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Voters First: Nonpartisan Reformers Unite to Carry Historic Victories Into 2020

“[The political industry] is the only industry where people are told competition is bad for the consumer.” - Katherine Gehl

Former Gehl Foods CEO Katherine Gehl was among the headline speakers at the second annual summit of the National Association of Nonpartisan Reformers (NANR) on Friday, December 6, in Denver, Colorado. The event featured DaVita CEO Kent Thiry, RepresentUs Director Josh Silver, Independent Voter Project Chair and Executive Director Dan Howle, and more.

Gehl, who co-authored a groundbreaking Harvard Business School report on the political competition crisis in the US and the duopoly at the heart of the institutional and structural problems in US elections, says she is focused on transforming the political industry in America to be more competitive for voters and those who seek to get involved.

“Why is it that we have 6,000 breweries, and 3,000 wineries [in the US], but only two political parties?” Gehl asked. Questions like this were front and center during the day-long summit, which brought together nonpartisan reformers from across the country — preeminent leaders and voices in a movement that is growing by leaps and bounds.

Imagine any other industry where those involved did not have to actively deliver results, where consumer dissatisfaction was never addressed, and where no recourse existed for consumers who wanted their grievances resolved or to take their business somewhere else.

The prevalent theme of the NANR summit was transforming the only industry where a political crisis of this magnitude exists: the US political process. Organizations represented included the Independent Voter Project, Unite America, Open Primaries, FairVote, RepresentUs, the Center for Election Science, the Equal Vote Coalition, Vote at Home, The People, Voter Choice Massachusetts, and many, many more.

Each of these organizations and reformers have their own policy proposals and reform initiatives to unrig the duopoly:

  • Primary reform,
  • Gerrymandering reform,
  • Campaign finance reform,
  • Alternative voting methods,
  • Congressional reforms,
  • Corruption reform, ect.

Disagreements on the best approaches for each of these issues certainly exist and were discussed during the summit. However, what brings these groups together is a fundamental truth shared by Gehl and others that elections and the political industry as a whole should serve voters above all else.

“Proudly and lovingly, we can say, ‘I disagree, but I got your back,” said Open Primaries President John Opdycke during a panel discussion on how reformers pushing different alternative voting methods can get along and exist in the same space.

Summit attendees got to learn more about the historic momentum behind ranked choice voting during the panel, but they also got to learn about growing efforts to pass other voting methods like approval voting and STAR voting, each of which have their own success stories.

“We need all-out reform,” said RepresentUs Director Josh Silver, pointing out that in this critical moment of growth for these movements, there is enough space in the US for all of these ideas. 

The fact that there is competition within the reform space is not a bad thing. Opdycke believes that our disagreements highlight the passion we have for improving the democratic process. Further, Gehl argues that greater competition means further growth for the space (or industry).

Along with speeches from influential figures in the reform space like Gehl, Silver, and Thiry, attendees also had an opportunity to: 

  • Learn more effective messaging techniques and campaign strategies for nonpartisan reform;
  • Learn how to run for office outside the major parties;
  • Discuss ways to increase diversity in the reform space;
  • Discuss how to engage more businesses and organizations in election reform;
  • Learn how to use voter data to advance reform; and
  • Discuss the mainstream myth that independent voters are a myth

The summit concluded with awards presented to Kyle Bailey of the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting for expanding the use of ranked choice voting in Maine in presidential elections, Susan Lerner for her efforts in getting ranked choice voting passed in New York City, and Independent Voting President Jacqueline Salit for a lifetime commitment to independent voters and the voter reform movement.

The momentum behind the growing movements to pass pro-voter reforms was on display in Denver. Optimism along with new partnerships and coordination between reformers at the summit point to more historic victories to come.

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