Trust in Democracy at All-Time Low
With news of investigations and scandals surfacing almost daily, Americans’ trust in democracy is at an all-time low. The past decade has shown a significant decline in the amount of trust the American people have in the government. According to the Pew Research Center‘s study in May 2017, only a fifth of the American population believed “they can trust the government in Washington to do what is right”.
With statistics like this, it isn’t surprising that American citizens are not engaging in the democratic process. Recent studies show that the United States is 26th out of 32 for voter turnout. Many voters struggle to participate in an election when government elected doesn’t represent or include them.
This frustration with democracy and resulting American voter engagement gap is the reason that states and non-partisan organizations throughout the country, like Ranked Choice Vote Utah, are finding ways to engage voters in American democracy to restore their trust in the electoral system.
Threat to Democracy
This widespread mistrust of the election process led President Donald Trump to create thePence-Kobach commission, also known as the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. The goal of the new commission is to identify ways to reaffirm people’s faith in Federal elections by identifying “laws, rules, policies, activities, strategies, and practices that undermine the American people's confidence in the integrity of the voting processes” and “vulnerabilities in voting systems and practices used for Federal elections,” which may lead to invalid ballots being counted.
The irony of this commission is that even though the goal was to fix the election system and ensure its integrity, even the commission’s legitimacy was questioned. As of July 19, 2017, the Pence-Kobach commission faced “seven lawsuits challenging its conduct, its transparency and even its reason for being” as well as "complaints […] with federal agencies against two of the commission’s 12 members”. Many people and even organizations speculate that the commission’s purpose is to further limit voting rights of individuals across the country.
This news seems to place the future of American democracy in a precarious position. However, multiple initiatives arising from the public and private sectors have been created in the past few years to restore American’s faith in their democracy. The goal is to make democracy user-friendly to encourage participation in the democratic process.
Encouraging Voter Engagement Across the Nation:
California’s Secretary of State worked with The Pew Charitable Trusts to create “Vote California,” an innovative app makes important voter information available instantly on Californian’s phones. By providing this information in a user-friendly format that is easily installed on a phone, voters can easily learn about important initiatives and stay informed about current issues. This type of engagement will encourage greater participation at the polls. California has also recently done a complete re-design of the Voter Information Guidebook,.
Rhode Island’s Secretary of State has been a strong supporter of voter education. By advocating for new voting technology for her state, she simplified the voting process for the public. These new voting machines allowed Rhode Island to print ballots which can be used throughout the state including for high school elections. The hope was that by making the ballots available to students across the state, they would be more likely to feel comfortable using the ballot format for future voting.
Voter Registration Initiatives:
Another way to increase voter engagement is by ensuring that all eligible voters are registered to vote. The goal of Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) is to register all voters when they seek a government ID, are seeing more and more success. Overall, Universal Voter Registration is the ultimate goal.
However, just getting people educated about the political process is not enough to solve the bigger problem. Work needs to be done to ensure that the voter engagement actually produces meaningful differences in representation and policy outcomes.
A Solution That Works: Ranked Choice Voting
The Fair Representation Act was presented to Congress on June 26, 2017, aiming to re-engage American voters. The bill (HR 3057) allows voters to finally elect House Members who reflect their views and will work constructively with others in Congress. Voters of all backgrounds and political interests will have the power to elect candidates that represent them.
Ranked choice voting also has the power to change the tone of campaigns. Candidates may conduct a more civil campaign, encouraging them to debate the issues and appeal to a broader spectrum of voters. This generates inclusive leadership because the candidates must appeal to voters who might initially vote for someone else, but may select that candidate as another ranking. Candidates can benefit from cooperation rather than division, especially in multi-seat contests
The Fair Representation Act will give voters more choices and provide the opportunity to have several winners elected in each district. Congress will not get any bigger, but districts will expand, with each district electing 3, 4, or 5 winners. Each district will actually reflect the spectrum of voters, thus providing a fair nomination system that encourages engagement and trust in democratic institutions.
Ranked Choice Voting in Utah:
Utah joined the ranked choice voting movement on March 13, 2018, when Governor Gary Herbert signed Utah House Bill 35 ( HB0035) allowing municipalities to pilot ranked choice voting or instant runoff voting. It passed with an overwhelming majority of 22-0 in the Senate, 67-3 in House; 11-1 in interim committee, and 7-0 in Senate Government Operations. House Bill 35 allows municipal elections to use ranked choice voting. The pilot runs from 2019 to 2026.
The Way Forward
We need to increase engagement in the American democratic process. The need is higher than it has ever been. You can learn more about how to change Utah’s democracy by visiting UtahRCV.com.