These 2020 Campaigns Showed America Better Ways to Do Elections
America is waiting for the drama of the 2020 presidential election to play itself out. Votes are still being counted. Lawsuits have and will continue to be filed. The heated divide between the parties is on full display while US voters desperately want politicians to put the needs of the country ahead of the gain-seeking interests of their parties.
The biggest story lost in the chaos are the movements to give voters a fairer, more accountable process that empowers all voters and leads to more competition in the political industry. Several campaigns across the US were on the ballot in the 2020 election cycle, which resulted in more historic victories and positive signs that momentum will continue to build for these movements.
Here are the biggest reform victories and moments on the ballot in 2020:
Two-thirds of Virginians Vote to End Partisan Gerrymandering
Nearly 4 million Virginia citizens voted to adopt a bipartisan, citizen-led redistricting commission this election under FairMapVA’s Amendment 1. The commission established by the amendment will be composed of 8 members of the commonwealth’s General Assembly and 8 citizens, and the chair of the committee has to be a citizen.
“In creating a bipartisan redistricting commission, [voters] said they want a seat at the table when district lines are drawn next year and beyond," FairMapsVA leaders said on Tuesday night. "They said they want a transparent redistricting process. They want civil rights protections to be added to the state constitution for the very first time. And they said they want to end partisan gerrymandering in Virginia once and for all."
The amendment requires the committee to follow a set of rules that require maps that accurately reflect communities while not diminishing the voting power of minority groups. It also requires a supermajority of the committee to approve final maps, and does not allow the legislature or the governor to amend maps.
The committee’s business will also be conducted for the public to see in order to ensure transparency.
5 Cities Approve Ranked Choice Voting, While Initiatives Fail in 2 States
The reform that continues to have the most momentum behind it is ranked choice voting. It continues to see success in local municipalities across the country and it is increasingly attracting the attention of prominent public figures like Andrew Yang and billionaire Mark Cuban.
Five cities this election cycle voted to use ranked choice voting in local elections:
- Two cities in California (Albany and Eureka);
- Two cities in Minnesota (Bloomington and Minnetonka); and
- Boulder, Colorado
Bloomington and Minnetonka will join Minneapolis, St. Paul, and St. Louis Park in the growing list of Minnesota cities to use ranked choice voting. This hotspot for the voting reform could point to broader success at the state level as local advocates continue to build support and educate voters on the benefits of the alternative voting method.
To date, no state has followed Maine’s lead in adding ranked choice voting at the state level. In Massachusetts, Voter Choice Massachusetts had built a strong network of ranked choice voting supporters ahead of the 2020 election. However, the campaign that emerged from this group fell short of getting Ballot Measure 2 passed to adopt ranked choice voting for state and non-presidential federal elections.
The “Yes on 2” campaign says the support it amassed over the campaign cycle, including the endorsements it received from several former and current public officials at all levels of government, will continue to build for future efforts to pass the reform.
A comprehensive better elections measure in Alaska that includes a nonpartisan top-four primary with ranked choice voting in the general election, at the time of this writing, looks is trailing in the polls.. Ballots are still being counted in the state.
Update 11/13/2020: After counting more absentee ballots the better elections Amendment in Alaska, Measure 2, now has a slight lead in the polls. More ballots remain to be counted. Stay tuned for more information.
America’s First Nonpartisan Primary with Approval Voting Is Coming to St. Louis
Nonpartisan reformers are starting to combine their efforts and their reform proposals to provide voters with a comprehensive approach to better elections. In some states, like Alaska, this means combining nonpartisan open primaries with ranked choice voting in the general election.
In St. Louis, Missouri, however, voters overwhelmingly approved the first nonpartisan open primary with approval voting under Proposition D.
“Under our current choose-one voting method, the interests of most voters are too often put aside while politicians cater to a small fraction of the electorate,” said Chris Raleigh, Director of Campaigns & Advocacy for The Center for Election Science. “This new system in St. Louis will put power back in the hands of the voters and force politicians to actually earn their votes.”
The Center for Election Science is the nation’s preeminent organization advocating for approval voting, and helped campaigns in Fargo, North Dakota, and St. Louis adopt an election system with the new voting method.
Approval voting allows voters to choose as many candidates as they want. The candidate with the most votes wins. It is arguably the simplest alternative voting method being proposed in the nonpartisan reform space. Advocates say the combination with nonpartisan primaries ensures all voters, regardless of party, will have a level playing field to choose local public officials, and they can feel confident in selecting the candidates they support.
The campaign behind Proposition D was spearheaded by a group of young grassroots activists: Graduate student Tyler Schlichenmeyer, Missouri Representative Rasheen Aldridge, reform activist Benjamin Singer, and campaign manager Mallory Rusch, and it received broad support from nonpartisan groups and individuals dedicated to providing better representation for voters - particularly, for the city's majority African-American population that is currently under-represented in city politics.
“This is a great day for democracy and a huge win for the people of St. Louis,” said Aldridge after the results came in. “Prop D will let the people’s voices be heard like they haven’t before. It gives voters a say for candidates to make it to the general election. The people’s voices will be heard instead of letting people win with only 30% of the vote.”
St. Louis historically has used closed primaries in local elections, which in an overwhelmingly Democratic city meant the races were decided in Democratic contests that denied participation to voters outside the party. Not only that, the winner of the primaries often weren’t elected with majority approval from primary voters due to vote splitting.
According to The Center for Election Science, the problem was punctuated after the 2017 mayoral primary election. In that election, the winner moved on to the November ballot with just 32% of the vote where they were guaranteed victory. Proposition D supporters say it ensures all voters have a meaningful say in who represents them when the most voters participate.
Nonpartisan Open Primaries Get Overwhelming Support in Florida, But the Two-Party Establishment Still Wins
Amendment 3 in Florida would require a nonpartisan top-two primary system for state legislative and executive elections, opening critical taxpayer-funded elections to all voters, including the 27 million registered independent voters in the state.
The amendment had broad support in Florida. The campaign to get Amendment 3 on the ballot collected over a million signatures. It survived a legal challenge by both major parties and the state’s attorney general. And when on the votes were tallied, 57% of the state voters approved of the amendment.
However, due to a 2006 change to ballot measure requirements, proposed amendments in Florida require support from 60% of voters in an election. That is a tall hurdle to clear for any campaign.Thus, Amendment 3 fell short of passage by 3 percentage points.
The top-two nonpartisan primary system under Amendment 3 is similar to the systems in place in California and Washington state. All voters and candidates, regardless of party, participate on a single primary ballot, giving voters full control over who moves on to the general election ballot rather than have a system where the most control resides with party bosses. The top two vote-getters then move on to the general election.
Primary reform advocates are not deterred by the loss in Florida. In fact, the overwhelming rejection of the two-party duopoly's agenda opens the door to build on these efforts.
“While we are disappointed with the loss, Open Primaries and the Florida Open Primaries coalition remain committed to moving this issue forward in 2021 and beyond. With independent voters projected to become the largest group of voters in Florida by 2030, the demand for a fair and inclusive primary system will only grow,” stated Open Primaries in a press release.