The Democracy Agenda

Fixing the Building Blocks of our Democracy

Deval Patrick
Jan 10 · 13 min read

For too long, we’ve treated our democracy like it could withstand infinite abuse without breaking. For our democracy to work for all citizens that must change. Our Democracy Agenda is about ending the many abuses and barriers that have crept into our political system to engineer outcomes at odds with the public will. The building blocks of our democracy should be more responsive to the people, and enrich the social fabric of our nation.

In my first 100 days, I would prioritize legislation to fix our broken democracy. The over-influence of money in our politics (much of it dark), hyper-partisan gerrymandering, voter suppression and the influence of lobbyists explains why our democracy no longer can be counted on to produce democratic outcomes. These changes are foundational, and enable the success of other far-reaching legislative proposals.

The division in our national politics exaggerates divisions in our country. So, as a further element of our Democracy Agenda, we will propose universal national service, a paid opportunity for all 17- and 18-year-olds to provide military or civilian service, and new opportunities for older Americans to serve. In addition to addressing many unmet needs, service alongside other Americans of different backgrounds and perspectives provides a vital way to enable Americans to know each other and counteract the many efforts to divide us.

We will:

  • Make Voting Accessible and More Secure
  • Achieve Universal National Service
  • Clean Up Our Politics
  • Strengthen Democratic Institutions

Make Voting Accessible and More Secure

Easy access to the vote and having that vote count is as fundamental as it gets. Expanding access to secure voting will be a top priority of the Patrick Administration. The Justice Department in a Patrick administration will aggressively combat the vote suppression that has steadily and cynically choked off the fundamental act of citizenship. We would also explore ways to make voting easier: automatic or same day voter registration, early voting and voting by mail or online. We need to update the Voting Rights Act, and engage a joint state-federal effort to incentivize states to expand access to the ballot.

Deval’s Democracy Track Record

Deval joined the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund and worked as a civil rights attorney after graduating from law school, where he litigated voting rights cases to expand access or defend voting activists.

Deval led the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, where he enforced the Voting Rights Act as well as addressed issues like racial profiling, police misconduct, and lending discrimination.

As Governor, Deval signed an election reform law, which allowed early voting in Massachusetts, established online voter registration, and required audits to ensure that voting machines are working correctly.

Under Governor Patrick, Massachusetts entered an interstate compact that would guarantee the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes nationwide once it was adopted by states representing a majority of the electoral college.

Fix the Voting Rights Act. Restore critical federal laws protecting the rights of voters that have been undermined by the Supreme Court and misused by the Trump Administration. We will work with Congress to pass an update to the VRA that includes a new formula for pre-clearance to replace the one struck down by the Supreme Court. With the tool of preclearance back in hand, the Justice Department will be tasked with ensuring that states do not make laws that make it demonstrably harder for minority voters to cast a ballot.

Boost Participation. A Patrick administration will commit to increasing Election Day voter participation to 90% over the next decade. Across the country, in states red and blue, the Patrick administration will lead a non-partisan effort to encourage eligible voters to get involved and to vote in state, local and federal elections. We will establish achievable and national turnout metrics for state, local and federal election cycles, accounting for midterm elections and off-years with fewer contested races. To make that goal a reality, we will:

  • Work with Congress, the states, and federal agencies to automatically register every eligible voter in the United States (unless a voter opts out) through a combination of new federal laws passed under the Elections Clause and competitive grant programs to support innovations in voting at the state level;
  • Engage civil society, educators and the private sector in a civics education campaign to boost understanding of and participation in our democracy which will coincide with plans to celebrate our country’s 250th birthday in 2026; and
  • Boost student voting on campuses by partnering with institutions of higher education.

Secure Our Elections. Through a mix of competitive grants and federal funding tied to mandatory standards, we will secure our election machinery and processes from foreign interference. New nationwide election administration guidelines will require states and municipalities to:

  • Replace aging and vulnerable machines with the most secure technology, able to produce a hard record;
  • Conduct regular post-election audits; and
  • Conduct regular risk assessments and ongoing monitoring of election infrastructure with the assistance of federal law enforcement and intelligence professionals.

