December 20, 2023

Recommendations for Reinventing American Democracy for the 21st Century

There is much discussion among my peers about the fragility of American democracy. Some hold the view that American democracy is unraveling through shifting political, economic, and social forces. Others see the current challenges America's democracy is facing as an opportunity to refocus on the principals the country's founders endowed over 200 years ago. Efforts to refocus will require a redesign of American institutions so that they are simultaneously responsive and accountable. A report published by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences explores how to reinvent American democracy for the 21st century.

Segmented into six sections, the report presents 31 recommendations on how to reinvent American democracy in the 21st century:


Recommendation 1.1
Substantially enlarge the House of Representatives through federal legislation to make it and the Electoral College more representative of the nation’s population.

Recommendation 1.2
Introduce ranked-choice voting in presidential, congressional, and state elections.

Recommendation 1.3
Amend or repeal and replace the 1967 law that mandates single-member districts for the House, so that states have the option to use multi-member districts on the condition that they adopt a non-winner-take all election model.

Recommendation 1.4
Support adoption, through state legislation, of independent citizen-redistricting commissions in all fifty states. Complete nationwide adoption, through federal legislation, that requires fair congressional districts to be determined by state-established independent citizen-redistricting commissions; allows these commissions to meet criteria with non-winner-take-all models; and provides federal funding for these state processes, with the goal of establishing national consistency in procedures.

Recommendation 1.5
Amend the Constitution to authorize the regulation of election contributions and spending to eliminate undue influence of money in our political system, and to protect the rights of all Americans to free speech, political participation, and meaningful representation in government.

Recommendation 1.6
Pass strong campaign-finance disclosure laws in all fifty states that require full transparency for campaign donations, including from 501(c)(4) organizations and LLCs.

Recommendation 1.7
Pass "clean election laws" for federal, state, and local elections through mechanisms such as public matching donation systems and democracy vouchers, which amplify the power of small donors.

Recommendation 1.8
Establish, through federal legislation, eighteen-year terms for Supreme Court justices with appointments staggered such that one nomination comes up during each term of Congress. At the end of their term, justices will transition to an appeals court or, if they choose, to senior status for the remainder of their life tenure, which would allow them to determine how much time they spend hearing cases on an appeals court.


Recommendation 2.1
Give people more choices about where and when they vote, with state-level legislation in all states that supports the implementation of vote centers and early voting. During an emergency like COVID-19, officials must be prepared to act swiftly and adopt extraordinary measures to preserve ballot access and protect the fundamental right to vote.

Recommendation 2.2
Change federal election day to Veterans Day to honor the service of veterans and the sacrifices they have made in defense of our constitutional democracy, and to ensure that voting can occur on a day that many people have off from work. Align state election calendars with this new federal election day.

Recommendation 2.3
Establish, through state and federal legislation, same-day registration and universal automatic voter registration, with sufficient funding and training to ensure that all government agencies that have contact with citizens include such registration as part of their processes.

Recommendation 2.4
Establish, through state legislation, the preregistration of sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds and provide educational opportunities for them to practice voting as part of the preregistration process.

Recommendation 2.5
Establish, through congressional legislation, that voting in federal elections be a requirement of citizenship, just as jury service is in the states. All eligible voters would have to participate, in person or by mail, or submit a valid reason for nonparticipation. Eligible voters who do not do so would receive a citation and small fine. (Participation could, of course, include voting for "none of the above.")

Recommendation 2.6
Establish, through state legislatures and/or offices of secretaries of state, paid voter orientation for voters participating in their first federal election, analogous to a combination of jury orientation and jury pay. Most states use short videos produced by the state judicial system to provide jurors with a nonpolitical orientation to their duty; first-time voters should receive a similar orientation to their duty.

Recommendation 2.7
Restore federal and state voting rights to citizens with felony convictions immediately and automatically upon their release from prison, and ensure that those rights are also restored to those already living in the community.


Recommendation 3.1
Adopt formats, processes, and technologies that are designed to encourage widespread participation by residents in official public hearings and meetings at local and state levels.

Recommendation 3.2
Design structured and engaging mechanisms for every member of Congress to interact directly and regularly with a random sample of their constituents in an informed and substantive conversation about policy areas under consideration.

Recommendation 3.3
Promote experimentation with citizens' assemblies to enable the public to interact directly with Congress as an institution on issues of Congress's choosing.

