Closing the American Democracy Voter Engagement Gap Using Innovation

Posted by Marie Lemieux on July 21, 2017

As the Pence-Kobach commission begins in the heart of the nation’s capital, Americans’ trust in their democracy is at an all-time low and has been declining in the past decade. As of May 2017, only a fifth of the American population believed “they can trust the government in Washington to do what is right”. This dreary statistic both translates and is caused by a lack of engagement in the democratic process, as American citizens slowly stop engaging in institutions that do not seek to represent or include them. This is why states and non-partisan organizations throughout the country, like FairVote, are finding ways to engage voters in American democracy to restore their trust in the electoral system.

Threat to Democracy 

The Pence-Kobach commission, also known as the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, was created by President Donald Trump to identify ways to engage voters in Federal elections, “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. However, many question the commission’s legitimacy, as evidenced by the fact that, as of July 19, 2017, it 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”. Moreover, multiple individuals and organizations speculate that the commission is being held to further limit voting rights of individuals across the country. 

While this may seem disheartening for the future of American democracy, multiple initiatives arising from the public and private sectors were created in the past few years to re-engage Americans in their democracy and make democracy user-friendly to encourage participation in the democratic process.

Re-Engaging Americans from Coast to Coast

On the West Coast, California’s Secretary of State developed an innovative app with partners such as The Pew Charitable Trusts, called “Vote California”. This app, which can be downloaded here, seeks to provide information to Californian voters at their fingertips, which will in turn encourage them to show up to the polls. This initiative, along with a re-design of California’s Voter Information Guidebook, permits Californians from across the state to engage in the democratic process without feeling intimidated by the amount of information at hand.

On East Coast, Rhode Island’s Secretary of State has been a leader for voter engagement in her state. She campaigned for new voting technology for her state, thus ensuring that the average voter could easily engage with their democratic duty. Furthermore, due to the state’s purchase of new voting machines, Rhode Island was now able to print ballots adapted with their voting machines, thus allowing the state to print ballots for high school council elections. This initiative was started to permit students across the state to engage with a ballot format that they would later see at the ballot box. This ensures that they would not be intimidated by their democratic duty, and ultimately shy away from it.

Other efforts to engage more voters, such as Automatic Voter Registration (AVR), which aims to register all voters who seek government ID, are seeing more and more success. FairVote is a proud long time supporter of AVR, and of Universal Voter Registration as the ultimate goal. However, engaging and re-engaging people in the political process is not enough. There is also work to be done to ensure that their engagement produces meaningful differences in their representation and policy outcomes.

That is why FairVote introduced the Fair Representation Act to Congress on June 26, 2017, aiming to re-engage America’s range of voters. The bill (HR 3057) gives voters of all backgrounds and all political stripes the power to elect House Members who reflect their views and will work constructively with others in Congress. Under the Fair Representation Act, there will be more choices and several winners elected in each district. Congress will remain the same size, but districts will be larger, each electing 3, 4, or 5 winners. Every district will fairly reflect the spectrum of voters, thus encouraging engagement and trust in democratic institutions.

The Way Forward

The importance of engagement in American democracy is at an all-time high. This is why Americans must participate in the democratic process. You can find out more about how to change America’s democracy by visiting FairVote.org.

Photo Credt: Pexel

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