January 2018

OP-ED: María Pérez/ Democracy Is a Verb

María Pérez speaking at a rally for Ranked Choice Voting in front of Santa Fe City Hall, Nov. 2017

 

 Democracy is a form of government where everybody is treated equally and has equal rights. It relies on each person having a voice and equal access to the vote. As citizens of the United States, we have been told that we are the greatest country on Earth because we are a great democracy. However, it is clear to anybody who is paying attention that our democracy is crumbling before our eyes. We do not live in a society where everybody is treated equally or has equal rights.

 

On a national level, we see that a handful of lobbyists have a much stronger voice than thousands of constituents. Our democratic institutions are being administered by individuals who have spent decades trying to dismantle those institutions. We see the limitations of an unpopular two-party system that leaves people feeling divided, apathetic and disenfranchised. There are laws and practices that make it harder for certain people to vote. There are also laws and practices that ensure that some votes count more than others. The result is low voter turnout. Only 60 percent of eligible voters voted in the 2016 presidential election. Martin Luther King III said, “If we are to be a great democracy, we must all take an active role in our democracy.” His father, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., said, “Voting is the foundation stone for political action. If people don’t vote, or if our votes don’t count, we lose our democracy.”

 

We must fight to save our democracy. Every single one of us. It doesn’t matter if you lean progressive or conservative. Democracy is not something we have; it is something we do. Democracy is an action. It goes away if we don’t constantly work on it and defend it. Courageous champions of democracy are fighting this fierce fight every day at the local and national levels. There are many good government policies that, if adopted, would strengthen our democracy. We must all advocate for their adoption and implementation.

 

Ranked Choice Voting

One of these policies is ranked choice voting (RCV). It is a simple, yet powerful change we can make at the local level to give voters a stronger voice. Voters are given the freedom to rank candidates—first, second, third and so on—instead of just picking one. All first choices are counted, and if a candidate has a majority, then that person wins. However, if nobody has a majority, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and the voters’ ballots are instantly counted for their next choice. This process continues until a candidate receives a majority and is declared the winner.

 

RCV is a democracy-building tool because it allows voters to truly vote their conscience. Under this system people don’t have to make impossible calculations and vote for a candidate they don’t really like, because if they vote for their favorite candidate it is likely that the candidate they like the least will be elected. Voters can truly express their preference without worrying about splitting the vote, and in the end, the winning candidate will have the support of a majority of voters. Cities that use RCV, such as Oakland, Minneapolis, St. Paul, San Francisco and others, have seen an increase in voter turnout. These cities have also seen a more diverse slate of candidates. A study examining the effects of RCV in the Bay Area found that of the 53 offices elected by RCV, 60 percent are held by people of color and 60 percent are women. Under RCV, Minneapolis just elected the first openly transgender woman of color to serve in public office in the U.S.

 

All change begins at the local level. RCV is in place in about a dozen U.S. cities now, and there are dozens more where champions of democracy are advocating for it. The voters of Santa Fe passed RCV in 2008 with 65 percent of the vote, and it is by law the voting system that the city is supposed to be using. Santa Fe’s city government, however, is fighting implementation, despite a court order. Our champions of democracy are fighting to ensure that our city follows its own laws.

 

2018 will be a critical election year in races at all levels of government. It will also be a year of challenges and intensifying threats to democracy from an increasingly corporate-controlled state. In this context it is imperative that we not only raise our voices in the streets but also cast our votes at the ballot box—translating our visions for a better future and commitment to action—into tangible political power that can transform institutional realities. See you at the polls!

 

María Pérez is the director of the non-partisan organization FairVote New Mexico (www.fairvote.org/maria_perez)

 

 

SIDEBAR:

Learn about Ranked Choice Voting in Santa Fe

Jan. 11, 12–1, 2–4 and 5–7 p.m. at Chainbreaker, 1515 5th St.

Jan. 12, 10 a.m.–12 p.m., 1–3 and 4–6 p.m. at La Farge Library, 1730 Llano St.

Jan. 13, 10 a.m. –12, 1–3 and 4–6 pm at EarthCare,

Corner,  Jaguar and Country Club

Limited to 20 participants per session. First come, first served. Free.

RSVP: 505.550.0647, mperez@fairvote.org

 

 

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