The following is the second of three guest posts by University of Kentucky Law Professor Josh Douglas about his new book, Vote for US: How to Take Back Our Elections and Change the Future of Voting:
Yesterday I highlighted some of the amazing individuals I profile in my new book, Vote for US: How to Take Back Our Elections and Change the Future of Voting. These inspiring people are promoting positive voting rights reforms in their local and state communities. Today I’ll say a little bit about some of the reforms themselves.
Most of these election ideas are probably well known to most readers of this blog – but I learned a lot of details and nuances during my research, bringing the reforms to life.
For instance, I discuss the origins of automatic voter registration, started statewide in Oregon largely thanks to some innovative thinking by Steve Trout, the elections director, and Kate Brown, then the secretary of state who became governor. That reform is now spreading throughout the country. I devote a chapter to disabled voters and the use of a voting machine that all voters can use, which can reduce the stigma of having a disability. I talk about the adoption of ranked choice voting in numerous local elections and then Maine’s statewide implementation last year, highlighting both the reformers who made it happen and the reasons why the system can improve our elections. I go in-depth about Michigan’s constitutional amendment to create an independent redistricting commission and also highlight similar local measures, such as in Sacramento. There’s a discussion of incorporating “action civics” into our classrooms and why local journalism is so important to our democracy.
The book purposefully highlights local reforms. Justice Louis Brandeis once said that states are laboratories of democracy: “a state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” If states are laboratories of democracy, then I like to think of cities and localities as “test tubes of democracy” that can try out reforms on an even smaller scale. The best ideas will then spread to other localities and eventually to states. That’s the case for many of these election reforms.
Importantly, the book focuses on reforms actually working in state and local elections already. The book is less concerned about major changes to our constitutional structure, like abolishing the Electoral College. Those ideas are important, of course, and I discuss some of them in the Epilogue, but the point of this book is to highlight and promote electoral changes that are already in force – with positive results – in states and localities all over.
Moreover, while pushing back against voter suppression is vitally important, it can’t be our only strategy to improve our democracy. That’s the message of the final chapter, “The Perils of Only Playing Defense.” We also need to focus on positive voting rights reforms. The goal is much higher turnout and an election process that is more inclusive and convenient for all voters.
Tomorrow I’ll discuss a few of the local organizations dedicated to these efforts and the resource I provide in the Appendix to find them, no matter your location.