Saving Democracy: Six Broad Areas of Improvement

Philip Kotler

News headlines abound with the theme that American democracy isn’t working. Our states are described as red or blue. The red and blue sides won’t talk to each other or work together. Fewer than 60% of Americans vote in our major elections. Elected officials tend to get reelected repeatedly as a result of gerrymandering. Many Americans distrust voting outcomes, saying that the election was stolen. Much legislation is designed to satisfy special interests rather than the broad interests of citizens.

We admit that democracy is even worse in other countries. Many former democracies — such as Hungary, Brazil, Philippines and Turkey — have been overtaken by autocrats. Had Donald Trump been reelected, our democracy would have succumbed to an autocratic leader. Autocratic leaders are a stark reminder of what can happen in America.

We need to improve the working of American democracy. In my book, Democracy in Decline (2016) (Sage), I described fourteen shortcomings of American democracy (pp. 166–179). Here I have condensed them into six broad areas needing reform:

1. Improve the Citizen Voting Process. All citizens should feel free and motivated to vote on election days.

2. Improve the Quality of Candidates and Elected Officials. The political candidates and elected officials should be of high quality.

3. Improve the Power of the Big States in the Senate. States with small populations have too much weight in the Senate in relation to states with large populations.

4. Improve the Election Winning Process. Eliminate winner-take-all-votes and eliminate the Electoral College.

5. Improve the Congressional Legislative Voting Process. Remove the filibuster and other delaying processes of getting legislation passed.

6 Improve the Supreme Court’s representativeness. The SC members are overrepresented by political or religious groups.

The challenge is to propose specific improvements in each of the six broad areas that will improve the functioning of American democracy. Here I list the main reforms needed in each of the broad areas.

1 Improve the Citizen Voting Process. All citizens should feel free and motivated to vote on election days.

· Move voting days on weekends or holidays

· Allow voting by mail

· Expand the hours of voting

· Prevent voter suppression

· Prevent gerrymandering

· Promote rank order voting

2. Improve the Quality of Candidates and Elected Officials. Political candidates and elected officials should be of high quality.

· Improve the primary or caucus voting system in the selecting of candidates

· Use rank order voting when several candidates are competing

· Set term limits for Congress members (set up to 5 terms for representatives and 3 terms for Senators).

3. Improve the Power of Big States in the Senate. States with small populations have too much weight in the Senate in relation to states with large populations.

· The big states should have (say) three Senators instead of only two Senators

4. Improve the Election Winning Process. Replace winner-take-all-votes with a proportional system

· Eliminate winner-take-all-votes

· Improve or eliminate the Electoral College

5. Improve the Congressional Legislative Voting Process. Remove the filibuster and other delaying processes of getting legislation passed.

· Limit the use of the filibuster (60% vote required)

· Limit the talking filibuster to 1 hour and only allow 5 talking filibusters

· Bring up voting proposals sooner

· Put limits on lobbying influence

6. Improve the Supreme Court’s representativeness. The SC members are overrepresented by political, educational, or religious groups.

· Find a better method of choosing Supreme Court members

· Put term limits on Supreme Court members

These six broad areas are offered as a starting point for moving to consider more specific democratic reforms. A Democracy Reform Committee needs to be appointed. The Committee sets up six broad area groups. Each group gathers evidence and opinions, debates alternatives, and develops specific proposals. The Democracy Reform Committee decides on the timetable for offering the different proposals to Congress from consideration and voting.

It is my impression that average citizens will know some of these democracy shortcomings but not know the full array. I present the full array so that citizens can put critical questions to political candidates about their opinions. Citizens can form groups with others to work on specific democracy shortcomings.

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Philip Kotler

Philip Kotler is the S.C. Johnson and Son Distinguished Professor of International Marketing, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University (emeritus)