On Thursday, February 24th, FairVote hosted ‘The Future of Voting Reform for Black Voters,’ a Twitter space moderated by FairVote’s Executive Vice President of Policy and Programs Khalid Pitts. The conversation featured Stephanie Brown James, co-founder of The Collective PAC; Jessica Pierce, founding partner of Piece By Piece Strategies; Markus Batchelor, Deputy Director of Leadership Programs at People For the American Way; and Alexi McCammond, a political reporter at Axios. The panelists discussed their positions and the roles of their organizations in building and supporting Black political power, as well as how best to mobilize a sustainable movement to create equitable change.
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Stephanie Brown James spoke about her work at the Collective PAC and how they strive to build more equitable representation in legislative bodies. She spoke about the importance of mobilizing people to engage in the political process in a way that would create equitable successes. She stated, “I know a lot of times politics has become this bad word that when people don't want to talk about politics, but politics is everything and everywhere, and in order to have people have faith in the system, we have to have politics seen as, ‘you’re picking decision makers and who should those people be.”’
She stressed the importance of representative systems, and that achieving true transformative change requires all to have a representative seat at the table.
“As we look at what's happening across states, there's one key role that's often overlooked in this process and that’s Secretary of States. Right now, we only have three Black secretaries of states in the entire country. In fact, we only have 22 Black people, that's on the Republican and Democratic side, that are serving in statewide offices. Now, to be in an equitable position as Black people, we should have over 300 Black people either elected or appointed into statewide positions, so we are vastly underrepresented as a community in positions where they're making huge decisions around voting rights…” - Stephanie Brown James
Markus Batchelor spoke about his experience working to bring ranked choice voting (RCV) to Washington DC, and how he believes it could positively impact elections and campaigns.
“I think it's important that we talk about the real consequences of a ranked system, and I mean that in a positive sense. In every space we've seen it, it's increased the diversity of representation in legislative bodies, it’s increased the diversity in elected offices across the board, and that's important. We also know that ranked choice voting changes the nature of campaigning, which is also transformative for our democracy. I've been on the campaign trail, I've run for office before, I’ve even been in a field of 20 candidates, and I've heard over and over and over again, ‘if I had a second vote’ or, ‘if I could choose more than one person, you’d be my choice.’ That also silos people into not being able to have the real conversations with candidates that they would usually have, if they had the nuance of multiple choices.” - Markus Batchelor
Alexi McCammond, who is covering the 2022 midterm elections for Axios, also spoke about how she has watched RCV play out as a journalist and how she believes that its positive impact was evident in the case of New York City.
“As you all remember, we just had ranked choice voting implemented for the first time in New York City for the mayoral race and during the debate, the candidates were asked, which I thought was a really helpful and educational moment for people watching, they were asked ‘who would be your second choice?’ - obviously assuming the candidates’ first choice is themselves - and a number of the candidates mentioned some of the women candidates in the primary, which backs up the data that I know you all have, that shows that ranked choice voting actually is beneficial for women and people of color.” - Alexi McCammond
Towards the end of the conversation, the issue of redistricting surfaced and Khalid Pitts, brought up key reforms like the Fair Representation Act, that are aiming to reduce the chances for racial gerrymandering and improve representation.
“As we go through our current redistricting process, we’re seeing Black voters cracked and packed to reduce our voting power. One of the main reforms that we’re supporting at FairVote is the Fair Representation Act, which would move us from a single member house district to multi-member districts elected proportionally and really make the ideal of majority rule, minority voice a real reality.” - Khalid Pitts
When asked about the importance of the Fair Representation Act, and the need for proportional representation as a means to achieve equitable representation, Jessica Pierce drew on her experiences as a political organizer and discussed the need for structural reform as well as local, grassroots work.
“We have to be changing the system, and actually moving to a place where we’re building a new democracy, a new anti-racist democracy let me say more specifically, because a lot of times people talk about building back to the democracy without understanding that true democracy hasn’t existed for many communities and many identities in this country and that we actually have to build something new. We have to be engaging in this election right now, and we have to be engaging around the issues and building power and supporting the movements and the folks that are building on the ground locally with folks that are providing mutual aid to folks.” - Jessica Pierce
This thoughtful, engaging, and important conversation is not to be missed, so in case you were unable to catch it live, listen to the recording of the event here.