[THE THIRD WAY] Democrats should have a pro-democracy message


Melissa Nie

In this installment of The Third Way, Columnist Kieran Singh explores the validity of the 2020 Biden campaign.

The midterms went about how the polls predicted — so I’m not going to talk about specific results or races this week (although I will say that it proves polls and models are useful and that 2016 may have been a fluke). I want to talk about something deeper, and something I’ve been thinking about a lot for the past couple weeks.

Gerrymandering (partisan redistricting, if you want an explainer you can watch this video) was not as much of a problem 2 weeks ago as many thought it would be. Democrats won about 8% of the vote than Republicans, and they’re forecasted to win about 8% more seats. Some forecasts have the Democrats at 235 seats (depending on the results of the California 21st), which is the same number of seats the Republicans have right now. This presents a bit of an issue for Democrats because a larger margin of the popular vote coupled with a narrower win in the house would have given them a reason to pursue electoral reform. Had Democrats nationally felt like they deserved better, they might have had more vigor to fight for better.

The Senate was as much of a problem as people thought it would be. It, as an institution, was built to protect white, rural states, and that’s what it did. It was a wave election for the Democrats, but the Senate map was so bad for them that they lost 1-2 seats. Most of this was because of weak Democratic incumbents that were elected in 2012, a presidential year.

Democrats shouldn’t focus all of their energy on reforming the Senate because it was an uncharacteristically bad year for them”

Still, Democrats shouldn’t focus all of their energy on reforming the Senate because it was an uncharacteristically bad year for them, and they shouldn’t drop their energy and anger at partisan redistricting because it was an uncharacteristically good year for them. Even though the votes aligned equally with the seats in the House of Representatives for this specific year, there’s no guarantee this trend will continue, and Democrats can’t drop their new pro-democracy bent.

A couple months ago political scientist David Faris released a book called It’s Time To Fight Dirty, which outlined a few key ways Democrats can expand democracy to give them an electoral advantage (because Democrats usually do better when more people vote). Most of Faris’ proposals, however, aren’t “fighting dirty,” they are just things that will help make the US more representative of its citizens. I resent that labeling because it falsely equivocates undemocratic actions that happen to help the Republicans with democratic actions that happen to help the Democrats (for example, admitting PR and DC as states isn’t fighting dirty, but preventing representation of those states for partisan advantage is). It shouldn’t matter whether one party is helped or hurt by making democracy better, but that’s how it is, which means that the Democratic Party is the only one that will propose pro-democracy reforms for the foreseeable future.

Faris proposes a few “dirty” ideas, but they’re vastly outnumbered by the good ones. The 2 dirty ones, packing the court and splitting up California to gain advantage in the Senate, aren’t even that bad, because they don’t decrease democratic representation (I’m more ambivalent about packing the court because it would look really bad, even though it would reflect the will of the people to a greater extent than our current SCOTUS). The rest, however, are just good ideas. He proposes giving statehood to Puerto Rico and Washington, DC, and I can’t see how anyone wouldn’t want that. Currently, US citizens in territories with a greater population than Wyoming and New Hampshire have no voting representation in Congress, which is simply not good. Congress, for example, can control virtually all of DC’s city statues and is notable for maintaining height limits in DC to benefit rich congresspeople and lobbyists that get higher home values at the expense of the renters and poor of DC. Yet, for some odd reason, DC doesn’t even have a representative that can vote on its own laws. I’m not sure how this is okay in any developed democracy.

Overall, the Democrats need to spend the next 2 years hammering in the importance of democracy”

Second, Faris wants the Voting Rights Act to be reinstated, which, if you don’t know, was gutted by a majority-conservative court (whose conservative-leaning coincidentally increases when fewer people vote, interesting how that works). It would enfranchise felons, who’ve paid their debt to society, it would make election day a federal holiday, and it would automate voter registration, making sure everyone can vote if they want to. The effective destruction of the Voting Rights Act (Shelby County V Holder) was one of the worst decisions the Supreme Court has made in decades. It resulted in closings of thousands of polling places in predominantly black areas and has enabled people like Georgia Governor-elect Brian Kemp to purge thousands of black individuals from voter rolls. It also allowed the passage of voter ID laws, which would be fine if everyone was provided with a free ID, but people still must pay for IDs in all voter ID states, which makes it effectively a poll tax (with a double-effect, because people who can’t afford cars or don’t need cars are less likely to have IDs).

Overall, the Democrats need to spend the next 2 years hammering in the importance of democracy. They should investigate President Trump, but in a tempered manner that makes sure the Oversight Committee it doesn’t lose focus by spreading themselves too thin (as an aside, even if Oversight Democrats find impeachable crimes, they shouldn’t impeach unless there’s bipartisan consensus, if only because Senate Republicans will ignore evidence and make sure he doesn’t get removed from office). They should advocate for economic justice and racial equity, but must realize that they need the Senate and Presidency for any of that to get passed. That requires leveling the playing field, advocating daily for reforms that allow more people to vote, and staying focused with a pro-democracy message, which, by definition, is popular.