It would be easy to quit. It’s tempting to turn off the news, stop listening to toxic taunts from the high pulpits of politics, stop voting in a political system hijacked by extremists, stop trusting politicians in both parties who refuse to address existential threats such as climate change and unaffordable health care.
California is burning. Tensions with Iran are smoldering. Kids are being slaughtered in schools. Life in America is hard and getting harder for working-class people, many of whom are forced to choose every month between paying rent or buying prescription drugs. It would be so easy to quit.
Please don’t. Our broken politics can be fixed, and there are signs it’s already happening.
As former members of Congress who found a way to work across the aisle, we are encouraged to see growing momentum across the country for political reforms that put voters first.
From Alaska to New York, citizen-led initiatives are underway or have passed that will critically change the landscape of electoral politics. In Virginia, the new bipartisan Commonwealth Caucus recently launched to find common ground and advance electoral reforms. Most exciting, we have seen up close what polls have shown — that a majority of Americans want a functioning government and elected leaders who put “We, The People” over special interests and their own political parties.
The key to fixing our broken political system is to give voters a new voice — a proportional voice — in our elections, which are all too often skewed to the advantage of the partisan extremes.
Most voters aren’t ideological
In a comprehensive survey of Americans, the Pew Research Center found that those who hold ideologically unyielding views are less than a third of the electorate, but they are twice as likely as their more pragmatic neighbors to attend political events, work on campaigns, contribute to candidates and, most important, vote in primaries.
This gives ideologically driven voters a disproportionate influence in elections. It’s no wonder studies have shown that members of Congress tend to have more ideologically extreme views than the constituents they represent.
To address this problem, we must support efforts to increase participation, competition and accountability in our elections.
Talking it out:Learning to discuss complicated issues ahead of the election
We want to hear from you:Be a part of the solution to finding solutions. Tell us here.
First, we must open primary elections to all voters. In many states, independent voters are excluded from party primaries, despite the fact that their tax dollars are used to fund those elections. Too often, the primary is the only election that matters, as politically one-sided districts make the general election a mere formality. By excluding independents, these states encourage candidates to cater to the most extreme elements of the electorate.
Second, we must end partisan gerrymandering. We can do so by supporting independent redistricting commissions to draw district boundaries — ensuring that voters choose their representatives rather than politicians choosing their voters.
Third, we must push back against negative campaigns. Ranked choice voting is one way to do so –– by giving voters the option to rank their candidates rather than choosing only one. This system increases civil and substantive campaigns, saves money by removing the need for costly runoff elections, and gives voters more voice and choice by allowing candidates from outside the two-party duopoly to run without fear of “spoiling” an election.
Make voting easier, more secure
Fourth, we must make casting an informed ballot easier and more secure, especially in primary elections. Vote-by-mail systems allow voters to receive their ballots in advance of Election Day, dramatically increasing turnout and giving voters a better opportunity to do their research on candidates and ballot measures.
Finally, we must support candidates who demonstrate a commitment to putting country over party and to enacting the political reforms necessary to restore pragmatic problem-solving, and just as important, to restore Americans’ faith in our system of self-government.
We believe the best opportunity to address the most significant challenges facing our country is to fix the problem that prevents progress in the first place — the gridlock and polarization caused by America’s broken political system. Reversing the downward spiral of hyperpartisan politics won’t be easy and can’t be accomplished by any single organization; it will take a nationwide movement that reflects the diversity of our nation and the complexity of the problem we are trying to solve.
Fortunately, that grassroots movement to put voters first is growing across the country. We are proud to join as co-chairs of Unite America’s Advisory Board, whose strategy aims to accelerate and scale this movement by mobilizing significantly more resources from political philanthropists. We are committed to doing our part by investing in the reforms and candidates that offer the best opportunity to foster a more functional and representative government.
Jason Altmire, a Democrat, is a former representative of Pennsylvania’s 4th Congressional District, serving from 2007 until 2013. Carlos Luis Curbelo, a Republican, is a former representative of Florida’s 26th Congressional District, from 2015 to 2019. Follow them on Twitter: @jasonaltmire and @carloslcurbelo