Academy Article

Democracy was a Big Winner in the Midterms


For the weeks leading up to the midterm election, a major Democratic Party talking point was that “democracy is on the ballot.” This claim reflected a widespread belief among voters of both parties about the fragility of the American political system. According to exit polls, 68 percent of voters—including roughly equal shares of Democrats and Republicans—believe the nation’s democracy is under threat.

But in another, much more literal way, democracy was on the ballot in 2022. Across the country, state and local referenda gave voters a chance to enact the recommendations in Our Common Purpose. Almost everywhere, they did just that, supporting ballot measures to expand ranked-choice voting, increase access to early voting, and improve transparency around election funding. The passage of these measures reflects an enthusiasm for reinventing American democracy and for the ideas put forth in the Academy’s report.

Perhaps the most significant victory for constitutional democracy was the continued expansion of ranked-choice voting (RCV). In a ranked-choice voting system, voters rank candidates in order of preference. Votes are then tallied until a candidate receives a majority of votes.  

RCV was a winner around the country. A ballot question that included RCV passed in Nevada, making it the third state to adopt RCV statewide. At the local level, RCV passed in Seattle, as well as in cities in Illinois, Colorado, Maine, and Oregon. This builds on recent momentum for Ranked-Choice Voting in New York City, Alaska and Utah. The news wasn’t all positive for advocates of Ranked Choice Voting. RCV was also on the ballot in Clark County and San Juan County, Washington, where voters rejected referenda to implement it for elections for county officials.

The election also provided evidence of the drawbacks of a non-ranked choice system. With Georgia facing the prospect of yet another Senate runoff, the Peach State offers a prime example of how this reform would create an election process that is less exhausting and less costly for voters and candidates alike.

Though not as high profile, other changes to election and voting calendars will have a major impact in making it easier for more people to participate in American democracy. In Connecticut, a ballot question allowing the state legislature to enact early in-person voting garnered more than 60 percent of the vote. Recommendation 2.1 of Our Common Purpose supports state-level legislation in all states to implement vote centers and early voting.

In California, Colorado, Florida, and Washington, local reforms to election calendars will align local elections with federal ones. This follows in the spirit of Recommendation 2.2 of Our Common Purpose, which calls for changing federal election day to Veterans Day, and aligning state election calendars with this new federal election day. In the United States, elections occur more frequently than nearly every other country, which depresses turnout. By aligning local, state, and federal election calendars, voters will make it easier for more people to have a say in who represents them at every level.

Finally, Arizonans indicated a desire for more transparency about election funding. Voters passed a proposition increasing the requirements for campaigns to disclose the source of contributions over $5,000. This proposition is closely related to Recommendation 1.6 of Our Common Purpose, which calls for the passage of strong campaign-finance disclosure laws. These laws will give voters a clearer picture of who is running political ads and shaping campaigns, and may mitigate the impact of special-interest spending.

Democracy—and Our Common Purpose recommendations—was a big winner in the midterm elections. The midterm election’s outcomes make clear that voters from both parties and from all over the country are eager to improve their political institutions. If we look beyond the partisan rhetoric and party battles, Americans can agree on a lot of things, including ways to make their political institutions work better for years to come.




Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship

Danielle Allen, Stephen B. Heintz, and Eric P. Liu