Posted by Isaac Katz on July 13, 2016
I am a law student at Georgetown University Law Center. I have questioned the logic of the U.S. electoral system since my middle school civics class. I watched the frustration and chaos boiling over during the 2000 presidential election – the first election I can remember - and found it hard to accept that any system that elected leaders without a popular majority could truly represent the will of the people. But it wasn’t until college that I realized we had other options. I studied history at Oberlin College, where I joined the Oberlin Student Cooperative Association, which introduced me to Robert’s Rules of Order. Oberlin also conducted student body elections using ranked choice voting - my first real introduction to other voting systems.
I lived in Ohio during the 2008 and 2012 elections and witnessed the ramping up of voter ID laws, which created obstacles to voting for a wide swath of people, including myself. If the school had not issued utility bills to all of its students, many would not have been able to vote in 2012. Oberlin taught me to question the status quo, and to fight hard for the causes I believe in. I received training in mediation with a social justice lens, which emphasized the importance of hearing every side to a story. As a transgender man, I know firsthand the importance of making sure that our government represents all people. No identity group should be silenced because of small numbers or specialized needs.
Beyond gender identity, I have always been passionate about civil rights and anti-discrimination work. Prior to law school, I worked as a paralegal for several different firms, including Katz, Marshall & Banks, LLP, which specializes in plaintiff-side employment discrimination, sexual harassment and whistleblower protection law. I had the opportunity there to assist the trial team on a sexual harassment jury trial, and saw the need for strong legal protection against discriminatory behavior. I also worked for an attorney in Oberlin who focused on Social Security Disability appeals. The challenges that even those most severely affected by health and disability issues faced in gaining benefits struck a chord with me. These jobs showed me the difference that legal representation can make in an individual’s life, but also that the legal aid we provide is constrained by what the law allows us to protect.
In order to prevent discrimination and meet each person’s basic needs, we need to change what protections the law provides for, which requires fair and representative elections. We all deserve to have our voices heard. When I read about FairVote’s commitment to fair and representative elections, I couldn’t wait to get involved. I am currently researching state electoral systems, and I am excited to contribute to FairVote’s mission to reform democracy. FairVote’s commitment to thoroughly examining every aspect of our electoral system and each change we can make to increase fairness and functionality has given me hope that we can find a system which actually gives voice to each person’s values and needs.
Isaac is a 2016 Legal Intern at FairVote. Learn more about FairVote's Democracy Fellowships and Internship opportunities on our Employment page.