BREAKING DOWN THE BARRIERS: Investing in solutions to pave the way for Reflective Democracy

The Reflective Democracy Campaign has asked some important questions about the racial and gender disparities of our elected officials — Who Leads Us? and Who Runs in America? What we have found is an entrenched system in which two out of every three names on a ballot, and two out of every three elected offices, belong to a white man.

But the Campaign isn’t just about illuminating the problem — important as that is. We’ve started to support groundbreaking efforts to change the system and pave the way for reflective democracy — a system of government that truly reflects the American people. I’m proud to announce our terrific 2016 Reflective Democracy Innovators.

We know that gatekeepers — party insiders, major donors, and other power brokers — have a major influence over endorsements, financial contributions, and ultimately who runs and wins. With Jessica Byrd’s Pathway Project we’re investing in transforming the role of gatekeepers and creating alternative gatekeeper networks to elevate the political leadership of people of color.

Building strong civic institutions that can recruit, train and promote the political leadership of women and people of color is also vitally important. Chrissie Castro’s Native American Candidate Project is creating a Native American candidate pipeline by establishing a national advisory committee and state-specific implementation plans. Oakland Rising is identifying, recruiting, and training diverse community leaders as potential candidates, and building a long-term agenda for equity. Texas Organizing Project Education Fund, Boards & Commissions Project is developing and supporting diverse candidates for appointed seats on boards and commissions, a crucial pathway to holding elected office.

These important projects work to make sure that the power structure that determines who’s on our ballots — and who’s likely to win — includes women and people of color, and is held accountable to their interests. But we’re also working to change voting systems so that they facilitate a more reflective democracy, rather than standing in the way. We’re starting by mapping the problem.

In their Elections Rules & Reflective Local Democracy project, FairVote will compare the demographics of elected officeholders in our Who Leads Us? database against factors such as nonpartisan ballots, at-large elections, council/commission size, timing of elections, council compensation, community resources, voter eligibility rules, and others. This research will give us a comprehensive analysis of which electoral systems correlate to officeholders more reflective of their communities.

Led by Paru Shah (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) and Eric Gonzalez Juenke (Michigan State), two of the country’s top political scientists studying race, gender, and political candidacy, Who Runs and Who Wins? will explore how partisan support, political contributions, electoral structures, and campaigns impact the success of reflective candidates. It will build on our Who Runs (In) America? research identifying the race and gender of all candidates on the ballot in 2012 and 2014.

Is it possible that Reflective Democracy is emerging as a movement? I think so.

To ensure that these diverse efforts are well-amplified, Gloria Totten and the Public Leadership Institute are providing technical support and strategic guidance, facilitating collaboration and synthesis, and developing findings for broader dissemination to advocates and activists in the field.

Stay tuned for more from the Reflective Democracy Innovators as these groundbreaking projects develop!

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