Lawrence Lessig’s Campaign for Citizen Equality: A Rebellion for Independents

Between closed primaries, gerrymandering, and a campaign finance system run amuck, independents are the most unequal citizens in the U.S. In 2016, all of that could change.

Lessig is suggesting that voters use his campaign to 'hack' the political system and pass reform that no truly partisan candidate could ever deliver.
With Lawrence Lessig‘s entry into the Democratic presidential primary now successfully kickstarted, most of the media has focused on the Harvard Law professor’s history of pushing the issue of campaign finance reform. Yet over the past year, Lessig has slowly reframed his argument into an even more fundamental principle of our once great nation: citizen equality.

In his latest gambit in a series of increasingly radical ideas, Lessig is now proposing to run as a “referendum candidate,” where he would serve only as long as it took to pass a single statute. After which, he would resign and hand the reigns over to the de facto democratic presidential candidate that was temporarily serving as vice president.

Since the United States does not have the option of holding a national referendum to pass legislation in the way that states do, Lessig is suggesting that voters use his campaign to “hack” the political system and pass reform that no truly partisan candidate could ever deliver.

It is a complicated idea that has most voters scratching their heads, and partisan Democrats crying foul. Liberal Democrats in particular are clearly the most upset, with supporters of Bernie Sanders voicing the strongest opposition since he too has been a strong proponent of campaign finance reform.

Yet Lessig’s agenda is no longer solely concerned with reforming the way that we currently fund campaigns. In his yet to be written Citizen Equality Act of 2017 (CEA), Lessig has outlined three key reforms that are designed to restore the U.S. back to a truly representative democracy:

  1. Equal Right to Vote: Restores voting rights, makes registration automatic, and either shifts or makes Election Day a national holiday;
  2. Equal Representation: Ends gerrymandering by implementing a ranked choice voting system that provides truly proportional representation; and
  3. Citizen Funded Elections: Eliminates the dependence between funders and candidates for office.

It is the first two reforms that should really pique the interest of independents, because in combination with the third, they would change the game entirely. In particular, when asked in a reddit AmA as to whether he would also support open primaries, Lessig responded, “I like open primaries. I’d like them to be considered in v2 [of the CEA].”

Traditionally, in the primaries, independents have had abysmal turnouts, leaving the candidates for the general election to be decided by party loyalists. As a result, in the last competitive Democratic primary in 2008, the average voter turnout was under 30 percent, with Democrats accounting for just under 20 percent of the eligible voters at the polls. This means that if just half of the 45 percent of the voters identifying as independent united behind Lessig, they could easily outnumber the votes for all other Democratic candidates combined.

This kind of rebellion by independents would not only demonstrate their power in determining elections, if successful, the CEA would clear the way for a much less partisan future — a future where party outsiders, independents, and third-party candidates would stand a far better chance of winning seats in Congress.

It is for this reason alone that independents should seriously consider supporting his proposal and becoming an active part in defining the CEA, which he plans to crowd-source to his supporters throughout the fall. At the very least, it would make what looks to be an extremely partisan election much more interesting.