Where are we going?

Welcome to The Bridge Project. It’s our first time doing this, so I’m gonna give you a little bit of who we are as an organization. We are a group of politically and socially engaged friends in the early stages of loan repayment. We are post college, pre-career and attempting to adapt to the social, political and economic landscape being offered to us. We do not claim expertise but rather the authority to speak from our perspective, a millennial view, on where we are as a nation and how we can improve, as a nation.

If there was an objective truth we found at center of the 2016 campaign inferno it must have been this: neither the Republican nor the Democratic parties are capable of producing candidates that represent their electors. That holds doubly true for the U30 population. Red went orange, blue went up in flames and those of us still able to vote were left with unsettled stomachs and pinched nostrils. We have been failed, systematically, but rather than entertaining helplessness, let’s examine the pipes, find the leaks in this rusty, sometimes lead heavy, sewer system, and figure out how we can plug-up.


We have been divided for too long, on too many pointless contentions and it’s pretty clear the generation before us is too entrenched on their side to ever come together. Since it’s obvious the people in authority are incapable of leading that means it’s our time to step up, Bridge the gap, and take an active role in building the brighter future our parents always wanted for us.


Ground Rules

If you want to be a part of the conversation we are building at The Bridge, there’s really one, fundamental value you need to subscribe to. Fortunately, if you believe in democracy as a system of governance, it generally follows suit that you believe the more an elected official represents their constituents—their interests, their concerns, their will—the better it is for democracy. The will of the people is first, the rest is secondary.


If we can start there, together, then we should also be able to agree that any actions taken to deliberately manipulate the will of the citizens is at it’s nature, a corrosive attempt to undermine democracy itself. Below, we will be discuss the gap between the citizens and our representatives, the tactics used, and how these tools have produced the divisive political landscape we are inheriting. We’re going to talk about things like gerrymandering and voter suppression, but first let’s check out how both sides feel under/misrepresented by the established political landscape—we are calling our similar distaste, common ground:


Common Ground

The Left

Greek tragedies are famous for their irony. It was foretold to Oedipus, for example, that he would grow up one day to murder his father and marry his mother. His parents did everything to prevent the prophecy from coming true. They banished him to a kingdom far far away. The irony, of course, is that in doing so, they sowed the very seed needed for the prophecy to come true. What we saw in 2016 was a classic Greek tragedy: the DNC, in their sincere loyalty, tried so hard to win with their champion they had to ignored the people they were asking to vote for them--all the while, unknowingly cultivating the seeds necessary for the most unpopular political candidate of our generation to actually win.

The political left tends to favor the growth of social programing rather than big business growth; wants to see the role of government expanded to support the disenfranchised; and believes in the egalitarian ideal that everyone of any background, race, religion, or gender should be supported in their quest of the American dream. Obama gave us hope in 2008 that this might be a reality, not just a dream. And yet, we find ourselves in 2017 and the Democratic Party is in a deep state of befuddled confusion. No longer having majority power in the House, State Governorships, Senate, State legislatures or the White House people are scratching their heads asking what went wrong—what happened to that hope?

The millennial left feel very passionately about a wide variety of topics, and you can see us in the news expressing that passion in the form of protests nationwide. WaPo reported Sanders won more primary votes than Trump or Clinton combined, but whether or not they felt the “Bern”, young dems are categorized as having a revolutionary spirit and flirting with socialism. True or false, these attempts at incendiary descriptions often invoking the image of a 20-something roasting a doob a basement while they leach their parents Health Insurance (at least those lucky enough to be under 26). It’s easy to diminish us as being idealists and disregard us as brainless youth, but now we make up a larger voting population than the the baby boomers. We have the power to make a difference. The establishment can ignore us if they want, but we are the ones poised to inherit their mess. We should be heard and we should be respected, or the DNC is going to collapse under its own weight.

