Thank you Rob,
It’s been a pleasure to get to know you and this great organization. It’s also an honor to co-host this event. When we got started, one of our first steps was to seek wisdom from Rob and Cynthia, and Rob, it was good to learn that conversation was a coming full circle, of sorts, to a conversation you had when Fairvote got started in the early 90s with Larry Garber, then-head election specialist at National Democratic Institute, and now on our board, who is here at this event.
The organization I lead, Election Reformers Network, was founded by people who played key roles in the structural changes that ended communist dictatorship in Central and Eastern Europe and apartheid in South Africa. We did this work at organizations like the National Democratic Institute, International Republican Institute, Democracy International, International Foundation for Electoral Systems, and the Carter Center, as we helped lead the US contribution to the greatest expansion of democracy in history.
Beginning in 2016 this group came together, people acting in their individual capacities, and drawing on a shared background to help advance the changes needed here in this country.
The work overseas was never about replicating American institutions. There would have been no takers if we had been out promoting a system with the head of state elected by an electoral college, or a system with chief election administrators who are senior members of competing political parties and who compete in elections they supervise. And there would have been very few takers for what bring us here today, first-past-the-post voting in single-member districts.
In the great wave of democratization of the last 50 years, where scores of countries emerged from authoritarian control and had a new constitutional moment to create new institutions, few selected what we use, first-past-the-post in single-member districts. These countries all had in common a need to design a system that could manage conflict arising from deep social divisions, like those between elites that had benefited under communism and majorities that hadn’t, between ethnic groups across post-colonial nations, between whites who had always ruled South Africa and blacks who demanded their turn. Writers of new constitutions and designers of new elections systems all realized that first-past-the-post in single-member districts is wholly inadequate to manage such divisions and the conflicts they engender. As it is indeed wholly inadequate to manage our conflicts.
We owe a deep debt of gratitude to scholars like Lee Drutman who have helped us see that the polarization we are experiencing now has not come new to us because of changes in technology or culture, the “doom loop” is inherent in our system and was only mitigated in prior generations through historical anomalies.
Another way of saying the same thing is to point out that our problems have a lot more to do with bad rules than bad guys. One of our challenges as a movement is that it’s a lot easier to mobilize people and money by talking about bad guys, but it’s very difficult for “bad guy-oriented” organizations to forge the consensus needed to fix bad rules.
We are here to talk about the most important solution to our bad rules yet to be introduced, the Fair Representation Act, or the “one reform to save America” in the words of David Brooks. We have a terrific group of speakers to discuss its many important attributes. I will just make this observation about it; we have come to define ourselves by an image of a map covered in huge blocks of red and blue. The Fair Representation Act exposes those blocks for what they really are: rounding errors. It gives us the opportunity to reveal the nuanced, complex patchwork quilt of true America that has always been hidden beneath.