Voices & Choices

Book Review: 'Vote for US' by Joshua A. Douglas

Book Review: 'Vote for US' by Joshua A. Douglas

Professor Joshua A. Douglas’ "Vote for US’" is unusual among books advocating for electoral reform in its optimism. Douglas not only highlights concrete ways Americans can work together to seek a more fair and inclusive democracy, but also chronicles the progress we have made in recent years.

Vote for US: How to Take Back Our Elections and Change the Future of Voting. Joshua A. Douglas. Prometheus Books. 2019.

For those lamenting the state of American democracy, Josh Douglas offers reasons for hope. Douglas’ well-researched book, “Vote for US,” breaks with the tradition of “doom and gloom” discussions of our broken electoral system not only with its friendly, conversational tone, but also its content. The book is an encouraging account of numerous individuals across the country working to secure their fellow Americans’ right to vote, providing templates of success which frequently feature “regular people” inspired to action. Yet Douglas should not be accused of projecting a naively rosy point of view or of glossing over significant problems related to voting and the U.S. electoral system as a whole. The author is careful to consistently acknowledge that challenges abound, and that taking steps to improve “facts on the ground” should not result in reformers losing sight of the end goal: universal participation in the electoral process. The book is not about piecemeal projects or “tweaks,” but about ensuring immediate action is taken in parallel to long-term fights.

Douglas’ focuses - automatic voter registration, ending gerrymandering, and changing from plurality to ranked choice voting - are improvements to the systemic issues facing the American electoral system. While Douglas dedicates an entire chapter to ranked choice voting, including information about the RCV campaigns which took place in San Francisco and Maine, one of Douglas’ most poignant discussions is on a subject that many Americans take for granted - accessibility at the polls.

In his chapter focusing on accessibility, the author uses a series of examples to illustrate his arguments, moving from problems to immediate and then long-term solutions. Douglas describes the difficulties many voters encounter at polling stations, including physical impediments, limited numbers of ‘special’ machines adapted to meet their needs, and the availability of native language materials for linguistic minorities. Challenges such as these are shown to have negative impacts on turnout (page 84). After outlining the clear case for change, Douglas discusses concrete measures which have already improved the registration and voting experience for voters with visual impairments. But rather than leaving the discussion there - at substantial, but incremental progress - Douglas reframes the issue entirely. Why settle for improving select equipment in anticipation of limited use? We should adapt all machines to do away with the current “separate but equal” treatment which is so prevalent at the polls. Americans can create a more inclusive system to improve support - and ultimately turnout - for voters with disabilities by allowing all voters to use the same machines without additional hassle, wait times, or stigma. This systemic, long-term perspective presents the kind of critique people interested in electoral reform should be advancing.

The book is an excellent resource for anyone who wants to improve our elections, but is unsure of where to start. (There is an entire appendix dedicated to a state-by-state list of electoral reform groups). It also offers great insights for the more initiated, frequently flipping the script on current approaches to reform. While securing the participation of every American voter is an ambitious goal, it is both possible and well worth the effort.

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