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A few weeks ago I joined over 350 Independents from 40 states in signing a letter to President-elect Trump and his Presidential Transition Team. Co-authored by Jacqueline Salit (president, and Richard Robol (president, Independent Ohio) the letter asks Mr. Trump to create a Special Presidential Commission on Election Reform.

election reform

Post Trump: Presidential Commission on Election Reform Needed—Frank Fear

Without question, it’s time to reform the America’s election system. As Salit and Robol write in the letter: “From the persistence of closed primaries, which lock out millions of younger and other non-aligned voters, to systems of partisan redistricting, to the Electoral College itself, the barriers to popular self-governance are deeply entrenched.” Add “big money in politics” to that list.

I signed the letter because I believe the two-party system is flawed and dysfunctional. But, despite deficiencies, that system is the most distinguishing feature in American politics—a circumstance that doesn’t make sense, not when nearly 45% of America’s voters aren’t affiliated with either of the primary political parties.

It’s not so much that America needs more political parties as much as America needs to transform its current two-party system—from party-centered to voter-centered.

It’s not so much that America needs more political parties as much as America needs to transform its current two-party system—from party-centered to voter-centered.

Even if you don’t believe the two-party system is problematic, there are plenty of other reasons to support election reform. Consider these reasons: widespread concern that special interests exert too much influence in elections and governmental affairs, accusations that the recent presidential election “was rigged,” concerns about the quality and integrity of voting systems, and legal actions taken to recount ballots in multiple states.

It’s not only time to get serious about election reform, appointing a Special Presidential Commission is a good way to do it.

And while this Commission is at it, it would be a good idea for members to consider ways to improve a related matter—who is appointed to key office positions following elections.

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A well-known tradition is accepted uncritically as a way of doing business. When Republicans win, Republicans are appointed to key posts. When Democrats win, Democrats are appointed to key posts. There are exceptions, of course, but a predominantly exclusionary practice doesn’t serve the American people. The “best candidates” are almost always interpreted conditionally—in party terms. That’s why appointment guidance needs to be included in the Commission’s charge.

There’s urgency about this matter, too. Mr. Trump pledged to “Drain the Swamp.” But the dominant practice of appointing party faithful and other “politically connected stakeholders” (e.g., from Wall Street) continues in the aftermath of Election 2016.

What might be done? Salit and Robol assert—and I concur—that the answer isn’t simply appointing more people from the other party. Instead, they recommend that political Independents should be considered for key positions and that—in the aggregate—the percentage of presidential appointees who are Independent should approximate the percent of Americans who are Independent voters.

While this recommendation may seem naïve politically, getting it on the table is important. There’s no chance of change unless we advance and talk about radically different options from the status quo.

And that observation brings me to an all-important question: Who should serve on the Commission? My position is that bipartisan composition—the typically approach for a commission like this—just isn’t good enough. It asks those in the system to recommend changes of the system. The stakes are simply too high for exacting an inside job.

That doesn’t mean party affiliates can’t serve. It means that the center of gravity shouldn’t be the political class—or, for that matter, elites of any kind (economic, academic, etc.) The Commission should be predominantly representative of “the people,” diverse voters, of course, and “for the public good” organizations, such as The League of Women Voters, that serve America with integrity and without partisanship.

Mr. Trump, I join Salit, Robol, and hundreds of other colleagues in urging you to empanel a Special Presidential Commission on Election Reform. It’s the right thing to do. And now is the right time to do it.


Frank Fear