Improve Voting at the Federal Level. Work with Congress and across the federal government through an interagency process to spur new voting reforms and enhance the experience of participating in government, at all levels. Such efforts would include:

  • Early Voting. Establish a national standard for early voting to allow voters to cast ballots in their communities at convenient times in advance of Election Day.
  • Make Election Day a Federal Holiday. The Patrick Administration will work with Congress to push to make Election Day a federal holiday.
  • Support Transgender Voting. Form an interagency working group to address cross-state identification issues that make it harder for transgender individuals to register and vote.
  • Enforce the HEA. Enforce provisions of the Higher Education Act requiring higher education institutions to develop plans to promote student voting.
  • Make Overseas and Military Voting Easier. It is intolerable that military families and citizens living abroad in defense of our democracy have difficulty participating meaningfully in elections. We will work with states, the Defense Department, the Postal Service, the State Department, and all relevant stakeholders to address that shortcoming.

Incentivize Local Voting Reforms. Following the model of the Obama Administration’s “Race to the Top,” we will establish a competitive grant program administered by a revitalized and revamped Election Assistance Commission to award funding to states and municipalities that commit to making pro-voting reforms. The program will reward states that engage in reforms such as:

  • Same day registration;
  • Early voting;
  • Voting by mail;
  • Efforts to reduce waiting times at polling locations;
  • Ending felon disenfranchisement;
  • Pre-registration of young people below the age of 18;
  • Expanding language options for ballots at polling locations; and
  • Experimenting with more convenient voting days and locations.

Combat Voting Restrictions. As President, I will direct the Justice Department to challenge efforts anywhere to make it more difficult for some voters to cast their ballots.

  • We will aggressively police the practice of indiscriminately “purging” voter rolls and police efforts by states to de-register citizens by participating in poorly designed interstate “cross-check” systems.

End Felon Disenfranchisement. Work with states and Congress to restore voting rights to citizens who have served out their sentence and returned to society, and keep that engagement up to ensure that restoration actually happens, and happens quickly.


Achieving Universal National Service

To rebuild our national community, indeed our democracy, we will propose universal national service for all 17- or 18-year-olds.

This proposal is based on the simple belief that we are so easily divided because Americans don’t know each other. Working alongside another American from another part of the country in service of the country’s military or civilian needs gives us the chance to understand each other more deeply, and ultimately to reject the superficial assumptions we make about other Americans whose backgrounds and experiences are different — while also helping the Nation address a host of unmet needs. From AmeriCorps to the Peace Corps to teaching opportunities at home and aboard to service with the military, we will advance ways to give Americans, young and old, the paid opportunity to serve their country and their community. And in return for their national service, service members will earn free tuition at public universities.

We have the opportunity to strengthen and revitalize a new national service for our country, in which all Americans who wish to serve their country are able to do so. Not only would we enlist help in tackling the greatest challenges we face — climate change and disaster response, homelessness and poverty, inequality in education and opportunity, national security and our moral standing abroad — but we would do so in a way that brings Americans together. Our society has become so polarized and stratified that we forget our shared love of and commitment to our American values of equality, opportunity and fair play.

Deval’s Track Record — Project 351

Project 351 is a Massachusetts nonprofit launched in 2011, when Governor Patrick sought to celebrate his second inaugural with a focus on young people and community.

Working with local leaders, the project was conceived of as a one-day celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., statewide unity, and youth leadership. Project 351 unites eighth graders from each of Massachusetts’ 351 cities and towns to develop leadership skills and confidence.

Project 351 is now in its tenth year, with 3,381 alumni and more than 730,000 lives positively impacted through service.

The nonprofit, funded entirely through private donations, is a 12-month leadership development program that builds a youth-led movement for change. Through enrichment, mentorship, and statewide service, Project 351 develops a pipeline of community-first leaders.

Universal National Service. We will set the United States on a path to achieving universal voluntary national service by 2030. Every adult in America should have the opportunity to serve our country beginning when they are 17 or 18 years old and the programs should be compelling enough that service will become an expectation of most young Americans. These programs would bring Americans from across the country together in new places and new ways to take on our most pressing challenges. Opportunities to serve would initially focus on:

  • Climate change and climate resilience;
  • Addressing the root causes of poverty and homelessness;
  • National security and emergency response;
  • Promoting American values and moral standing in the world;
  • Inequality in education and opportunity; and
  • Public health and access to health care.

