Electoral Victories in Chicago: How the Socialist Caucus Was Built

April 2 was a landmark day for the Left in Chicago and Chicago DSA in particular. Five DSA members, probably six when every vote is counted, won seats on Chicago’s city council. Many great comrades have already dissected what our victories mean for the Left and the future of the city. I’d like to examine how we got here: what our process was like, how it made our victories possible, and how it can inform future electoral campaigns across the country.

The quick version is this: a thorough and laborious process; democracy with as few edicts from the top as possible; as precise an understanding of our capacity as possible; trustworthy allies; and tight cohesion with our issue campaigns.

At some point in the last year I’m sure I’ve called our candidates and volunteers unbelievable, magical, incredible. But I’d like to make it clear: No miracles happened here. None of this was supernatural, none of it was magic, and none of it was preordained. Like everything else in the world, our electoral outcomes were built on labor.

Our Path to Six Seats

I was co-chair of the Electoral Working Group from February 2018 to February 27, 2019, the day after Carlos Ramirez-Rosa and Daniel La Spata won their aldermanic races and Jeanette Taylor, Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez, and Byron Sigcho Lopez advanced to runoff races (Ugo Okere, DSA’s endorsed candidate in the 40th Ward, did not advance; Chicago DSA then endorsed DSA member Andre Vasquez in that race).

During my year in leadership, the EWG was immensely busy. We rewrote Chicago DSA’s endorsement process, vetted candidates, endorsed a successful campaign to defeat a county judge, wrote and distributed candidate questionnaires and reviewed candidates’ responses, interviewed candidates, debated their merits, and voted on recommending candidates to the Chicago DSA membership. Once candidates were endorsed, coordination between them and Chicago DSA was handled by a separate committee.

I’m very grateful to the Chicago DSA members who contributed to that work—and there turned out to be a ton of it, more than I realized. I delegated poorly and misjudged how much work was ahead of us. This is hardly new advice, but it bears repeating: Be ready for the work, share it, offer to help, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

In May, the EWG organized an Electoral Vision Forum where DSA members didn’t debate about candidates—it was far too early, and in fact three future candidates were there—but debated about our capacity, platform, expectations and plan for interacting with candidates. Comrades often referred back to this event an opportunity for democratic input into our strategy.

Democracy, Not Dictates

Throughout the process, we imposed very few rules or even guidelines on what members were or weren’t allowed to consider when they voted. We didn’t ratify a platform, for instance, which would have restricted members’ ability to consider candidates. Even without one, I was asked a few times, “Are we allowed to vote to endorse Daniel if he hasn’t openly stated XYZ?” or “Can we even endorse Jeanette if she’s not a member?” In those cases I told people to vote their conscience, which is a better guide than any document, platform or mandate.

We never formally passed, ratified or recommended any standards for endorsement. We only debated them, then asked members to apply whatever criteria they wanted, because those are political questions that should be debated and decided by the membership, not by a document.

If comrades wanted to be told what to do from on high, there are plenty of organizations that offer that experience. Our members deserve open democratic processes.

The Everlasting Mystery of Our Capacity

One of the toughest questions we grappled with was how many candidates we should endorse. We agreed before issuing any that we didn’t want our endorsements to just be a stamp of approval with no meaningful work behind it—one of the only rules we passed, written into our endorsement process—and we knew we’d receive more requests than we had the bandwidth to support.

Some members argued we should only endorse two candidates in October and wait to see how races developed before considering any others. The argument was that we’d need to save our capacity for important races and not overextend ourselves. I advocated for endorsing five candidates in October.

Ultimately, Chicago DSA successfully supported five races at once; we aimed much higher than just two and were rewarded for it. Unfortunately, we didn’t endorse DSA member La Spata in his race. He won without us, which is reason to celebrate, but it was a missed opportunity to build campaign experience for DSA members and build a stronger relationship with La Spata.

We must be prepared to fail, maybe many times. I certainly didn’t expect to celebrate five victories and six DSA aldermen. But in those races I wanted us to build DSA and build socialism.

At our May meeting we debated the number of candidates Chicago DSA could support across the city; as the race went on, I started to recognize that capacity couldn’t really be debated citywide, since our membership is spread unevenly across a large city and we can’t assume members would turn out for a candidate in Garfield Park as readily as they would for one in Wicker Park.

