How did American democracy get so broken and how can it be fixed?
One of the premier organizations focused on making governance across the United States work better, RepresentUs, sees educating the public on the state of dysfunction as a crucial first step — and using star power as the best way to draw eyeballs to a sometimes confusing and overwhelming topic.
So in time for Monday's international Anti-Corruption Day, as declared by the United Nations for the past 14 years, the group is out with a 10-minute video featuring Academy Award-winning actor Michael Douglas breaking down the biggest challenges for democracy reformers and explaining how everyday citizens can drive solutions.
Four out of five counties in Texas have election websites that are not properly secured against hackers, the state's League of Women Voters says.
And the central flaw is alarmingly simple for anyone to detect, involving just a single letter. Of the 254 counties charged with administering elections in the nation's second biggest state, 201 have websites that have "http" at the start of their URL web addresses rather than the more secure "https," the League said in a recent report.
Thirteen local good-government groups across the country have been awarded a combined $250,000 to advance their causes.
The money is going to the inaugural winners of the Accelerator Awards, chosen from 115 applications around the country. The prizes are the creation of Unite America in partnership with RepresentUs. The two are among the most prominent non-partisan groups advocating for fixes to the problems of dysfunctional democracy.
The money was awarded to both fledgling and established organizations to advance their work in three areas: ending partisan gerrymandering, giving voters more power in elections and getting more citizens involved in elections.
While it can feel like your vote is a waste in a system where only a handful of elections actually make an impact, University of Berkeley student Amanda Shafer urges her contemporaries not to turn to political apathy.
The American Sustainable Business Council is hosting a conference in Washington Dec. 10-11 to talk about how businesses can course correct capitalism and regain Americans' confidence.
Have a question about democracy reform? Shoot it over to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Then look out for the answers on Mondays in our newsletter.
Broadcasters are pushing back against the Federal Communications Commission after the agency made clear it wants broader public disclosure regarding TV political ads.
With the 2020 election less than a year away and political TV ads running more frequently, the FCC issued a lengthy order to clear up any ambiguities licensees of TV stations had regarding their responsibility to record information about ad content and sponsorship. In response, a dozen broadcasting stations sent a petition to the agency, asking it to consider a more narrow interpretation of the law.
This dispute over disclosure rules for TV ads comes at a time when digital ads are subject to little regulation. Efforts to apply the same rules for TV, radio and print advertising across the internet have been stymied by Congress's partisanship and the Federal Election Commission being effectively out of commission.
In a partisan vote on an issue that once was bipartisan, House Democrats pushed through legislation Friday that would restore a key portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The Voting Rights Advancement Act passed the House 228-187, with all Democrats voting for the bill and all but one Republican, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, voting against it.
The bill faces virtually no chance of being considered in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Laura Williamson says her career was shaped by growing up in North Carolina, which she describes as being historically at the center of the best and worst of American democracy. She spent seven years working with young people at progressive groups and got a master's in public affairs at Princeton before joining Demos in the summer of 2018. The think tank aims to combat "threats to democracy, racial equity and economic inclusion" and as a senior policy analyst she's focused on voter registration, voting rights, money in politics and civic participation. Her answers have been lightly edited for clarity and length.
What's democracy's biggest challenge, in 10 words or less?
Abolishing all disenfranchisement schemes and achieving an inclusive, multiracial democracy.
"Political ads on social networks can hide behind a cloak of secrecy," argues Ari Lightman of Carnegie Mellon University.
The growing power and influence of 'Big Tech' have inspired a new wave of critics on both America's Left and Right. Join R Street Institute on Dec. 11 in San Francisco to hear a debate over how to handle tech and political speech online.
With the presidency on the ballot in less than a year, fears of another attempt by Russia or other foreign powers to interfere in the election seem to grow with each passing day.
But in the battlegrounds where the outcome will be decided — the 13 states almost certain to be most hotly contested by both parties — election security has been tightening and the opportunities for a successful hacking of American democracy are being greatly reduced, a review of the procedures and equipment on course to be used in each state in November 2020 makes clear.
"There's been a huge amount of progress since 2016," says Elaine Kamarck, an election security expert at the Brookings Institution. James Clapper, a former director of national intelligence, says his assessment of the fight against election interference results in feeling "confident that a lot has been done to make it better."
In fact, many who work on the issue now cite the public's perception that our election systems are vulnerable as a problem at least as great as the actual threat.
Along with the candidates and the issues, the 2020 presidential election is also going to be about the voting process itself.
Russian efforts to hack into the voting systems of 2016 have boosted election security to a critical concern this time, prompting states to spend tens of millions buying new equipment, hiring cybersecurity wizards and installing software that warns of intrusions — among numerous other steps. More purchases of hardware, software and expertise are coming in the months ahead.
Whether enough money gets spent, and wisely, won't be known for sure until Nov. 3, 2020 — when the system will be subject to the one test that really matters. And whether the country decides the presidential election result is trustworthy will likely come down to how reliably things work in the relatively small number of states both nominees are contesting.
With 11 months to go, The Fulcrum reviewed information from state elections officials, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Election Assistance Commission and news reports to get a sense of the election security landscape. Here's the state of play in the 13 states likeliest to be presidential battlegrounds.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren has the broadest support among Democratic presidential contenders — by a healthy margin — according to a poll testing a voting system that allows people to show support for more than one candidate.
Using what's called approval voting, the Massachusetts senator would have the support of 74 percent of Democratic primary voters, according to the poll, conducted Nov. 16-20 by the Center for Election Science.
Warren was followed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, with 64 percent, and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 61 percent. Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive frontrunner in the crowded Democratic field, finishes in fourth place at 53 percent. The poll has a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points.
"Money in our political system has completely eroded the promise of a functioning and just democracy," argues Wambui Gatheru of American Promise.
Thanksgiving might be over, but the holiday season is still underway. Need a little help figuring out how and when to talk politics with your family? Join Living Room Conversations on Dec. 10 to get tips and tricks navigating family discussions.