Posted by Michael Patison on July 14, 2016
I am a Dallas native and rising 5th year at the University of Texas at Austin, where I’m majoring in International Relations, with a concentration in International Security, and Plan II Honors, an interdisciplinary honors program, with minors in Middle Eastern Studies and Arabic. I’ve always been interested in the world and how it functioned, and when I graduate I hope to join the Foreign Service and help foster democracy development around the world, particularly in the Middle East and South Asia.
Democracy development is a bit like rocket science; it’s complicated and difficult. Not only that, it’s a little hard to speak with any sort of authority on the best method to elect officials when, despite being the first modern democracy and the self-proclaimed worldwide purveyor of democracy, your own electoral system is broken. That’s where America stands right now; our elections produce results that are neither responsive nor truly representative.
I say that because I’ve experienced this brokenness and the disenfranchisement it can cause firsthand. Disenfranchisement most certainly affects some communities more than others, but almost all Americans today feel some degree of disconnect from their representatives. In a state as red as Texas, moderate conservatives like me can feel just as disenfranchised as Democrats in Oklahoma or Republicans in Massachusetts are.
Our electoral system is at the heart of this disconnect and brokenness. Politicians gain power and then use it to increase their electoral advantage to a point where electoral outcomes don’t correspond to the will of the people. John Adams said that Congress should be “in miniature an exact portrait of the people at large.” It should represent us not just ideologically, but also ethnically, racially, religiously, and with regards to gender equality; it fails on every account. As a result people are disenfranchised, become disillusioned, and begin to feel that their voices don’t really matter. They don’t participate in the political discussion and they stopping voting, if they ever had to begin with.
This progression from voter disenfranchisement to voter apathy is the area in which I am most interested. While at FairVote, I am looking at the effect election scheduling has on mayoral elections in large U.S. cities. For instance, how does the voter turnout in a mayoral election in August 2013 compared to that in an August 2014 election or a November 2010 election? Additionally, I am involved with the RCV cities project looking at descriptive representation in a handful of California cities.
I am excited to be at FairVote, working alongside talented individuals who aren’t concerned with advancing political ideology or party interests. Instead they focus on how we can reform and fix our electoral system using sensible, researched, factually supported, better electoral methods so that our democracy better represents every single American and so that our democracy can be a shining beacon that we can point to when talking to the developing democracies around the world. FairVote works to make sure that one day every American can say: “That’s what fair, democratic, descriptive representation is.”
Michael is a 2016 Research Intern at FairVote. Learn more about FairVote's Democracy Fellowships and Internship opportunities on our Employment page.