It turns out that as we endorsed more candidates, our capacity grew rather than shrank. We endorsed Okere in December, running on the Far North Side; that brought in DSA members who live up there. Before that, some were staying home or volunteering for leftist candidates in their neighborhoods, not coming down to help with our other endorsed campaigns.

Ugo vs. Andre, Which We Didn’t Screw Up that Bad

Endorsing Okere over Vasquez, both DSA members running in the 40th Ward, absorbed a lot of Chicago DSA’s attention early in the race. It was tempting to pass a rule or resolution to dictate what members were allowed to do, or just stay out of the race altogether.

Before the October meeting, as part of our process, the EWG voted to recommend an endorsement for Okere and not for Vasquez, primarily based on Okere’s stated commitment to make his campaign a DSA-controlled campaign. At the October meeting, members chose not to endorse Okere by a small margin after several members spoke up for a smaller slate.

At various points during the process, some members suggested endorsing both candidates; some, including Vasquez, suggested we endorse neither and sit out the race. I argued for endorsing someone in the ward because it presented an opportunity to reach thousands of voters with an openly socialist message. I backed Okere because of his commitment to DSA, because Vasquez had recommended we stay neutral, and to send a signal to Okere campaign volunteers—primarily young, involved in their first campaign, and obviously open to socialism—that DSA supported them.

I want DSA to develop a bench. For now, we might meet candidates for the first time when they come to us for an endorsement; one day, the opposite will happen, and we’ll approach experienced candidates and organizers and put together a DSA campaign team. Endorsing Okere was a step along that path because we could give him and his campaign staff valuable experience.

You Can’t Do Socialism Alone

Almost every analysis of our victories has mentioned that we didn’t accomplish this alone, and we worked closely with movement allies and ward-level organizations to win these races. Spun negatively, some have said we couldn’t win races on our own.

That is true. We couldn’t do it on our own, and we shouldn’t. Why would we take on a candidate with no movement allies or ward-level organization behind them? We needed those supporting organizations for practical reasons, since it’s a big city and our members are scattered, for political reasons, since we have a better chance of winning if we aren’t doing all the work in a campaign, and for philosophical reasons, because if a candidate only has us then that’s a clear sign that they’re not fully engaged in the movement and haven’t built anything yet.

Lots of left-liberals in Chicago love to talk about “independent” candidates, candidates not beholden to various “machines” in Chicago politics. They can keep them. Give us movement candidates, ones who are most definitely beholden to the working-class movements that get them elected.

Electoral Campaigns Must Back Our Issues

We were very fortunate to work with a group of candidates who foregrounded our issues in their campaigns without hesitation. In fact, our candidates ran their campaigns on our issue campaigns—lifting the ban on rent control and implementing rent control, civilian oversight of the police, ending all deportations in the city, eliminating the gang database, taxing the rich.

This was incredibly valuable. Electoral work cannot detract from the issues DSA is working on, and electoral campaigns cannot contest with issues for members’ time. If electoral campaigns aren’t aligned with the issues the chapter has prioritized, dump them.

I feel confident in saying Chicago DSA will not consider any candidates who aren’t “good”: rock-solid on our issues, grounded in the movement, and willing to openly identify as democratic socialists. Chicago DSA soundly rejected any candidate who looked even remotely like they’d be a detour from our issue campaigns.

On that note, membership rejected a mayoral candidate’s request for endorsement by a huge margin. There were too many inconsistencies between her platform and DSA principles that members just did not accept. I hope we can replicate the results of 2019, but even more than that, I hope we can replicate the decisions we made. I’d much rather back a loser than back a candidate who doesn’t fly the red flag.

Steve Weishampel is the former co-chair of the Chicago DSA Electoral Working Group.

Op-Ed: Why Chicago DSA Should Endorse Bernie Sanders’s 2020 Campaign

The following op-ed expresses solely the opinion of its authors and does not reflect the views of Midwest Socialist or any affiliated DSA chapters.

On February 19, Bernie Sanders announced his bid for the presidency. Sanders’s 2016 campaign is central to the explosion of DSA membership across the country; his 2020 campaign could produce such an explosion again.

Today, the question of whether Chicago DSA should endorse Bernie is before us. We’re both union organizers in Chicago, and we believe that CDSA should endorse Bernie’s campaign for the presidency. Sanders has expanded what’s politically possible in this country and raised the level of class struggle in this country. The possibility of winning a better world is closer than it’s ever been in our lifetimes—if we seize it by voting to endorse Sanders.

THE SANDERS MODEL

Most socialists have a good understanding of how Sanders operates, but it’s worth going over briefly, because of how different it is from politics as usual in America.

