How To Defend Democracy

In How to Save a Constitutional Democracy (University of Chicago, 2018), political scientist Tom Ginsburg and law professor Aziz Huq examine the constitutional mechanisms that populist leaders have universally exploited to undermine democracies. The authors unearth the structural causes of atrophying constitutional democracies using case studies from around the globe. Many recent books have sounded the alarm by decrying the growth of anti-democratic movements globally and, potentially, within the United States. Ginsburg and Huq go further: not only do they explicate the many causes of democratic decline, but they go on to propose serious structural reforms and improvements upon existing constitutional safeguards.

 How to Save a Constitutional Democracy also serves as a stern reminder that the United States may not be immune to such threats. On October 28th Brazil, the world’s fourth-largest democracy elected neo-fascist presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro. For anyone concerned with the rising threat of autocracy abroad, a “how-to” volume on defending democracy is both timely and essential.

 As this blog noted in its coverage of the backslide toward authoritarianism in Poland, one democratic safeguard is paramount among many: all constitutional democracies, including the United States, should conduct elections in a way that all votes matter. The U.S. Elections Project’s analysis of the 2016 presidential election found that “147 million voters, two-thirds of the electorate, were relegated to the sidelines” because of the nearly ubiquitous winner-take-all system practiced by the states.

If the profound imbalance in presidential voting power is allowed to continue, citizens will increasingly lose faith in the system, vote less, and the foundations of our democracy itself will weaken. After all, a constitutional democracy is only as strong as the participation of the People, entrusted to preserve equality through self-governance.

Vote-By-Mail Option Increases Turnout

Colorado became the first state to implement vote-by-mail voting in the 2014 midterm elections.

In a year in which voter turnout reached a historic low nationally, a study of voting patterns in Colorado revealed that 3.3% more voters than expected cast ballots (with a robust sample size of 2.8 million Coloradans analyzed). Incredibly, the increase in voting was highest among people predicted to be unlikely voters by multiple criteria. Young people ages 18 to 24 voted in far greater numbers than expected (low turnout by younger voters is a consistent trend nationally over the past several decades). Even more surprisingly, a lower expected probability of turnout by an individual voter predicted a higher likelihood that he or she would change their entrenched habits and vote in the midterms. Similarly, in the 2016 presidential race, states which had adopted vote-by-mail ballots consistently ranked among the highest in turnout (Colorado, Oregon and Washington for instance, which now use vote-by-mail in all elections).