Voices & Choices

Book Review: The Democracy Fix, by Caroline Fredrickson

Book Review: The Democracy Fix, by Caroline Fredrickson

The Democracy Fix. Caroline Fredrickson. The New Press. 2019

In The Democracy Fix, author Caroline Fredrickson highlights current flaws with American democracy including gerrymandering, campaign finance issues, voter suppression, and access to courts. Notably, however, Fredrickson, the president of the American Constitution Society, overlooks nonpartisan solutions that would benefit all voters. Instead, her partisan take primarily critiques the Republican Party and relies on the implicit premise that reform depends upon the Democrats winning power back. While most readers can agree that there are problems with our democracy, people who don’t support the above argument will likely have reservations concerning her analysis. 

The book jacket claims, “We must… expand the franchise, end voter suppression, win judicial elections, and fight for transparency and fairness in our political system, while maintaining our integrity.” While Fredrickson herself does not necessarily advocate “playing dirty,” like some strategists have urged the Democratic party to do, her realpolitik argument raises some ethical questions. Would these tactics serve only to escalate the situation, increasing party polarization? 

While Fredrickson at times conflates the greater good of the American people with the greater good for Democrats, she does advocate some important electoral reforms.  These reforms, which are also supported by FairVote, a nonpartisan organization, would benefit American democracy as a whole, rather than just the Democratic party. Specifically, Fredrickson advocates for nonpartisan redistricting, voting by mail, same-day registration and/or automatic voter registration, challenging voter suppression tactics in court, and restoring the right to vote to felons (217-219). Overall, these ideas would increase voter participation and voter turnout. 

Fredrickson writes, “Systems that favor democracy and transparency and that are accessible to all ultimately lead to better outcomes and outcomes that are sustainable...a world that is more just, more democratic, and more equal for all people...returning power to people” (221). However, she overlooks some important solutions to our broken democracy, namely, the national popular vote (NPV), the Fair Representation Act, and proportional representation. 

First, while Frederickson addresses the inherently undemocratic nature of the electoral college, she does not suggest any plans to fix it. Instead, Frederickson advocates playing within the existing system, such as nonpartisan redistricting committees, rather than trying to reform the system through strategies like abolishing the electoral college or adopting the NPV. Both approaches have recently gained traction, and it is unclear why Frederickson overlooks--or does not address--such solutions, especially given the viability of NPV. Currently, state laws allocate electoral votes on a winner-take-all basis, which results in presidential candidates concentrating their resources on a few swing states and ignoring the rest of the country. Under the NPV interstate compact, states choose to allocate their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the most votes across the country. The NPV has significant, bipartisan momentum. Sixteen jurisdictions have passed legislation to enter the agreement with a combined total of 196 electoral votes, meaning the compact is over 72.6% of the way to activation. FairVote has endorsed this legislation.

Second, Frederickson does not explicitly suggest changing our voting system from single-winner plurality elections. Proportional representation (PR), which FairVote advocates, has several benefits, including more civil elections, better representation of minority communities, parties and points of view. To end the problem of gerrymandering which Fredrickson has correctly identified, while also providing PR, FairVote has endorsed the Fair Representation Act. The act would create multimember districts allowing for better representation through PR, create more opportunities for diverse candidates, and effectively end skewed outcomes.  

Overall, Frederickson correctly identifies the issues plaguing American voters. However, her primary focus on the Democratic party overlooks the nonpartisan solutions that would benefit all voters, increasing their expression, participation and ultimately representation in democracy.



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