Our generation is more educated than any other in human history (believe us, we’ve got the debt to prove it). We have the breadth of history and knowledge in our pockets. We don't subscribe to the political newspeak of opinion climate science. It’s gonna be our world to take care of soon, and yet Climate Change didn't even come up in the national debates. Not once. We are the most diverse of any generation. We grew up with friends from different backgrounds, races, religions, sexual orientations, and we will defend all human rights and dignity, because that’s what our history classes in the not-so-distant past said was righteous, just, and the pinnacle of American values. As children of a globalized world, we care about the disenfranchised, both domestically and globally. So when the elite politicians of both parties are being paid for political favors, it does not sit well with us. In a time where millennials are demanding Black Lives Matter, Refugees Are Welcome Here, Marriage Equality for All, Women’s Rights Matter, etc.; we need our representation to rise to the call. Money should not override morals--what a radical idea.

We believe in transparent democracy where everyone is equal, not one where political elites, or super delegates, are individually allowed to have the same voice as a third of Wyoming. One national, popular vote? Yeah, it’s about time, it’s the only thing that makes sense.

It’s amazing, in 2016, the latest generation of humanity were simply age-old characters in the 2,500 year old Greek irony of the DNC. The party never actually cared about us, their “children,” their future, and instead only thought of themselves, their party, and their power. They appointed their hero before we elected her. They ignored the egalitarian world we want and will create. They allegedly outright sabotaged one of their own candidates. They thought first, to who would serve the party, not the people, and that is not the democracy we want to inherit. So what did that inspire? Was it hope, was it trust, was it action? Definitely not. How about indignation? For some. Apathy? For many.

-Christen Corcoran

 

The Right

The ability to respectfully disagree is fundamental to a properly functioning democracy. If we are to govern effectively, we must have an environment where each side can express its views while facing criticism and questioning from the opposition (so long as the criticism is constructive). This kind of argumentation and disagreement is predicated on the understanding that all sides are seeking the same thing: the betterment of our union and the improvement of the lives of all the people within it.

This is not our current reality. Not even close.

The GOP has been co-opted by a group who seek only to serve themselves. They shout down any opinion with which they disagree. They obscure the truth and manufacture “alternate facts” in order to force their narrative down our throats. They claim that they will “Make America Great Again” while spouting hatred for minorities, hatred for immigrants, and hatred for women -- all the while failing to recognize that the greatness of this country is due in large part to a great many minorities, immigrants, and women.

Trump’s America is not a great America, and Trump’s GOP is not a party that I will recognize as a conservative party.

Conservatism is about a smaller, more efficient government. A government that seeks to guarantee the rights of the governed while only intervening when those rights are threatened, not to be the primary force threatening those rights. It is about the belief that free markets lead to free people, and that those markets must be truly free and fair in order for the people to be allowed to succeed. It isn’t about manipulating market forces or legislating against progress in order to concentrate wealth and power. Conservatives recognize the need for a strong national defense while also recognizing when enough is enough, and that maybe, just maybe, we can start taking care of our own children instead of killing somebody else’s.

In this election, I was left without a viable candidate. Not a single man or woman on the ballot represented me or what I believe. This was due in part to the flaws inherent in our electoral system, but also to the fact that the GOP has been devolving for the last several decades into a flaccid corpse of conservatism.

I have many disagreements with the political left, but I can at least respect most of the people behind the modern liberal agenda. I cannot, in good conscience, say the same of the other side, once my side. Donald Trump does not speak for me. The GOP does not speak for me. No major political party in the United States of America adequately speaks for me or the millions of others who find themselves in this political wasteland that is the center- right. I think that it is about time we change that. We need to hold our elected officials accountable. They have chosen a life of public service, so their end goal must be to serve the public, not themselves.

-Nick Taylor


So How Did We Get Here?

Gerrymandering - Jake Tonkel

 

Fun Fact: Gerry was a MA governor who drew a district that looked like a salamander. That district was created to advantage the party drawing them, not the voters, and Elbridge was forever mocked in history.

