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Debriefing Democracy: 5 Takeaways in Nonpartisan News This Week

by Shawn M. Griffiths, published

From the ongoing legal battle against the Commission on Presidential Debates to taking nonpartisan election reform to the nation's largest battleground state, here are 5 key stories on election and political reform from this week.

1. Appeals Court Hears Johnson/Stein Debate Commission Lawsuit

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear oral argument in Gov. Gary Johnson and Dr. Jill Stein's antitrust lawsuit against the Commission on Presidential Debates. The court agreed to hear the case in March, marking the second legal challenge against the debate commission to be heard in federal court.

The lawsuit was originally filed in 2015 by Gov. Johnson, Dr. Stein, their respective parties, and affiliated organizations. It asserts that the debate commission's rules for candidate inclusion in the fall presidential debates allow the Republican and Democratic Parties to have a joint monopoly over presidential elections.

Hear the full oral argument

READ MORE: Presidential Debate Commission Under Fire – Again

Read the latest in Level the Playing Field's lawsuit against the FEC

Read the Independent Voter Project's amicus brief in Level the Playing Field, et. al. v. FEC

2. NYT: A More Pivotal Moment for Democrats (and Republicans) Than The Georgia Special Election

The New York Times published an article Friday about the Wisconsin gerrymandering case headed for the Supreme Court. For the first time in decades, justices on the high court could weigh in on partisan gerrymandering. The court has for a long time been reluctant to define what constitutes "too partisan" in the redistricting process.

However, the New York Times treats the issue like many news outlets do -- they focus on Republicans suppressing Democrats. Yet partisan gerrymandering is something both parties do in extreme fashion (look at Maryland's districts).

When DNC chair candidates had their final debate on CNN in February, the subject of gerrymandering came up, and the candidates did not talk about the need for independent redistricting commissions or other ways to curb partisanship in the process -- they focused on the importance of winning majorities in more states so they could control how the electoral lines were drawn.

Wisconsin gerrymandering going before the Supreme Court could be a pivotal moment, but it is not just for Democrats or Republicans. For the first time, the justices could set a precedent for what constitutes "too partisan" in the drawing of electoral district lines.

READ MORE: Wisconsin Wants SCOTUS to Protect Its Partisan Gerrymandering Scheme

ALSO READ: The Computer Algorithm Designed to Save Democracy

3. Approval Voting Clears Colorado House Committee

On Wednesday, the Colorado House State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee passed HB 1281, a bill that allows local governments to use approval voting in their elections.

"Every city deserves the freedom to use voting methods besides the status quo: choose-one plurality voting, which is notorious for causing wasted votes. We'd love to see every city in Colorado be able to use approval voting. It's time that every voter finally get to cast a meaningful ballot," commented Aaron Hamlin, executive director of the Center for Election Science.

The Center for Election Science is a nonpartisan, nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization “dedicated to helping the world use smarter election systems.” The organization heavily pushes approval voting as one of the simplest of the better voting methods out there.

ALSO READ: Will Fargo Be the First in the Nation to Adopt Approval Voting?

Don't know what Approval Voting is? Watch below:

4. Nonpartisan Elections in Nation's Largest Battleground State?

In an interview for IVN, Open Primaries' Jeremy Gruber spoke about a collaborative effort between three organizations to bring nonpartisan election reform to Florida. Open Primaries, Tim Canova's Progress for All, and Florida Fair and Open Primaries want the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, which meets once every 20 years, to put nonpartisan open primaries on the 2018 ballot.

We’re looking to develop primary reforms that let all voters vote and create more responsive candidates that actually represent the communities that elect them and are not simply responsive to the partisan few that come to elect them in closed primaries.” - Jeremy Gruber, senior vice president of Open Primaries.

READ MORE: Nonpartisan Elections in Florida? One Coalition is Trying to Make It Happen

ALSO READ: How Do Primary Elections Work? An Overview and Legal Analysis

 5. SCOTUS Denies Independents, Green Party Candidate's Petition to be Added in Montana Special Election

Three candidates, two independents and a Green Party candidate, have been in a legal battle to appear in Montana's special congressional election on May 25.

On April 8, federal Judge Brian Morris ruled that the ballot access barrier for Montana’s special congressional election, which kept two independents — Steve Kelly and Doug Campbell — and Green Party candidate Thomas Breck off the ballot was unconstitutional. The signature requirement was lowered from 14,000 to 400, yet there was no order to add additional candidates to the ballot.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declined an emergency motion to order more candidates to be added to the ballot. On Friday, Justice Anthony Kennedy also declined the petition to order more candidates.

There are three candidates in the race for Montana's only congressional seat: Republican Greg Gianforte, Democrat Rob Quist, and Libertarian Mark Wicks.

Check out the background article released by AP prior to the Supreme Court's decision here.

Photo Credit: vchal /

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