If Things Are Going to Hell, Let's Talk Structural Reform with Don Beyer

Gerrymandering is a major problem. But it's not the only structural cause of radicalization, extremism and polarized politics. I talked with Rep. Don Beyer, a Democrat from Virginia, about some other reform ideas that he's working on with other members of Congress.


First, they want to introduce ranked choice voting. Second, they want to have members of Congress serve in multi-member districts, rather than only one member per district. And three, they want to expand the size of the House, from 435 members as it stands now to 500 members at first, and probably more beyond that.


We talk mostly about ranked choice voting, because that's the first reform they are pushing. Beyer said he hopes to have it voted on and passed in the House this year. And this is something I discussed with Lee Drutman a year ago when his new book came out. If you're looking to do a deep dive into these ideas, they're all explored in depth in that book, which is called "Breaking the Two Party Doom Loop."


The most basic reason to consider ranked choice voting is that it requires a candidate to win with a majority of votes. As it stands, the American system rewards candidates who win a plurality of votes, meaning many officeholders never clear 50 percent support from voters. This is most significant in party primaries, where an extremist or unqualified candidate can win with 30 percent of the vote or less if there are a high number of candidates in the race who split up the vote.


It also gives voters the ability to vote for a third party candidate without worrying that they are throwing away their vote. If the third party candidate doesn't finish in the top two, and nobody gets above 50 percent, then that person's vote goes to their second choice. This would reduce the spoiler effect of third party candidates and also put pressure on them to nominate serrious candidates if they want to be taken seriously.


Drutman told me a year ago that "things are going to hell a little bit" and that's why "people have become so engaged in democracy reform."


I think it's safe to say that things are going to hell a lot these days, and we need structural change to reduce the toxic nature of our politics. This is the kind of conversation we need more of.


Outro Song: "One Hundred Years" by John McCutcheon

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