Recommendation 3.4
Expand the breadth of participatory opportunities at municipal and state levels for citizens to shape decision-making, budgeting, and other policy-making processes.


Recommendation 4.1
Establish a National Trust for Civic Infrastructure to scale up social, civic, and democratic infrastructure. Fund the Trust with a major nationwide investment campaign that bridges private enterprise and philanthropic seed funding. This might later be sustained through annual appropriations from Congress on the model of the National Endowment for Democracy.

Recommendation 4.2
Activate a range of funders to invest in the leadership capacity of the so-called civic one million: the catalytic leaders who drive civic renewal in communities around the country. Use this funding to encourage these leaders to support innovations in bridge-building and participatory constitutional democracy.


Recommendation 5.1
Form a high-level working group to articulate and measure social media's civic obligations and incorporate those defined metrics in the Democratic Engagement Project, described in Recommendation 5.5.

Recommendation 5.2
Through state and/or federal legislation, subsidize innovation to reinvent the public functions that social media have displaced: for instance, with a tax on digital advertising that could be deployed in a public media fund that would support experimental approaches to public social media platforms as well as local and regional investigative journalism.

Recommendation 5.3
To supplement experiments with public media platforms (Recommendation 5.2), establish a public-interest mandate for for-profit social media platforms. Analogous to zoning requirements, this mandate would require such for-profit digital platform companies to support the development of designated public-friendly digital spaces on their own platforms.

Recommendation 5.4
Through federal legislation and regulation, require of digital platform companies: interoperability (like railroad-track gauges), data portability, and data openness sufficient to equip researchers to measure and evaluate democratic engagement in digital contexts.

Recommendation 5.5
Establish and fund the Democratic Engagement Project: a new data source and clearinghouse for research that supports social and civic infrastructure. The Project would conduct a focused, large-scale, systematic, and longitudinal study of individual and organizational democratic engagement, including the full integration of measurement and the evaluation of democratic engagement in digital contexts.


Recommendation 6.1
Establish a universal expectation of a year of national service and dramatically expand funding for service programs or fellowships that would offer young people paid service opportunities. Such opportunities should be made available not only in AmeriCorps or the military but also in local programs offered by municipal governments, local news outlets, and nonprofit organizations.

Recommendation 6.2
To coincide with the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, create a Telling Our Nation's Story initiative to engage communities throughout the country in direct, open-ended, and inclusive conversations about the complex and always evolving American story. Led by civil society organizations, these conversations will allow participants at all points along the political spectrum to explore both their feelings about and hopes for this country.

Recommendation 6.3
Launch a philanthropic initiative to support the growing civil society ecosystem of civic gatherings and rituals focused on the ethical, moral, and spiritual dimensions of our civic values.

Recommendation 6.4
Increase public and private funding for media campaigns and grassroots narratives about how to revitalize constitutional democracy and encourage a commitment to our constitutional democracy and one another.

Recommendation 6.5
Invest in civic educators and civic education for all ages and in all communities through curricula, ongoing program evaluations, professional development for teachers, and a federal award program that recognizes civic-learning achievements. These measures should encompass lifelong (K–12 and adult) civic-learning experiences with the full community in mind.

Among the recommendations listed above, I strongly support ranked-choice voting in presidential, congressional, and state elections (1.2), changing federal election day to Veterans Day (Nov. 11th) (2.2), and adopting formats, processes, and technologies that are designed to encourage widespread participation by residents in official public hearings and meetings at local and state levels (3.1). While I also support amending the Constitution so that Supreme Court justices serve a term limited to a pre-set number of years, twelve- or sixteen-year terms are more reasonable than eighteen-year terms. Lastly, although same-day voter registration will improve access for people to elect their government leaders (2.3), universal automatic voter registration makes me nervous as I have concerns about any government agency implementing a registration system without the explicit consent of the individual.

In a letter published in Our Common Purpose, David W. Oxtoby, president of American Academy of Arts and Sciences, writes: "Throughout our country's history, the American people have confronted moments of crisis with resilience and an openness to reinvention, enabling our nation to become a better version of itself." He adds that "The recommendations in this report touch all sectors of American life and offer a bold path that will require all of us to commit to reinventing aspects of our constitutional democracy." Despite the currently challenges facing our great nation, I remain optimistic that Americans will take advantage of the opportunity to create a better version of our great nation.

What are you thoughts?

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of GT Perspectives, an online forum focused on turning perspective into opportunity.

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