Posted by Austin Plier on March 11, 2016
I joined FairVote in the summer of 2014, after graduating from St. Norbert College, in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Upon graduating, I knew I wanted to learn more about American democracy and solutions that might fix a political system that was clearly breaking down. It seemed to me that we could do better--and had to do better--in order to restore faith and enthusiasm to elections at every level of government.
For me, issues of democracy and civic engagement have always been near and dear to my heart. Just about every significant experience leading to my time at FairVote--from helping organize issue campaigns in college, to visiting South Africa to study the nation’s transition to democracy--has helped me gain a new understanding of what it means to cast a vote, and what drives people to participate. My love of politics and elections began as a junior in high school when I attended the American Legion’s Badger Boys State program. The program brings together nearly 900 high school students from around the state of Wisconsin, and tasks them with building a 51st state from the ground up. Through campaigns, debates, and elections, I watched as we collectively created a city, county, and state government. My adoration for American democracy peaked, and I have returned to the program every year since as a counselor. However, 7 years later, I’ve come to realize that while America’s electoral structures may work for a week long camp, they don’t work in practice for America’s voters.
As a counselor, I’ve heard so many students say different variations of the same thing time and time again: “After this experience, I can’t wait to let my voice be heard in our democracy once I turn 18!” No doubt, it is incredible to hear such enthusiasm for voting from young folks, and I hope that each and every one of them forms voting as a lifelong habit. However, as someone who has come to understand the structural flaws in our democracy, it pains me to know that our current political system is failing these new voters, and everyone else that is essentially locked out of representation on Election Day due to where they live.
The bottom line is that most of us don’t cast a meaningful vote in U.S. House elections; in 2016, nearly nine in ten House districts are safe for the incumbent party -- 9 in 10! When 85% of voters aren’t able to participate in a meaningful election to decide who represents them in Congress, no wonder voter turnout is so low. And with so few contested elections, no wonder women and people of color continue to be egregiously underrepresented in elected office. Voters deserve better, and collectively we can do better.
I’m proud to be part of FairVote’s mission because the reform vision we’re working on has the potential to make every vote and every voice count in every election. The exciting part is that there is momentum for change. FairVote’s fair representation plan would ensure that Republicans, Democrats, and independents could help elect someone who represents them regardless of whether they live in Connecticut or Oklahoma. Ranked choice voting can help empower voters with more choice and a stronger voice in elections at the local, state, and federal level. And a national popular vote for president would finally make every vote count in every presidential election. As a counselor at Badger Boys State, I want to fix our democracy so that all of that civic enthusiasm cultivated among future voters doesn’t go to waste. As a member of FairVote’s communications team, I’m excited to continue making the case for reform and spreading the word about the opportunities we have to build a representative democracy with meaningful participation for every voter.