Advice for the reform-curious

I recently received a thoughtful email from a young person “concerned about the state of democracy in the US.” This person found me via Fix Our House tweets, which he’d found via Andrew Yang/Final Five tweets. His question:

I know there is no such thing as “the best reform that once we get passed all of our problems will go away”…it’s just, I keep reading about this stuff and how to help and want to be sure I am pursuing efficient and meaningful avenues towards improvement. But it all seems to go in circles sometimes…

My reply:

Thanks for reading so much of my work but especially for this set of questions. It’s easy to forget that I am in the weeds.

I am busy visiting family right now, but I would be happy to chat at greater length some time. For now, two or three thoughts:

1) A bigger priority than changing rules should be strengthening parties — their connections to community groups, ability to mobilize voters, and thus hold politicians accountable. If one’s politics are conservative, an added task might cultivating respect for democracy (and knowledge of the country’s troubled history with voting rights) among conservative politicians (as well as self-styled moderates/centrists).

2) If the people doing that work also understand electoral systems, that is even better. That knowledge can be used to fight bad reforms as well as promote good ones. Bad reforms often pass because they’re not well-understood by the underlying communities, and many people therefore abstain.

3) I used to be an “RCV” supporter as long as that was understood to mean partisan systems of PR via STV. Now I have new worries about even that system. That’s for a much longer discussion. The point for this short email is that don’t see the RCV lobby building strategies to move us toward such systems, let alone less complicated forms of proportional representation. Rather, I see many reformers promoting systems that can break connections among voters, parties, and intermediary interest groups.

Related ideas are expressed in my recent brief on ballot fusion and an accompanying blog post.