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Debriefing Democracy: Nonpartisan Movements In the Spotlight

by Kendall Shain, published

We are now just a week away from Election Day, bringing to a close a presidential election that has given voters the two most disliked and untrusted candidates in modern U.S. history. It is an election cycle that has revealed just how broken elections are in the U.S.

Voters are undeniably fed up with the status quo.

The good news, however, is that many people and organizations are working to fix the broken system and great progress is being made. Here are some efforts you should know about. This week, the summaries are provided by the organizations themselves:

Centrist Project

While the Centrist Project is focused on breaking through political gridlock by electing Centrist independent candidates, they are also supportive of structural reforms that share the same goal. They believe good governance starts with an effective electoral process. This election, The Centrist Project is proud to endorse two ballot measures that advance such reforms.

Maine’s Ranked Choice Voting initiative aims to provide a system that works – enabling candidates with the best ideas (and not the biggest bank accounts or celebrity status) to have a fighting chance.

They are also excited to support the Let Colorado Vote campaign, which is leading the fight on two ballot measures in Colorado to (1) restore a presidential primary and (2) open primary elections to unaffiliated voters.

These measures are focused on increasing participation in our democratic process and ensuring independent voters can cast ballots in elections they already pay for as taxpayers.

Additionally, The Centrist Project recently endorsed two independent House candidates: Martin Babinec, NY-22, and Alan LaPolice, KS-1. Both candidates are nearly tied in the polls and have a historic chance to be the first independents in the House in decades.

Fair Vote

FairVote seeks accountable and responsive government by supporting election reforms that give more voice to voters. Through, they distribute the tools and analysis necessary to secure and sustain electoral reform and are the central hub for research, education and advocacy about ranked choice voting (RCV). Last month, they were particularly focused on telling the story about RCV in the media and on-the-ground assistance to reformers advancing ranked choice voting through November ballot measures in Maine and Benton County, Oregon. Their board chair, Krist Novoselic, talked about RCV last month in television and online interviews on Fox, C-SPAN, MTV, Rolling Stone, and more.

See posts from their blog on media highlights, like this recent compilation, and analysis of other FairVote-backed reforms. The project is designed to help Mainers reach out to other Mainers about ranked choice voting as their state votes on Question Five to use RCV for general and primary elections for governor, U.S. Senate, U.S. House and state legislature in 2018. We are committed to helping RCV work well in practice, and are working in the Bay Area as voters in four cities use RCV in November and as more than 50 colleges and universities use it in student elections this year.

Level the Playing Field

Level the Playing Field and its CEO, Peter Ackerman, filed a lawsuit back in June of 2015 charging that the CPD and its directors have violated federal election law that requires debate sponsors to be “nonpartisan” and use “objective criteria” to determine which candidates will appear on the presidential debate stage.

The U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. will hear oral arguments in a lawsuit challenging the FEC for not properly regulating the Commission on Presidential Debates. The court set a hearing date Wednesday for January 7, 2017, just under two weeks before the next president will be sworn into office.

“We are grateful that the Court has granted our request for oral arguments and look forward to a hearing in January,” said Alexandra A.E. Shapiro, lead counsel to the plaintiffs.

LPF cites extensive evidence showing that the CPD is not nonpartisan and instead promotes the candidates of the Democratic and Republican parties while excluding all others from the debates. Currently, the debate commission’s criteria for debate entry says candidates must (1) be qualified to run for president, (2) be ballot qualified in enough states to have a mathematical chance at winning an electoral majority, and (3) poll at 15 percent in 5 polls hand-picked by the CPD.

Plaintiffs assert that the latter criterion is one that only the Democratic and Republican parties can reasonably achieve, and thus the commission illegally excludes third-party and independent candidates from the debates. The debate commission is run by former top officials of the two major parties, including a former chairman of the national Republican Party.


Represent.Us is the nation's largest grassroots anti-corruption campaign, with more than 600,000 members across the country. The campaign brings together conservatives, progressives, and everyone in between to fix America's corrupt political system by going around Congress and passing Anti-Corruption Acts in cities and states.

These laws protect our local communities from corruption and build momentum for national reform.

This Election Day, Represent.Us' 600,000 members are supporting 16 ballot measures, including two powerful Anti-Corruption Acts in South Dakota and Washington state that stop political bribery, end secret money, and give voters a stronger voice. South Dakota's Measure 22 is championed by a Republican former state senator and a Democratic former state representative, and Washington's Initiative 1464 is being driven by a cross-partisan coalition of progressives and Tea Party members.

To learn more about the 16 ballot measures supported by Represent.Us, click here.

Open Primaries

Open Primaries is supporting the Vote Yes on V campaign for top-two primaries in South Dakota and has helped organize a diverse coalition of Republicans, Democrats and Independents from across the state that are supporting the measure. Given the success of top-two primaries in California, Washington, and Nebraska, Open Primaries believes that the system could greatly reduce obstructionism and hyper-partisanship in the Mount Rushmore State, and would send a strong message to Washington that America’s voters are reclaiming their democracy. They are currently matching all donations to Vote Yes on V, 2-to-1.

Open Primaries is also supporting two ballot initiatives championed by the Let Colorado Vote campaign. Independent voters comprise a plurality of the electorate in Colorado, yet are shut out of the primaries.

Proposition 107 would would re-establish presidential primary elections in Colorado and open them up to unaffiliated voters. Proposition 108 would allow unaffiliated voters to cast a ballot in non-presidential primaries. The campaign has been so successful that the political establishment has resorted to distorting the language in the voter guide to confuse voters. Open Primaries President John Opdycke responded with an op-ed in Newsweek.

Virginia General Assembly Delegate Sam Rasoul -- a strong ally of the open primaries movement -- recently introduced a constitutional amendment that would adopt a top-two primary system in his state -- HJ 541. Rasoul believes that the measure will make elections far more competitive in Virginia, where 100% of incumbents were reelected last year. He penned an op-ed with Open Primaries Senior Vice President Jeremy Gruber on the implications of public primaries in Virginia. Open Primaries is currently staging a contact your legislator campaign for Virginians who support Rasoul's measure.

Mark Moody is an independent voter who was prevented from voting for Bernie Sanders because of New York’s closed primary which shut out 3.2 million New Yorkers this year. Mark is also an attorney and has brought a legal challenge under New York’s constitution. His first hearing is December 6th and Open Primaries is supporting his case and organizing folks to attend the first hearing. Open Primaries has a sign-on letter, urging Senator Sanders to attend in support, that has garnered hundreds of signatures so far.

Is your organization trying to make the system more responsive to voters? Let us know if we should include you in our update: 


Photo credit: J. Bicking /

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