The writer, of Omaha, is an attorney, an organizer of Represent Us Omaha and a former civics and law studies teacher.
If our government were an automobile, it would have the kind of noise coming from under the hood that would make us immediately go to a mechanic. It’s time for some maintenance.
Nebraska has a great history of putting effective legislating ahead of party. We have a nonpartisan Legislature that is a result of the problems George Norris dealt with as a legislator. Norris himself changed parties because of these kinds of partisan conflicts.
Nebraska also has had legislators like Ben Nelson and Chuck Hagel who were instrumental in passing legislation mainly because they were not toeing a specific party line. Current legislators are hopelessly burdened with party baggage.
A growing number of grassroots organizations are attempting to address the issues plaguing our democracy. Locally we have Represent Us and Common Cause Nebraska. Others are the Independent Voters Network, No Labels (Problem Solvers Caucus), Better Angels, American Promise, Fair Vote, Issue One, Living Room Conversations and many others. Hopefully these groups will coordinate to fix our issues in the coming years. Partisanship and polarity appear to be the biggest issues dividing the country. What are the fixes?
Make changes to the primary and general election system.
Because of gerrymandering and money in politics, about 86% of all congressional seats are non-competitive. Open primaries would force candidates to communicate with all their constituents, not just “the base” they have to appease through the current primary system. Alternatively, if a ranked choice voting system was used, candidates would have to worry about what every voter thought. In conservative districts, the top two or three could be Republicans; in progressive districts, they may all be Democrats. The bottom line: In the general election, every seat could be competitive, meaning every constituent would matter, and the competition for the middle 35% to 40% should lead to a better group of elected representatives.
If the Electoral College were eliminated, or even if every state used the same system as Nebraska and Maine, we would potentially eliminate a system that favors a few purple states over all the others. How many presidential candidates have campaigned in Nebraska, west of Omaha, for the last couple decades? This change could make all states relevant again.
Get money out of politics.
Money influences elections — all elections at all levels. Does it seem right that money can flow into Nebraska from lobbyists and big donors from other states, or even countries, to influence our elections? The average bill in Congress has about a 33% chance of passing. A bill supported by lobbyists and money has about a 66% chance of passing. Who do our representatives really represent? Because of this system, our legislators spend more time raising money than they do legislating. That is contrary to the concept of “All men are created equal.”
Make voting accessible.
Access to the vote is also a significant problem. Of course, only legally qualified people should vote, but it should not be difficult to do so. We should look at automatic voter registration, online voter registration, early voting, vote by mail and other options. In other states, vote by mail has proven to be cheaper and increases participation. This was even the case in Garden County, Nebraska. Isn’t participation by as many as possible a core principle of our democracy?
America’s democracy was called the Great Experiment by George Washington. Using the scientific analysis, as Einstein aged, he constantly tweaked and challenged his own discoveries. America in the same way needs to realize that, in a changing world, our experiment needs to be challenged, altered and repaired to allow it to continue to promote the common good of every human being who lives in, and is governed by, this Great Republic. We need to get this democracy running more smoothly. Not just for those with money, not just those with influence, but for everyone. With liberty and justice for all.