First, Bernie speaks to real problems facing real people and talks explicitly about the villains responsible for those problems. The Sanders campaign has repeatedly distinguished itself from other progressive campaigns by directly calling out the institutions and actors that seek to exploit working-class people. By attacking the 1 percent, the corporations not paying their taxes, the vampirical private health insurance companies, and the politicians who are bought off by the wealthy, Sanders names what most working people know to be true: the corruption in D.C. undermines democracy and the lives of working people.

Sanders then puts forward bold policies for how to take those villains on. Since Sanders lost the primary in 2016, he has been fighting for policies like Medicare for All, college for all, and a Green New Deal that cut corporate profit-making out of the equation and give average people a say over their own future.

And Sanders doesn’t just believe in his power to institute these policies from on high. His video announcing his 2020 candidacy begins with the phrase, “Change comes from the bottom up.” Sanders says repeatedly that we need to lead millions of people to join a grassroots movement across the country to fight for policies like Medicare for All. He believes, like all socialists do, that working-class people are the ones who have to make history, not just politicians like him.

By naming and shaming the ultra-wealthy, then insisting that only a mass movement can defeat them, Sanders is heightening the level of class struggle in American society. As socialists who believe that class struggle is central to social change, nothing could be more exciting than this. And we’ve seen firsthand just how this is possible.

BERNIE AND RISING CLASS STRUGGLE IN THE MIDWEST

Bernie’s candidacy isn’t just about getting involved in an election, it’s about getting involved in the immediate struggles of the working class. Before Bernie announced his 2020 run Abby was meeting with non-union nurses about why they want a union. A young nurse spoke up: he wanted a union because he sees every day how his hospital is making a profit by putting patients at risk and putting nurses last. He saw the only way to stop that was to get a union and to demand a better hospital for nurses and for patients. When asked how he had first been inspired to fight, he answered, “Bernie was the one who got me thinking about it.”

Similarly, in 2015, Abby was organizing in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with a local union of bus operators and mechanics. At a time of rapid gentrification and the destruction of workers’ rights in the state, those union members’ livelihoods were being held hostage by the city’s Democrats, who were attempting to slash workers’ pensions.

The night before their contract expired, hundreds of transit workers and community supporters filled a public meeting with their Board of Directors to demand a stable retirement. Instead of voting to save the workers’ pensions, the Board of Directors actually raised the CEO’s salary to above $200,000 and raised the bus fares.

The next week, the Grand Rapids Press, the local paper, published a full-page op-ed. Its author: Bernie.

In the middle of his presidential campaign, he called out Grand Rapids’s Democratic leadership for attacking their workers. Titled “A Letter from Bernie Sanders About the Struggle Against Income Inequality in Grand Rapids,” he wrote in the op-ed, “You are taking from the working people of Grand Rapids to give more to the wealthy.”  

The transit workers were ecstatic that a presidential candidate was supporting them—especially since they were receiving so little support locally.  This helped produce a new militancy among the workers.

After Bernie’s op-ed, they attended multiple city council meetings to demand a dignified retirement and even held early morning protests at politicans’ homes to highlight that the futures of working class people were being destroyed. They were met with vitriol from local politicians: at one city council meeting ex-Mayor George Heartwell scolded Trula Schutt, a 70-year-old bus operator, for speaking about her pension during public comment. But the transit workers wouldn’t stop. And Sanders helped inspire them to carry on.

Bernie won Grand Rapids by a landslide as well as Michigan by speaking to the working people disenfranchised by the Democratic Party. He filled high school gyms and union halls with people who wanted more. When he came to Grand Rapids, he actually asked an ATU Local 836 member to open for him. He didn’t seek out a local politician—he wanted a rank-and-file worker. In her speech, Trula said, “We need politicians like Bernie Sanders who will stand up for working people, not like the politician who scolded me for speaking out.”

These examples show how Bernie’s campaign isn’t dampening class struggle, it’s actually heightening it and expanding it beyond the electoral realm into workplaces. And it’s doing this on a mass scale. Regular people are starting to demand more in their politics, in their work, and in their personal lives.

We have seen a teachers’ strike wave spread throughout the country over the last few years—organized in some states, like West Virginia and Arizona, by educators who first came together around the Bernie campaign. Sanders’s class-struggle message helped give workers the confidence to take militant action, and his campaign actually brought those militant workers together to organize strikes.

