How Do We Fix Elections? Win More of Them

Swing Left
Swing Left
Published in
6 min readFeb 13, 2020

Why Democrats need to make protecting and expanding the right to vote a priority this November and beyond.

Voting rights are too important to talk about once every 4 years. In his new book, Un-Trumping America: A Plan to Make America a Democracy Again, former Senior Advisor to President Obama Dan Pfeiffer argues that Democrats need to address this issue up and down the ballot, because “the only way to unrig the system is to ensure that every eligible voter makes their voice heard.”

Republicans have a tried-and-true playbook. First, they drum up fears about nonexistent voter fraud to justify making it harder to vote. Second, they attack any proposal to make voting more accessible as a Democratic plot to steal elections by making it so undocumented immigrants, dead people, and other scary groups can vote.

This strategy has too often cowed Democrats from doing the right thing for democracy (and the Democratic Party).


Elections are run by state governments — not the federal government — which means that we have a patchwork of laws and processes and a sliding scale of democracy based on where you live. If you live in California, your government wants you to vote. If you live in almost any state in the Deep South, not so much.

This makes close to zero sense, given how far we have come from being thirteen separate colonies. But thanks in part to a Supreme Court that gutted the Voting Rights Act, we are stuck with an antiquated system of electoral federalism, which means the best way to fix our elections¹ is to win more elections at the state and local levels.

These down-ballot races have too often been ignored by too many in the Democratic Party and donor community. Organizations like EMILY’s List and the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee have been the exception, not the rule. Republicans have spent years recruiting, training, and funding candidates to run and win at the state and local levels. But that is starting to change, thanks to groups like Swing Left, Run for Something, and the Arena that sprung up in the wake of Trump’s victory.²

It begins with winning those races, but it doesn’t end there. Expanding the vote must be the top priority for these newly elected Democrats.

Every Democrat up and down the ballot should sign onto a voting expansion agenda that includes a series of long-discussed, widely accepted, but rarely implemented ideas to make voting easier, including

• automatic voter registration;

• same-day registration;

• vote by mail;

• expanding early voting;

• restoring voting rights to ex-felons who have paid their debt to society;

• making it easier for college students to vote.

All of these ideas are proven to increase turnout, and there is no reason they shouldn’t be done. There is good news on this front — most of the states run by Democrats have instituted automatic voter registration and other elements of a voter expansion agenda. In 2018, voters in Florida passed an amendment to restore voting rights to felons.³

California has put in place a model for how to make voting easier that every state should emulate.

Traditionally, your voting location is based on where you live. This location, which is often a school gym, church, or firehouse, is the only place you can vote. Your voting location can change every election. If you show up at the wrong location, you can be turned away. Making someone vote near their house instead of their job when Election Day is a workday is painfully stupid.

A few years ago, California passed a law giving counties the option to eliminate neighborhood polling places in exchange for voting centers where anyone could vote, drop off a mail ballot, register to vote, and get a replacement ballot. The voting centers are open seven days a week and convenient for people to visit before and after work. Five counties experimented with the new law in 2018, and guess what?

Are you sitting down? It turns out if you make voting easier, more people vote.⁴

For too long, Republicans have defined the conversation around voting. They screamed about fraud, and we whispered about suppression. A 2016 Washington Post / ABC poll found that 46 percent of voters believe voter fraud happens “very or somewhat often.” Voter fraud is a myth. A 2014 study also published in the Washington Post found that between 2000 and 2014, there were thirty-one incidents of voter fraud out of more than one billion ballots cast. Donald Trump repeatedly blamed his popular-vote loss to Hillary Clinton on baseless claims of “massive voter fraud.” With much fanfare, he appointed a commission to look into these allegations. He staffed the commission with some of the worst partisan hacks.

That commission eventually disbanded without finding any evidence of voter fraud — which hasn’t stopped Trump from continuing to blame his popular vote loss on voter fraud.⁵

Republicans loudly made their case in the public arena, and we quietly fought back in the courts. This was a strategic choice. Democrats looked at the polling around issues like requiring an identification to vote and decided we couldn’t win the argument. Democrats believed (with reason) that talking about how hard it is to vote would discourage some people from voting. So we stayed silent, and Republicans were able to disenfranchise millions of their own constituents without paying a political price.

The reason that Democrats haven’t won the argument on voting is that Democrats haven’t made the argument. That has to change. Democrats need to make a consistent and aggressive case to voters about why Republicans don’t want them to vote. The best political arguments (and all arguments) have a who, a what, and a why. They have to tell a story. Here’s how I would tell that story:

The Republican Party is trying to stop you from voting. They are the party of billionaires, corporations, and Wall Street banks. Republicans know their agenda of giving tax breaks to the rich and paying for it by cutting health care, Medicare, and education is not popular. They know that if you areallowed to vote, they will lose power. Voter suppression is not just a strategy to keep Republicans in power. It is a strategy to ensure the corporations, lobbyists, and the rich continue to call the shots in America. Democrats believe in giving power to the people, not the powerful. The only way to unrig the system is to ensure that every eligible voter makes their voice heard. You should ask yourself, Why doesn’t the Republican Party want everyone to vote?

Democrats must explain why Republicans are trying to stop people from voting. The public has a well-worn suspicion about political motivations. They aren’t surprised that a politician would do something nefarious to keep themselves in power. These lowered expectations help explain how Trump won despite several swamps worth of corruption. Therefore, talking about the larger context of why Republicans will go to such extreme lengths to remain in power, who that power benefits, and who it hurts is critical. The argument for a stronger democracy and against suppression has to be part of the larger story Democrats tell about America. It’s not a side issue. It’s the issue. Everything flows from who gets to vote. We have to make the argument proudly and repeatedly.

Democrats have to define themselves as the democracy party — the party that wants every eligible voter to vote and believes that America is at its best when all its citizens participate.

Pre-order Un-Trumping America today!

[1] Fix as in repair, not rig (that’s what Republicans do).

[2] The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee has been doing yeoman’s work in this area for years, but they are finally getting some help.

[3] The Republicans in the state legislature are undermining it by instituting a Jim Crow–era poll tax, which is another reminder that Republicans hate democracy.

[4] No shit.

[5] Why let facts get in the way of a sad self-justification in order to fill a bot- tomless well of insecurity.



Swing Left
Swing Left

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