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Over the last several decades, the American political system has fallen into dysfunction and disarray. We’ve never lived up to our founding ideals, but the machinery of government has become so corroded that now, in 2020, it can feel nearly impossible to imagine an American government that is good, effective, and representative. I want to focus on this last criterion: representative. Americans deserve a government that looks like the people it serves. Luckily, we can implement a number of solutions that will set us on a path towards making our government more representative and fully realizing our democratic ideals.

Reform the Electoral College. The Electoral College is an old institution, originally conceived as a check on the popular will. The Framers worried that a presidential candidate could garner popular support, despite being grossly unfit to hold the office. In Federalist 68, Hamilton warns that foreign powers could attempt to subvert America’s republican government by “raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union.” The Framers imagined the Electoral College as a way to guard against this by ensuring that the presidency would always be held by “characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue.”

However, this system has largely broken down. Twice in the last 20 years, the Electoral College has awarded the Office of the President to the person that lost the popular vote (George W. Bush in 2000 and Donald Trump in 2016). This erodes faith in democratic governance by contravening the basic tenet of majority rule. Meanwhile, Russia’s interference in the 2016 election with the intent of helping Donald Trump win the presidency speaks directly to Hamilton’s fear of foreign influence in Federalist 68. The Electoral College did nothing to prevent this.

Two general strategies exist: abolition or reform. We could pass a new constitutional amendment that abolishes the Electoral College outright, repealing the 12th Amendment and establishing that the winner of the presidential election will be the candidate that receives the majority of the popular vote. But abolition isn’t the only solution. Going the reform route, we could push for states to ratify the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, an agreement between states to award their Electoral College votes to the winner of the national popular vote. Either way, the status quo cannot stand.

Guarantee universal suffrage. All adult citizens of the United States should be granted the right to vote, regardless of any qualifying attribute like race, ethnicity, sex, income level, social status, or any other restriction. Today, 48 of the 50 states disenfranchise Americans with criminal convictions. While Maine and Nevada do not restrict the right of felons to vote, Iowa permanently disenfranchises Americans with felony convictions. In many other states, disenfranchisement lingers long after the criminal sentence is served and the individual is released. Some might argue that disenfranchisement is appropriate “punishment” for those convicted of a felony. They’re wrong. Criminal disenfranchisement goes directly against the core of any modern democracy: voting. Fellow democracies like Serbia, Lithuania, Canada, Germany, Israel, South Africa, and Denmark permit citizens to vote from jail and do not tie voting rights to a criminal record. We should join the international consensus and pass a constitutional amendment that immediately re-enfranchises the over 6 million Americans that have lost their right to vote and prohibits criminal disenfranchisement for good.

Representation for all. When the American colonists rebelled against Britain, one of their famous rallying cries was, “No taxation without representation.” But 244 years after the signing of the Constitution, residents in the nation’s capital of Washington, D.C. suffer under this exact arrangement. The District should be granted full statehood, with due representation in the House and Senate. Residents of American territories outside the continental United States also suffer in silence without a voice in our government. Of the 14 U.S. territories, five are permanently inhabited by American citizens who pay taxes towards Social Security and Medicare, but lack representation in Congress. Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands should all be given the opportunity to become states.

Protect voting rights. In a modern democracy, voting should be convenient, encouraged, and fully accessible to all eligible voters. On March 8, 2019, the For The People Act of 2019 passed the House of Representatives. This bill creates a national voter-registration program, makes Election Day a federal holiday, requires states to use independent, non-partisan commissions when drawing congressional districts, and limits the ability of states to purge voting rolls. While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to even put the bill up for a vote, these are commonsense reforms that should become law. And we need to go farther. Congress should exercise its authority over federal elections to pass legislation that permits same-day registration and voting, early voting, no excuse vote-by-mail, and restores the Voting Rights Act of 1965. We should also pass a constitutional amendment allowing Congress and the states to establish campaign finance restrictions for elections.

Adopt proportional representation. Two parties dominate the American political system: the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. While others like the Libertarian Party, Green Party, and Constitution Party exist, the nature of our electoral system makes it difficult for them to have any substantive impact on policymaking. A political theory called Duverger’s Law explains that plurality voting – a system where voters pick one candidate to support and the winner is the person who gets the most votes – tends to favor the development of a two-party system. This sets the scene for difficult elections like the Republican presidential primary in 2016 and the Democratic presidential primary in 2020, where voters are forced to choose between candidates who, despite existing within the same party, are ideologically distinct. The two-party system also has the dangerous effect of polarizing the electorate to the point where every election is seen as a life-or-death contest between two distinct groups battling for control of the country. We should follow other modern democracies and adopt a system of proportional voting for congressional elections, allowing voters to rank their choices and thereby encouraging the development of a multi-party system. The Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) Act (H.R. 4464) would require all House and Senate elections be conducted with RCV beginning in 2022 and replace all congressional runoff elections, saving voters time and money. It should become law.

Clearly some of these reforms are more politically feasible than others, but that’s not the point. The point is that while our political system is plagued with issues, the problems we face are not impossible to solve. In many cases, the groundwork has already been laid. Many of the solutions I outline already have the necessary legislation and amendments ready to be introduced or waiting for a vote. These are not new problems and the solutions exist, we just need to make them happen.

True patriotism is committing ourselves to the hard work of fixing the things that are broken in our country. There’s an election coming up this November – let’s make it count.