In exchange for national service, whether civilian or military, we would create new incentives all those who serve would earn.

Reward Service. Alumni of service programs will receive free tuition at public colleges and universities or equivalent programs. For every year of service, students would receive two years of tuition, up to the full cost of a four-year degree.

  • Those who serve would earn a fair living allowance, including health care, and new immigrants who participate in either military or civilian service would have their naturalization timeline accelerated.
  • To achieve this ambitious reimagining of national service, we will begin by building on existing programs, incentivizing local communities to innovate, and expanding programs that work nationally.

Integrate National Service Efforts. Within the first hundred days of a Patrick Administration, I will make national service a key priority by starting the process of combining and aligning all existing service programs under the direction of one cabinet official, and appointing a White House official to oversee existing programs and the expansion of all new programs.

Service for Older Americans. We will also lead an effort to expand and promote opportunities for older Americans to serve their communities, such as in skills training and development programs or as mentors. We have far too much talent and wisdom among the senior population to leave unutilized.

Build on Existing Programs. The United States already has a number of successful programs to build on, most notably the armed services. For civilian service, programs like AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps provide decades of experience and hundreds-of-thousands of alumni. In furtherance of this service initiative, the Patrick Administration will dramatically expand funding for these and related programs.

Fund Innovation in Local Service Programs. The Patrick administration will make grants to state and local programs, as well as non-profits or public-private partnerships, that create the best models of community service. We will assess all programs by a clear framework of success so that funding flows to those that both make meaningful progress in attacking a critical problem facing our country while also giving young people valuable skills and experiences, all in a way that is cost-effective and achieves the goal of bringing Americans from all walks-of-life together in common cause.


Clean Up Our Politics

Require Outside Groups to Disclose Political Spending. Working with Congress, pass new laws like the DISCLOSE Act to require additional, faster disclosure of outside spending in elections.

  • Short of a legislative fix, mandate that all government contractors and vendors disclose political spending and contributions. Require all public companies to report amounts and recipients of political spending to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Amplify the Power of Small Donors. Create a federal program that matches small donations by American citizens with public funds to amplify the impact of small donors in elections. One path to getting there is to create a government fund that would match small donations to political campaigns at an eight to one ratio, modeled off of existing programs like that in New York City. The matching fund would be paid for by taxing the expenditures of corporate PACs.

  • Provide federal support and resources to pilot efforts in states and cities to establish “voucher” systems, like the one in Seattle, to transform campaign financing.
  • Work with Congress to fix public financing for Presidential elections and increase the amount of voluntary contributions via personal tax filings.

Prevent Foreign Interference in U.S. Elections. We will aggressively enforce laws making it a crime to coordinate with foreign governments and nationals to influence our elections.

  • A revitalized Federal Election Commission will issue guidance requiring that all campaigns immediately disclose offers of foreign campaign assistance to the FBI and the public. And we will aggressively pursue state actors and others who seek to compromise the integrity of our elections.
  • Work with the political parties and private vendors to ban the use of a foreign credit card to make a donation to a U.S. office seeker.

Reverse Citizens United. Direct all resources of the federal government toward reducing the flood of corporate money that followed the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, including championing an Amendment to the United States Constitution.

  • Corporations are not people, and unlimited money on elections is not speech. In parallel with Constitutional changes, we will work with Congress to develop legislation to clarify that no corporation shall be deemed a “person” for purposes of the First Amendment.

