This is the ninth installment of an ongoing Q&A series.
As Democrats take power in Washington, if only tenuously, many democracy reform groups see a potential path toward making the American political system work better. In this installment, Unite America Executive Director Nick Troiano answers our questions about 2020 accomplishments and plans for the year ahead. His organization advocates for nonpartisan political reforms and supports candidates committed to cross-partisanship. (Unite America is a funder of The Fulcrum.)
First, let's briefly recap 2020. What was your biggest triumph last year?
It's a cliche to say at this point, but last year was unprecedented. Culturally, politically, economically. Despite this, I think our biggest accomplishment came in our ability to adapt and overcome, reacting to the unknown unknowns. I'm proud to say that the pandemic didn't slow us down, it just shifted our direction.
Our biggest triumph was establishing the Unite America Fund, and mobilizing a cross-partisan community of donors to collectively invest in the reforms and candidates committed to reforming our democracy.
We are proud of all the campaigns and organizations we invested in, especially the successful ballot initiative for final-four voting in Alaska. Despite opposition from both political parties, the voters in Alaska prevailed.
And your biggest setback?
I think our setbacks were the movement's setbacks — court decisions that didn't go our way (often for very partisan reasons), the inability to gather petition signatures (due to Covid-19), and the general toxicity of the political environment that polarized what should otherwise be nonpartisan issues like access to voting.
What is one learning experience you took from 2020?
It was incredible to see organizations across the movement work together, build together, and support one another in our collective effort to ensure a safe and secure election for the American people. There was record turnout, and it worked. It's a good reminder of everything we can accomplish working together.
Now let's look ahead. What issues will your organization prioritize in 2021?
We're focused on ensuring the victories in 2020 are just the start of a broader era of reform. We're going to amplify the 2020 victories, continuing to invest in their implementation, and share their impact to bring more people into the movement.
We are also prioritizing legislative campaigns across the country this year, including in three states where Unite America has helped to build bipartisan and bicameral legislative caucuses that are focused on electoral reform and evidenced-based policymaking.
How will Democratic control of the federal government change the ways you work toward your goals?
While Democratic control may open some new opportunities for electoral reform at the federal level, it won't change the way we work insofar as building support in both parties to ensure nonpartisan reform stays just that: nonpartisan. Like any other issue area, big change requires big majorities in order to be sustained and trusted — and that's especially true when it comes to writing the rules of our electoral system.
What do you think will be your biggest challenge moving forward? And how do you plan to tackle it?
The biggest challenge now will be to keep the foot on the gas; with a new presidency, there may be people who become complacent with the status quo.
Our job is to continue to make the argument that the divisive partisanship and threats to democracy that we saw over the last four years will not end with the Trump presidency. We must continue to work to change the underlying incentives that brought us here in the first place.
Finish the sentence. In two years, American democracy will …
will not fix itself. It's on us!
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