A Multiple Independent Discovery
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By Steve Peace and Jackie Salit
Scientists call it a “multiple independent discovery.” That’s when simultaneous breakthroughs are made by researchers and practitioners working independently of one another. It’s happened in evolutionary biology, in calculus and physics, and now we’re happy to report it’s happened in the arena of electoral reform and political culture change.
The two of us made this simultaneous discovery, having come from very different places. One of us (Peace) is a political insider, a former Democratic Party power broker and a veteran of California’s bruising legislative battles and partisan dysfunction of the 1990’s. The other (Salit) is an outsider, an independent, a community organizer and agitator whose resume includes the upset election of billionaire Mike Bloomberg as mayor of New York City, the left-right coalition that founded Ross Perot’s Reform Party, and Lenora Fulani’s 1988 independent presidential run. Both of us have a history of defying conventional wisdom and resisting traditional political outcomes.
Operating in very different worlds, using very different tools, we nonetheless made the same discovery: to change American politics you must strip away partisan control of the electoral process and empower all Americans, including independent voters.
We first crossed paths during the 2010 campaign to enact Top Two Nonpartisan Primaries in California. Peace was the author of Proposition 14 and the founder of the Independent Voter Project, which was pioneering new forms of on-line activation of independent voters. Salit was the president of IndependentVoting.org, a national leadership and strategy center for the independent movement with deep roots in California. Proposition 14 passed with 54 percent of the vote as political party leaders--major and minor--kicked and screamed all the way.
The passage of Proposition 14 was a game changer. The traditional good government movement had hit a wall, unable to relieve the crisis of partisanship. Campaign finance reform was reaching a dead end, the No Labels approach to bi-partisanship was ineffectual, and President Obama had abandoned any effort to be a post-partisan reformer. Meanwhile, our independent reform movement succeeded at radically remaking California politics. We both saw an opportunity to up the ante on a national level. Three months ago we joined forces to found EndPartisanship.org.
EndPartisanship.org has a two-part mission. First, we are building a broad and diverse coalition of organizations and voters who believe in the simple premise that no American should have to join an organization or party in order to exercise full voting rights. Second, we are going to court to challenge the taxpayer funding of elections that do not meet this standard. The lawsuit, being filed this week in Federal District Court in New Jersey, does not seek a specific remedy. It is challenging the ways in which the state of New Jersey has conferred favored status on political parties and party-affiliated voters. Who conferred that status? The state legislature which is entirely controlled by--you guessed it--the Democratic and Republican parties.
This lawsuit, combined with a coalition-building effort that is already attracting democracy advocates from perhaps the broadest spectrum of reform organizations ever united behind a single cause, raises cutting-edge questions about how we can achieve an electoral system in which every voter has the full right to participate without being compelled to join a political organization. These fundamental questions will be addressed by the courts but ultimately must be answered by a new reform coalition and by the American people.
We expect our partnership to be attacked. Both of us are controversial and unconventional. We know full well that opponents of nonpartisan reform will want to use that against us. For our part, we welcome those attempts to divide and discredit, because that gives us the opportunity to show the American people just how resistant the parties and the partisans are to democratic change.
The two of us and our respective organizations--the Independent Voter Project and IndependentVoting.org--have framed a new paradigm for political reform. It relies very substantially on organizing the unorganized, in this case organizing independent voters. We are in the earliest stages of that up-from-the-bottom process, surely. But no one can deny the role that independent voters can play in the fight to end partisanship. This movement to end the favored status of political parties will be hard fought. We invite everyone who believes in these fundamental principles to join us in the next phase of “multiple independent discovery.”