Gerrymandering is the purposeful manipulation of district lines in order to advantage a particular party, at the expense of the voter’s will. If our principle stands--that the sanctity of democracy lies with the conservation of the voter’s vote--then we should recognize the danger this poses and the erosive nature gerrymandering exacts on our institutions. Both political parties are guilty, but all voters lose. The voters that vote for an impossible candidate as well as the voters that vote for the inevitable candidate. One side gets easily ignored and one side gets taken for granted, and the only winners here are the political class that get to hold on to power and disregard their constituents. This isn’t really controversial, it’s pretty flippin obvious, but most people, not knowing there’s any other way, just throw up their hands like hey, that’s politics.¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Historically, whites used gerrymandering to disenfranchise black voters in the south. White statesmen would pack the black voters into as few districts as possible, leaving them very little power in the state on the whole. In a nutshell, this how our nation has systematically deprived the black population from proper representation--by overloading a few districts then whitewashing the remainder of the population. North Carolina’s 12th district (2014-2016) is the posterchild of this rigging.

By lopping off a piece of Charlotte, then dispersing the vote with rural (whiter) NC, they drown out the urban voter’s voice. This is a massive reason why minorities are so vastly underrepresented in statehouses across the country as well as in congress on the whole.

So if a baby boomer asks you, like they have asked me, “why do they have to have a black caucus?” Well, maybe it's a way to combat, through consolidation and unification, what has been a methodical suppression of the black voter’s political voice.

Racial gerrymandering has been outlawed and taken to court a number of times (not so surprisingly, it’s still being taken to court today). What has not been in the courts, however, and over the years has been generally permissible, is political gerrymandering. Although, in America, politics and race are truly inextricable, it has been hard to draw a legal line saying a redistricting map has gone too far to disenfranchise a political party as opposed to a racial demographic.

The argument for passivity when looking at political gerrymandering is that this is just “politics as usual.” Both parties do it and the pendulum swings back and forth. The reason that doesn’t hold water is regardless of where the pendulum swings, the voter loses out when any party has entrenched its power and virtually guaranteed the district’s outcome before the race even begins. We end up with a bunch of unopposed state and federal campaigns, almost no diversity of opinion, and again, huge swaths of either ignored or assumed voters, with their wills being easily discarded for the will of the party. So what can be done?

Well, six states have actually handed the line-drawing power over to an apolitical third party entirely and that sounds pretty reasonable. For now though, it is up to each individual state to manage it’s districting, but their is the potential for a federal supreme court ruling regarding political gerrymandering within the next couple years.

A team of lawyers, including a law professor from the University of Chicago Nick Stephanopoulos, came up with a way to calculate how rigged the game actually was, using math--yes to math! They take the position that the greater the political gerrymandering, the greater the “wasted vote” percentage will be out of the total number of votes cast, statewide. A wasted vote being any vote cast for a candidate that lost or any vote over the last vote needed to win a majority. The percentage you get, is what they called the Efficiency Gap. (Go here, to get a better explanation of the Efficiency Gap using numbers and things.)

So why do we mention this? Back in November 2016, a lawsuit taken up by a Wisconsin federal court, ruled for the first time ever, that the 2012 Republican approved state districts were unconstitutional and deprived voters of their right to fair representation. Now, politics, parties, class and race are inextricable in American politics, but court’s ruling was strictly one based on partisanship, and that’s a big deal. It is most likely going to be pushed up to SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) but for now, Wisco’s got to redraw their lines by the end of 2017.

We actually we able to get a little time from Nick Stephanopoulos to ask him a few questions:


Change Maker

Nick Stephanopoulos

As a professor of law at the University of Chicago, what was it that caused you to pursue the Partisan Gerrymandering case in Wisconsin?

It was a series of fortunate coincidences. Bill Whitford, who became the case's lead plaintiff, e-mailed Rick Pildes, a prominent NYU professor, asking if he had any suggestions for partisan gerrymandering theories. Rick had just read a draft of my article on the efficiency gap, and recommended it to Bill. Bill and some others in Wisconsin then invited me to drive up to Milwaukee to join them for a meeting. I did, and the rest is history; we put together a legal team, found political scientist experts, and launched our suit.

What is your argument for Partisan Gerrymandering being a bipartisan concern and not simply a benign political strategy that will fluctuate every census cycle?

