On July 4, 1776, American patriots declared their independence from a political system that denied real representation and ignored the consent of the governed.
Today, we watch our legislative bodies in both DC and Harrisburg move to enact laws and budgets that ignore the concerns of the governed. Citizens across the political spectrum struggle to be heard on a broad array of issues impacting the health of our families, communities and economy.
The most recent analysis from the Electoral Integrity Project once again calls attention to deficits in US electoral policy, pointing to the conflict of interest inherent in allowing party leaders to control the lines that govern their own elections.
Watchdog agencies have described partisan involvement in redistricting as “political interference.” In evaluating US elections, the report states:
The area which experts judged the most problematic concerned district boundaries. The issue of gerrymandered [districts] has been consistently regarded by experts as the worst aspect of US voting procedures in the global Perceptions of Electoral Integrity Index since the 2012 election. In global comparison, the US received the second lowest score on this issue out of countries covered in the PEI—only Malaysia is scored lower.
Our health and wealth are harmed by a system that allows politicians to choose their voters, denying real choice to the voters themselves. Commentary in the March edition of Fortune, Why Politics is Failing America, ties unresponsive government to our stagnant US economy. Authors Michael Porter, founder of Harvard Business School’s Competitiveness Project, and Catherine Gehl, former CEO of Gehl Foods, warn:
Beware the political–industrial complex. They rig the game for their benefit. The public interest is the loser.
They describe a duopoly consisting of two powerful parties acting in defiance of the will of the people to further “what we call the political-industrial complex”:
…an interconnected set of entities that participate in and support the industry: special interests, lobbyists, pollsters, consultants, partisan think tanks, super PACs, and, yes, the media too. Virtually all the industry players are connected to one side or the other—the right or the left.
Competition in politics appears intense—witness the numerous candidates, sky-high spending, and minute-to-minute media coverage. And as any student of economics will tell you, competition is typically good for customers. But not here. That’s because the competition to win elections is on the wrong things. And both elections and governing involve an anticompetitive collusion of interests. Hence, the key customers of this industry—the special interests and donors—are largely protected by power brokers on both sides. Increasingly, political competition is designed not to advance the public interest, but rather to cultivate loyal funding sources and motivate partisan primary voters.
The parties have rigged the electoral process to guarantee division and disincentivize problem solving and progress. Partisan gerrymandering and primaries together are crucial to this structure. A legislator from a gerrymandered district must cater to the partisan primary voters from his or her own party, not answer to the general-election voters, much less to citizens overall or to the public interest. In a party primary in which partisans cast most of the votes, those with moderate views are an endangered species.
Our nation and our state face issues of grave importance, from guns in schools to medical coverage to equitable school funding to infrastructure and taxes. Too often it seems sensible solutions are ignored while bills opposed by large portions of the population are pushed forward, despite public outcry and warnings from experts.
Unwise policy made for partisan purposes, without ample analysis and transparent discussion, will cost both jobs and lives.
Gerrymandered districts allow legislators to distance themselves from the people they govern.
Real representative democracy requires a change to the redistricting process so that voters have a real voice in elections and ability to hold legislators accountable.
Our best avenue toward that reform is an educated public, willing to hold legislators accountable.
Join us this Independence Day in standing for government of, by, and for the people.