A Tale of Two Elections: A Nationwide Referendum and a Revolt Against the Two-Party Duopoly
There were two elections on November 6.
The first was a national referendum on President Trump that saw Democrats win a majority in the House of Representatives after nearly a decade out of power, while Republicans added seats in the Senate.
The national election results continue to be the subject of endless punditry as races in Arizona were reversed and returns in Florida were subject to mandatory recount. It was a contest between two parties – Team Red and Team Blue – that will end up costing several billions of dollars when all is said and done, and confirm what we’ve long known, that Americans remain roughly divided on the question of which party they prefer.
But there was a second election that day. This election was driven by grassroots activists advocating for electoral reforms at the state and municipal level – and for the most part, succeeding.
Media coverage of this election has been minimal, mainly because it’s not easily understood in the traditional red vs. blue paradigm. But this election was arguably the more interesting and beneficial to our political future.
If election number one was a measure of how voters feel about President Trump, election number two was a referendum on how fed up voters are with politics as usual.
Judging by the results, the answer is that people are ready for change. From Florida to Utah, voters passed ballot initiatives designed to increase the power of the people and decrease the power of parties and political insiders.
Voters in red and blue states approved political reforms by wide margins. Four states approved changes to the way political district lines are drawn by adopting independent redistricting commissions. Voters in Colorado, Utah, Michigan, and Missouri overwhelmingly backed redistricting reform measures – in the case of Colorado by 71%.
Twelve states now boast some form of independent redistricting.
In Massachusetts, the people voted to create a citizens commission to recommend constitutional amendments to the state’s campaign finance rules. In Missouri, voters approved changes to the redistricting process, political spending, and imposed stricter limits on how long former lawmakers must wait before hanging out a shingle and lobbying former colleagues.
Arizona and North Dakota voters also approved ballot measures to tighten ethics laws. Michigan and Maryland enacted same-day voter registration, while Florida restored voting rights to residents with past felony convictions. And in Memphis, voters defended term limits and rank-choice voting from a cynical repeal effort by politicians.
What this other election told us Tuesday night is that when you don’t ask people to pick a side, but instead give them an opportunity to express their frustration with the political status quo and support for greater voter empowerment, you get a different view of America.
Yes, Americans have strong feelings about the two dominant political parties and which one they identify with most, but that is only part of the story. Americans are also deeply concerned about the health of our political system, and don’t like the culture of “divide and conquer.”
If given the chance, they vote to change the system and shake up the status quo.
The American people don’t like the political game as currently organized. We think it is self-perpetuating, small-minded, manipulative and corrupt. The only thing voters disdain more than the other team is politics itself.
That is why independent voters are now 44% of the electorate – a percentage that continues to grow.
It is why Michigan’s Katie Fahey was able to turn a Facebook post into a volunteer “Voters Not Politicians” army that inspired liberals and conservatives to come together, draft a ballot measure, gather 400,000 signatures, and overthrow partisan gerrymandering. It is why Floridians from both deep-blue and deep-red counties rallied behind Desmond Meade and his six-year crusade to restore dignity and voting rights to ex-felons.
Americans are indeed divided on the question of which team has the better ideas. At the same time, we don’t trust the parties to put the country’s interests ahead of their partisan interests — even when we wear their colors and cast votes for their candidates. We can’t stand that partisan officials are in charge of administering elections and counting votes, not just in Florida and Georgia, but everywhere. We want our elected leaders to work together to solve problems, not cause them.
The results of this election show that voters are not only using elections to vote for a particular candidate. They are going to the ballot box to restructure democracy itself, to change the rules, constrain the parties, and empower voters.
A real democracy movement is emerging from Maine to New Mexico, uniting Americans across the political spectrum in the pursuit of a more perfect union. And it is only getting started.