Strengthen Ethics Laws. There are a host of reforms we can and should pursue to limit the influence of undisclosed, unregulated money from influencing outcomes in Washington. Working with Congress as necessary, we will take the following steps:

  • Reform the Federal Election Commission. Recreate the FEC from the ground up to solve the deadlock that has paralyzed the agency.
  • Stricter Super PAC Enforcement. Direct the FEC and the IRS to more aggressively enforce rules that prohibit outside groups like Super PACs from coordinating with political campaigns, and prevent charities from spending money in elections to support a candidate. We will strengthen and ramp up enforcement of the coordination ban between Super PACs and campaigns to impose consequences for campaigns who attempt to coordinate with Super PACs. We will also work with Congress to explore Constitutional paths to abolishing Super PACs altogether.
  • Ban Leadership PACs for Most Congresspeople. Limit “Leadership PACs” — limitless piles of campaign cash that politicians can use for any purposes — to the actual leaders of the Congress.
  • Strengthen the Office of Government Ethics. Completely reorganize the existing Office of Government Ethics and create a new independent ethics office that would have investigatory and discipline powers to enforce the federal ethics and conflict of interest rules.
  • Ban Lobbyists From Regulating Their Own Industries. Return to the Obama Administration’s policy of forbidding lobbyists from entering government to regulate the very industries they had just lobbied for.
  • Strengthen Lobbyist Disclosure. We will push Congress to pass legislation requiring members to disclose any paid lobbyist meetings on a monthly basis, and strengthen lobbyist registration and reporting rules to provide more disclosure on lobbyist activity.
  • Ban Foreign Governments From Registering Lobbyists. We will end the practice of permitting foreign governments to register lobbyists in the United States. There is no reason we should tolerate such a practice.

Strengthen Democratic Institutions

Civics and Citizenship. Our administration will prioritize providing a robust and comprehensive civics education to young people and permanent residents who are preparing to become citizens. We will convene a new interagency taskforce spanning the Education Department and all relevant immigration and naturalization agencies, to promote and improve civics education at the state, local and national levels.

  • Civics. We will ramp up federal support for civics education in public K-12 education, working with Congress on bills like the CIViCS Act to provide states with direct aid. Grants will support classroom education, service learning, and student-led civic initiatives.
  • Citizenship. In 2008, I issued an executive order to create a statewide plan for integrating new Americans and immigrants into the economic and social life of the Commonwealth. We will do the same at the federal level and open an Office of New Americans in the White House to coordinate a comprehensive suite of programs and opportunities designed to positively integrate new Americans into our nation.

Responsibility for Online Content. Federal law currently immunizes large internet platforms from responsibility for the content they host. These companies have proven themselves unwilling or unable to adequately prevent the proliferation of extreme hate speech and misinformation. My administration will push Congress to amend the Communications Decency Act to impose accountability on the largest internet content providers so that those harmed may hold these platforms directly accountable for their carelessness.

Abolish the Electoral College. Amend the United States Constitution to eliminate the obsolete, eighteenth-century method we use to elect a President, and replace it with a simple national popular vote. The Electoral College is not democratic and, today, no longer reflects the popular will. Our leaders should be elected by a simple popular vote. I will push for a Constitutional amendment to bring this about, and will support other efforts to assure that the popular vote determines the outcome through an interstate compact.

End Hyper-Partisan Gerrymandering. Voters should pick their representatives — not the other way around. We will promote efforts to limit hyper-partisanship in the process of drawing legislative districts by setting a national standard and establishing clear guidelines for drawing districts.

  • Our administration will work with Congress to pass a law requiring that each state draw Congressional districts through an independent, non-partisan body, according to a set of neutral standards such as compactness and population.
  • I will direct the Justice Department to challenge partisan gerrymandering to the fullest extent possible under the law.

Protect the Census. Reverse the Trump Administration’s political meddling in the census process and establish formal rules to protect the census from politics in the future.

Statehood for Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico. If the people of Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico wish to pursue formal statehood, they will have that chance during a Patrick administration and will be welcomed as states.

Ensure the Executive Branch is Never Above the Law. Support legislation that clarifies the President can be criminally prosecuted for breaking the law, including obstruction of justice.

Protect Candidates from Politically Motivated Investigations. Require that law enforcement agencies consult with non-political, career-lawyers within the Department of Justice before making any major investigation into a candidate for elected federal office, and provide notice of any investigative steps to the appropriate oversight offices and committees.

Deval Patrick

Written by

Former Massachusetts Governor. Democratic candidate for President. Committed to the values of generational responsibility and the politics of conviction.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade