I am currently a sophomore majoring in political science at Swarthmore College, and have been interested in electoral reforms for years. When I saw FairVote listed as an option for Swarthmore’s one-week externship program, I quickly made it my first choice. I developed a strong interest in politics in seventh grade after witnessing the excitement and increased political engagement surrounding President Obama’s 2008 campaign. The 2008 campaign taught me that political participation has the potential to bring out the best in people and inspire them to come together to solve the most pressing social problems of our time. After the 2010 Congressional midterm elections and the resulting gridlock and dysfunction, my confidence in politics was tested. It seemed like all of the positive energy surrounding the 2008 election had been a mirage, and that political participation had instead brought out the worst in people. While my faith in American democracy was shaken, I felt deep down that the positive energy surrounding the 2008 election had not been fool’s gold and that there must be ways to better channel citizens’ political enthusiasm into fair, productive, and effective government.
Googling various reforms to make American democracy work better became a new hobby of mine, and the promising reform ideas I discovered gave me new hope and excitement. FairVote was a source of many of the exciting ideas I encountered, because they are willing to go straight to the core of American government’s dysfunction and develop transformative structural solutions. They show that government’s failures are not a result of some inherent, corrupting element of politics. Instead, these failures are in large part the result of outdated and ineffective electoral practices that can be corrected through reforms like ranked choice voting and American forms of proportional representation.
Many people may associate electoral reforms with dry and arcane rules, but I think they can be an impetus for profound social progress. I started a chapter of a national student policy network at Swarthmore this year, and we have been developing proposals for how Swarthmore can use its investments and procurement practices more intentionally to better support low-income communities in the Greater Philadelphia area. I have also been a member of a campus activist group that is pushing the college to divest from fossil fuels. While the public policy chapter works mostly within the existing political system, the fossil fuel divestment campaign takes a more outside approach and is part of a broader divestment movement that is pushing for climate change solutions. I contribute to both causes with the knowledge that American government could be made much more responsive to both grassroots political initiatives like the policy chapter, and social movements like fossil fuel divestment.
The kind of policies citizens seek vary widely, or course, based on where they lie on the political spectrum, but we all benefit from more representative and effective government. For me, fairer elections represents a chance to combat income inequality, promote racial justice, act on climate change, and advance all the political issues that I feel passionate about. For others, fairer elections may represent a chance to limit government spending, reduce burdensome regulations on businesses, or strengthen the military. While small factions may benefit from unrepresentative government, I find FairVote’s great proposals to be truly non-partisan because they center on ensuring an equal voice and fair representation for everyone.
During my one-week externship, I am hoping to learn how FairVote turns its great ideas and research into real policy change. Every FairVote department plays an important role in creating electoral reform, so I look forward to learning about the day-to-day work of the research, advocacy, and communications departments. My projects may include a blog post for Representation 2020 (FairVote’s initiative to increase women’s political representation), research on the implementation of ranked choice voting, and fact-checking the Monopoly Politics 2016 report. Through this work, I will gain a better grasp of how we can improve elections and gain the social progress that comes with a stronger democracy.