By Saumya Narechania
The inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris has brought a tremendous sense of relief and hope to many people across our country. But this administration still faces enormous challenges, and we will all have to work together to meet this moment.
As the nation grapples with many crises, including the COVID-19 epidemic, racism and systemic injustice, white supremacy, a climate that is changing at frightening speed, and the unprecedented spread of misinformation, we also face one problem that undergirds and exacerbates those challenges: our broken political system.
Self-serving politicians have worked to undermine faith in our elections by suppressing votes and gerrymandering districts, even going so far as to claim, without evidence, massive voter fraud in a desperate attempt to disrupt and subvert our democracy.
Our challenges are too great to solve by ourselves — either individually or just from one political party or one point of view. That is why President Biden’s administration is rightly stressing the importance of unity.
A good starting place to begin solving the enormous challenges we face today would be to acknowledge that our political system is just not working. There are pressing issues that a majority of Americans agree on that politicians across the country have refused to even try to solve: gun violence, racial inequity, and climate change.
We can harness this moment of renewed promise, but we have to work to actively combat some of the forces that have undermined our democracy for decades, many of which have become more acute in recent years.
Solving the problems that undercut our democracy won’t be easy — it will be hard to convince politicians who are benefiting from the status quo to change. But we do know where to start. There’s already broad, bipartisan agreement on what we need to do. A recent Navigator research poll showed that the public supports making voting easier — including through vote-by-mail and early voting. Furthermore, that same poll showed that a majority of respondents — including a majority of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans support ending gerrymandering.
For the past decade, millions of Americans have been forced to vote in gerrymandered districts — districts that were precision-drawn to ensure that one political party would stay in power no matter how the people vote. Reforming the way we draw electoral districts can help achieve the unity we desperately need.
Gerrymandered districts contribute to corruption, secretive deals with special interests, and the polarization that has driven a wedge through our country. With fair maps — maps that are drawn to give the American people an actual choice in who represents them — we can lower the temperature of our political discourse. Instead of politicians who cater to the extremes of their base, a fair system will force representatives to find common-ground on solutions supported by the American people. Imagine governments that are actually responsive to their constituents. Instead of representatives inciting and even participating in an insurrection, we could have elected officials that go to work to pass legislation to help families.
This is possible, and it’s already beginning. Over the last few years, we’ve seen folks in Michigan, Utah, Colorado, and other states pass reforms for the redistricting process. By taking redistricting responsibility away from state legislatures and forming commissions, these states have started taking a step in the right direction. This is one key reason why All On The Line supports Congress tackling democracy reform first. H.R. 1, the For The People Act, and its companion bill, S. 1, would require congressional districts to be drawn by independent commissions, alongside other key reforms for our democracy. A resounding 67% of Americans support H.R. 1 according to a recent Data for Progress poll.
The commission process can work if people engage in it. Take a look at what happened in the last few weeks in Arizona, where the five-member commission to draw districts was recently finalized. The public was able to fairly engage in the process and submit comments openly and transparently. Fair-minded appointees took those comments seriously and rejected a partisan and a lobbyist for the position of Independent Chair. Arizona’s commission also elected the first Indigenous person to sit on the commission as vice chair in a bipartisan unanimous vote — a good place to start and a strong way to usher in the era of unity we need right now.
There’s still a lot of work to do, and All On The Line will be monitoring the commission in Arizona and in other states to ensure there are adequate opportunities for meaningful feedback and accessible hearings.
Republicans, Democrats, and people with other or no political affiliations are crying out to dial down the temperature in our politics. They are tired of endless partisan fighting and gridlock. They want to see our elected officials make progress on the many challenges we face together. It’s time for self-serving politicians to be a part of the solution or get out of the way and let us — the people — lead.