Even if partisan gerrymandering evens out in the long run (which is by no means certain), it's fundamentally undemocratic and unfair for voters and parties in gerrymandered states. As long as their gerrymanders are in effect, the translation of public opinion into legislative representation and public policy is distorted. That should be a bipartisan concern no matter what the long-term fluctuations look like.

Are there theories or methods for redistricting plans that you think best addresses the efficiency gap you and your colleagues used in the Whitford v. Gill case?

Large efficiency gaps can be avoided when drawing district lines by paying attention to the lines' electoral consequences. That's exactly what one of our experts did in designing his Demonstration Plan, and he managed to produce a map with an efficiency gap that stays small across a range of electoral conditions. In the future, legislators or redistricting commissions could be instructed to design maps with durably small efficiency gaps.

What is your advice for one of our readers that may find themselves disadvantaged due to Partisan Gerrymandering? Are there any ways for an average citizen to get involved in the debate?

They should definitely vote and get as many of their friends as possible to vote as well. Gerrymanders can fall apart if there's a big enough swing in public opinion. If there's a chance for reform in their state -- a voter initiative, for example -- they should also support it. A number of states have enacted really promising reforms via direct democracy, and this is a viable path for change in some states.

Last but not least, is there anything we should keep an eye out for in the Partisan Gerrymandering conversation?

Well, it's likely we'll have a Supreme Court decision on partisan gerrymandering in 2018, which will be a very big deal -- especially if the Court, for the first time, strikes down a map on gerrymandering grounds. I'm also interested to see what the Democrats' strategy is going into the 2020 cycle; a big push for reform or an attempt to gain control of redistricting themselves and to use it to pass their own gerrymanders.


Take the Wheel

Don’t Despair,

People Are Smart

Ian Vanness

The constitution is a mammoth on the stage of history, but we are currently one of a very few democracies to use an Electoral College system in the world, and this outdated method needs a serious 21C overhaul. President Trump agrees, Newt Gingrich agrees, in fact the majority of Americans agree, and would rather see us move to a National Popular vote, and to claim that the only misrepresented constituency following the election was Clinton voters is reductive and divisive.

Fun fact: If then Senator John Kerry won Ohio in 2004, he would have won the electoral college by one vote and ousted President Bush, even though he would have lost the Popular Vote by nearly 3,000,000 votes.

So who does like this system? Simply, swing states. The more precise bifurcation of the issue is not that of a Left/Right divide, but rather between Swing and Spectator states. People, rightfully so, don’t want to be on the sidelines, and yet during the 2016 general election, 68% of the total campaign events were held in only six states (FL, NC, MI, OH, PA, VA); add CO, IA, NH, NV, UT, WI and you get 94% of all campaigning. To be clear, that is 12 out of 50 states saw 94% of the candidates’ time, the rest, were so statistically predictable that they were irrelevant.

Ok, what’s the deal, why haven’t we done anything about this? Well, the Constitution is involved. As alluded to above, voter-will is difficult to translate into political policy, then throw in the hurdles that come with amending the constitution and you have a recipe for political paralysis. So that’s where some really smart people and The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact comes to play. To abolish the Electoral College system you need a lot to move in congress and then two-thirds of the states to ratify and the battleground states would never go for it. So instead of rewriting the constitution, the people at National Popular Vote have chosen to work within the existing framework.

It’s in the constitution, the states have full freedom to determine how they allot their electoral votes. Therefore, to get states to give their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote rather than their respective state’s popular vote, all you need is the state to enact this law.

The Interstate Compact is a piece of legislation that, when signed into state law, will give the state’s electoral votes to the winner of the nation’s popular vote. The compact part is it will only go into effect once the combined electoral college votes of the signatory states reaches the 270 votes needed to win the electoral college. The bill has currently been enacted in ten states, for a combined 165 electoral votes. So if you are annoyed that your state keeps being passed over every four years, or if you are just generally annoyed that in the 21stC our democracy doesn’t live up to the one person, one vote standard, then hit up your local representatives (not your federal) for a word.

You can see how to support The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact here.