by Howie Hawkins
July 12, 2021
With the feckless Democrats at the federal level unable and unwilling to stop the ruthless Republicans from assaulting voting rights and impartial elections at the state level, it is time for the Green Party to expand the agenda of pro-democracy demands and fight for them.
With the Republican Party now not merely a conservative party but an extremist party of racism and autocracy, progressive-minded voters have more incentive than ever to vote for centrist corporate Democrats to stop extremist Republicans, making it harder than ever for Green candidates. Ranked-choice voting—and particularly ranked-choice voting in multi-member districts for proportional representation on legislative bodies—are game-changing reforms the Greens must champion in order to be able to run candidates who are not marginalized by the spoiler problem inherent in the prevailing system of single-member-district, winner-take-all plurality voting.
The resources provided here focus on federal legislation, but Greens can advance some of these demands—particularly nonpartisan election administration, fair ballot access, and proportional representation—at the local and state levels.
1. A Right to Vote Amendment to the U.S Constitution
The U.S. Constitution provides no explicit right to vote. This amendment will empower Congress to implement by legislation and require the courts to enforce the individual citizen’s right to vote.
Fair Vote, “Right to Vote Amendment,” https://www.fairvote.org/right_to_vote_amendment
H.J.Res.5 – “Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States protecting the right of citizens to vote,” https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-joint-resolution/5
2. Nonpartisan Election Administration
Only in the U.S. do the two governing parties administer their own elections. We need independent nonpartisan election administration.
National Conference of State Legislatures, “Election Administration at State and Local Levels,” https://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/election-administration-at-state-and-local-levels.aspx. This article covers how election administrators are appointed or elected in the states.
S.2155, Preventing Election Subversion Act of 2021, https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/117/s2155
This bill provides federal protections for election workers from partisan interference, but does not provide for nonpartisan election administration.
3. Fair Ballot Access
We need a reasonable federal ballot access standard for federal elections. The best and last bill for this was Rep. John Conyer’s Fair Elections Act, https://www.congress.gov/bill/101st-congress/house-bill/1582/text.
The candidate maximum petition signature requirement in Conyers’ bill was 1,000 signatures, or signatures of 0.1% of votes for the office in the previous election, whichever is greater. The party vote required for a party to obtain ballot access for the next election cycle was 20,000 votes statewide, or 1% of votes cast for the preceding federal election for President or Senator, whichever is less. These ballot access standards are far lower than in most states today.
4. Proportional Representation
The current system of single-member-district plurality voting is an authoritarian winner-take-all system in which every political viewpoint is excluded from representation except the plurality winner in a given district. Over 90% of House districts and over 95% of state legislative districts are uncompetitive one-party districts. As a result, tens of millions of Americans are perpetually represented by politicians they oppose, with no hope of changing their representation by voting.
The right to fair and proportional representation in the House of Representatives can be realized by enacting the Fair Representation Act, https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/3863. The bill requires that members of the House be elected by a ranked-choice voting system of proportional representation from multi-member districts and Senators be elected by single-seat ranked-choice voting.
In the growing movement for RCV, Greens should push for multi-seat RCV for proportional representation and discourage settling for single-seat RCV for legislative elections. Single-member-district elections tend to produce governments dominated by two major parties, whether plurality or ranked-choice voting is used.
The 2019 elections in Australia demonstrate the radically different outcomes in party representation between single-seat RCV and multi-seat RCV. In Australia, the House of Representatives is elected by single-seat RCV while the Senate is elected by multi-seat RCV. In the 2019 elections, the Green Party received 10.4% of the first-choice votes for the House nationwide but only 1 of 151 seats under single-seat RCV. In the Senate under multi-seat RCV, the Greens won 9 of 76 seats, which was 11.8% of the seats and close to their 10.2% of first-choice votes. The vote percentages were nearly the same and seat numbers exactly the same in both houses for the Greens in the 2016 elections. The two major parties in Australia, on the other hand, had their popular vote magnified into over-representation by the single-member-district, winner-take-all system in the House. In 2019, the Liberal/National Coalition received 42% of the vote and 51% of the seats, while Labor received 35% of the vote and 45% of the seats. Under the single-member-district, winner-take-all system, the two major parties are over-represented, whether the voting is plurality or ranked-choice.
Multi-seat RCV is also important for the inclusion of ethnic minorities. Civil rights litigation and activism by ethnic minorities has led to multi-seat RCV in recent years as a remedy for the racial discrimination that excluded African-Americans in Eastpointe, Michigan; Latinos in Palm Desert, California; and Asian-Americans in Albany, California from city councils and school boards. The voting rights organization More Equitable Democracy (https://www.equitabledemocracy.org) is working for proportional RCV as a remedy for under-representation of ethnic minorities.
5. Abolition of the Senate
The two-Senators-per-state structure is a counter-majoritarian violation of one-person, one-vote democracy. Article V of the Constitution that provides for constitutional amendments singles out the Senate for special protection with the clause “that no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.” Abolishing the Senate would take revolutionary change that bypasses existing constitutional channels. The Green pro-democracy agenda should nonetheless raise the demand to Abolish the Senate as a way to expose how fundamentally undemocratic and unresponsive the Senate is and to fuel the fight for other pro-democracy reforms.
6. Abolition of the Electoral College and Presidential Elections by a Majority Popular Vote
The Electoral College could effectively be replaced by a ranked-choice national popular vote for president without the political difficulties of amending the U.S. Constitution. Congress has the power under its independent constitutional authority to regulate presidential elections in Article II, Section 1 and the 12th Amendment. A Ranked-Choice Vote in Presidential Elections Act has been proposed that would require states to use the same ranked-choice ballot for president. The federal Elections Assistance Commission would receive and tabulate each state’s ranked-choice vote to certify the results of the ranked-choice national popular vote. For discussion of this proposal, see Rob Richie et al., “Toward a More Perfect Union: Integrating Ranked Choice Voting with the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact,” Harvard Law & Policy Review, forthcoming.
7. Public Financing of Public Elections
Greens should demand the Clean Money model of full public campaign financing and reject matching funds systems of partial public campaign financing. The Clean Money model provides equal grants of public funding to all candidates who qualify and eliminates all private campaign financing.
The next step toward full public campaign financing is adoption of We The People Amendment (H.J.Res.48), https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-joint-resolution/48. This amendment would reverse the Supreme Court doctrines that corporations have the same rights as natural persons and that money is speech in decisions like Citizens United that have hamstrung campaign finance regulation. The amendment would establish that only natural human beings, not artificial corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights, and that money is property, not protected speech. It would create the legal framework in which we could publicly and fully regulate and finance public elections.
For a fuller discussions of these pro-democracy reforms, see Howie Hawkins, “Voting Rights Should Include the Right to Vote for Who You Want,” CounterPunch, July 2, 2021, https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/07/02/voting-rights-should-include-the-right-to-vote-for-who-you-want/.