Hello there! My name is Ben Ratner, and I am the electoral systems and reform research intern here at FairVote. I hail from Ann Arbor, Michigan—home of irresistible autumns, funk band Vulfpeck, and a robust network of coffee shops. This fall I will enter my senior year at Bowdoin College, where I study government and history among the whispering pines. In my free time, I play the violin and love to read. One of my favorite places in the world is the Leelanau Peninsula, located at the tip of the pinky of the hand that is Michigan, and living proof that the Midwest is full of beauty.
The declining health of our political system has left me—like many other Americans—angry and disheartened. Whether it be gerrymandering’s science of vote dilution or the corrupting force of money in Congress, it seems our politics has a predetermined outcome, some natural state from which we cannot escape. When given the chance, so many of those in power will do all they can to cement their advantages and game the electoral system. This seems inevitable. It’s no wonder so many have lost hope. But must it be this way?
Fixing these structural problems must guide any attempt to reform our country. Creating a fair electoral system is bigger than any single issue or moment in time. But I fear that we often lose sight of this. It’s easy to become spectators of the partisan bickering that characterizes so much of our national politics, or to get sucked into the week’s hot-button news stories. To succeed, we must be able to see the whole picture and look beyond these short-term distractions.
We must work to change a system that actively undermines self-governance and yet brands itself a “democracy.” For meaningful change to last in our country, we must design a system that values everyone’s voice and is responsive to people’s needs. To cure the pessimism from which so many suffer (myself included), we must rebuild trust in our America’s political institutions—even if it means remaking them.
This is ultimately why I applied to work at FairVote: to be a part of a group committed to this kind of change. The way we choose our leaders is an essential piece of the puzzle. FairVote’s central reforms—ranked-choice voting and proportional representation—offer alternative ways to run our elections that reflect people’s preferences and offer minority communities a voice where they previously had none.
When combined, these systems can nullify the effects of partisan gerrymandering and restore the power of votes that have lost their meaning. This summer, I am joining the Research department to advocate for these solutions and show that they can succeed in our country. I can’t wait.