Because Bernie ran for president and has continued campaigning since then, the entire political landscape has changed over the last few years. With DSA involved, his 2020 campaign could do even more.

What it would mean for Chicago DSA to run an independent Bernie campaign?

As we approach 2020, a mass movement against economic inequality is again going to come together around Bernie Sanders, with or without DSA. But it would be better—both for us and for him—with DSA.

We don’t want socialists to fold completely into Bernie’s campaign. We should have our own independent campaign. This would give us an opportunity to weave our local struggles in Chicago into Bernie’s and DSA’s national platform and message. Endorsing Bernie would not mean abandoning all the other work we are invested in as a chapter. Rather, we would have new opportunities to lift up our campaign work.

For instance, though they aren’t typically tied together, the fight for housing justice has deep connections to environmental justice. We know that environmentally safe, quality, and affordable housing controlled democratically by the people should be a major part of a Green New Deal. Bernie’s campaign would give us a mass platform to organize for social housing.

To do all this, though, we have to start planning now. And to start planning, we need a chapter-wide commitment to Bernie’s candidacy.

Our forthcoming general meeting offers us a chance to do just that. To spread class struggle, grow DSA, and remake our world into one for the many and not the few, vote yes to endorse Bernie Sanders’s campaign for president at our Chicago DSA general meeting.

Review: “It’s Time to Fight Dirty”

Since it is unlikely that the 2020 election will give us a socialist majority in both the House and Senate, it is very important what strategies and tactics the liberal Democrats of today are cooking up for their inevitable next turn at the wheel. David Faris’s It’s Time to Fight Dirty: How Democrats Can Build a Lasting Majority in American Politics shows that liberals (or at least a certain faction of liberals) are actually beginning to think about the exercise of power in governance and also beginning to engage with the idea that the constitution intentionally subverts democracy in order to prevent the people from having too much power.

Given that the constitution is written so that it is hard to change, the left (or liberals) would have to build a massive and sustained mass movement in order to replace the constitution with something more democratic. In the meantime, in order to avoid another era of governmental stagnation like the Obama years, both the left and our roommates in the progressive wing of the Democratic party need to consider what can be done to improve our ability to actually exercise power when given it.

Faris says, “Only by changing the rules that are currently rigged against them will Democrats ever hold power long enough to truly transform American politics in a lasting progressive direction,” and his book describes potential reforms that can be done within the confines of the existing constitutional order. These reforms are a mixed bag. Some are clear winners that both leftists and progressive liberals can support. Others are overly complicated in a way only  Vox-reading liberals would love. A handful are just terrible ideas.

Underlying most of the bad ideas are two key misconceptions. The first is that he doesn’t believe that a good straightforward effective left (or liberal) policy creates its own constituency (like Medicare or Social Security did). His example of the ACA as a policy that didn’t create a constituency gets it exactly wrong. He claims “[E]xpecting a handful of policy victories in, say, the spring of 2021 to deliver multiple electoral cycles of victories to the Democrats is just a fantasy, and one that election results during the Obama era conclusively discredited.” First, the ACA did build enough of a constituency to mostly survive Trump and a Republican Congress. Second, that constituency would have been bigger if the ACA wasn’t a market-based mess that intentionally obscured itself.

His second misconception is a belief that red states will always be red because there’s something innately conservative about rural America or the South. A person who can write “[i]f there are entire states, like North Dakota, that are basically bereft of an actual city” has never been to Fargo or any other mid-sized American city in the so-called “flyover.” A person that can describe the U.S. as “hitched to the U.S. South in a shotgun marriage” doesn’t understand that the South’s historical reactionary tilt isn’t innate; it’s just what happens when an elite planter capitalist class has nearly uninterrupted power for over 200 years. The problem isn’t the South, it’s capitalism.

Combine these two misconceptions and you get a pessimism about the future of left politics in most American states (and by extension our congress). I believe that if we can make the lives of all working people better, we can win everywhere. Kansas used to be a hotbed of socialism and my Trump loving hometown once had a socialist college. When national Democrats ignore or mock rural or Southern Americans as backwards hillbillies, they shockingly vote for Republicans. But when Bernie Sanders’s primary campaign actually bothers to listen to their concerns, he wins many of their votes.

Now let’s get into Faris’s suggested reforms, starting with the good ones. Federal voting rights reform is absolutely necessary to fight the conservative war on voting. The 15th Amendment gives Congress the necessary power to ensure all Americans have the right to vote and a Democratic congress should do so immediately upon taking power.

