforts don't create systemic collapse.
We must be varied and widespread enough that the duopoly's entrenched organs must pick and choose which threats to address. We must operate by the adage that if they are attacking everywhere, they are attacking nowhere.
Take a state like Colorado, for example. It has a diverse electorate (one-third each among Republican, Democrat and Independent). Next year it expects to have a highly competitive Senate race and several local and statewide ballot measures. If all the reform, independent and new political party groups made the political establishment fight on multiple fronts, we might actually succeed in overturning the Mile High State's political applecart.
None of this, though, will happen without major resources. The collective annual budgets of all the reform groups likely does not surpass $20 million. In the face of the $2 billion or more the parties plan to spend on campaigns from the White House to the statehouse next year, reformers will have little more than a drop in the bucket to compete. The good news is that there are individuals, some who have funded projects on which I've worked, that have the financial wherewithal to make big investments in these projects and give them real lift.
Lastly, what we all need, perhaps as the foundation of the rest of the work, is trust in one another. As noted above, some of us may have different reasons for similar objectives. Now is not the time to tangle ourselves in turf wars and petty competition. There are plenty of opponents on whom we should deploy that latent, internal energy.
Everyday we watch as our treasured institutions, those that so many of us have fought so long and hard for, are increasingly dismantled or ignored. There is energy outside the two-party system. There is opportunity as well. Now we must commit to coming together, understanding our respective roles, and playing them the best we can. Otherwise, we're just bystanders.
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