Faris recommends four voting reforms: “the restoration of voting rights for all felons even when they are still in prison, the creation of a system of automatic voting registration that places the responsibility for registering citizens on the state rather than on overburdened citizens themselves, the declaration of a federal holiday for all federal elections and the abolition of all voter ID laws.” I think that’s a great start, but why even bother with voter registration? North Dakota does not have voter registration and has no problems with it.

Faris does mention one very bad voting reform: “paying [a] nominal fine for non-voting.” This is classic liberal technocratic behavioral control crap. Punishing people who choose not to vote is anti-democratic. There’s also no such thing as a nominal fee. A dollar is just a dollar until you don’t have one.

Faris also discusses reforms to how business is done in the House and Senate that don’t require changes to the constitution. I think we all can agree that the Senate’s filibuster is uniquely anti-democratic and should be ended (although Faris wastes substantial ink reminding us why).

Similarly, it’s often forgotten that the number of representatives per state is not directly set in the constitution. The only parameters are that each state must have at least one and that there can’t be more than one per 30,000 people. So the size of the House of Representatives must be between 100 and 10,000. Faris suggest doubling the size to 870; I would recommend going to the full 10,000. With multi-member districts and ranked choice voting, we could end up with something closer to a parliament that includes a much more diverse set of political viewpoints.

Like the House, the Supreme Court doesn’t have to be nine people. Lifetime tenure is in the constitution, but Faris provides a good discussion of ways to change the size and to work around lifetime tenure. He mostly focuses on a complicated plan that rotates older justices off the bench without removing them from the court and guarantees presidents one appointment per term, regardless of vacancies. Like FDR’s court packing plan that set age thresholds for triggering new appointments, this seems over-engineered to me. I say just make it 50 people and be done with it.

Faris also recommends increasing the number of states in order to increase the number of likely-Democratic senators and to begin to mitigate the anti-democratic nature of a congress that under-represents large states and over-represents small states. Some parts of his argument make more sense than others.

He gives a useful summary of the activism for D.C. statehood, which is more realistic than most people think. D.C. has an entire shadow constitution with shadow senators and congresspeople and a mayor that will become a governor the second D.C. becomes a state. He also discusses the Puerto Rican statehood movement, arguing that “there is not a scintilla of evidence suggesting that a majority or even a plurality of citizens prefer a different option, such as continuing with the current status or seeking independence.” However, the Puerto Rican statehood movement is less far along than that of D.C.

Faris also argues for cutting California into eight states because “the increasing leftward bent of the state of California means that, contrary to the situation even four years ago, there are a number of ways to divide the state that would ensure that all of the successor states are no worse than toss-ups for the Democrats.” I think this misreads the situation for several reasons and that this idea could majorly backfire.

First, he hand waves away the logistical issues of splitting up California. I’m not even a Californian and I know that water rights would be a massive issue. The same would be true with all the state infrastructure (colleges, healthcare, schools, etc.) that California is able to get economies of scale on because of its size.

Second, he overestimates how stable California’s blue tilt is. As he said in the sentence I just quoted, even four years ago his scheme wouldn’t work. Why should anyone believe it will still work four years from now?

Third, his plan to create eight Democratic leaning Californian states requires some substantial gerrymandering of state borders. This is a useful thought experiment and while I appreciate his desire to “fight dirty,” this is both anti-democratic and also opens up a Pandora’s box of weaponized statehood. The obvious counterpoint to eight Democratic Californias is nine Republican Texases. Faris dismisses that concern because Texas’s geographic and demographic makeup would mean that the state couldn’t be divided in such a way.

However, he’s assuming that the new states must be contiguous and compact. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan immediately shows this to be false, as does the pre-1820 state of Massachusetts, which included what is now Maine. Modern gerrymandering technology means that Texas could be split in such a way that matches at a precinct level every likely Democratic voter with 1.1 likely Republican voters. Would anyone expect anything otherwise from the Republican party?

Now let’s take this argument to its logical conclusion. Why do states have to have separate territory? We could create 10 Californias (or conservatives 10 Wyomings) that all have the exact same territory and citizenry. Californias 2 through 10 elect their own senators and representatives, but the state constitutions defer all power to the original California government. They would be states in name only, but would increase the power of California.

Taking this even further, a leftist Congress could create a thousand micro-states of three people each (two representatives and a senator) and then use those states to immediately amend the constitution to abolish all states and move to a national parliament. This may seem crazy but it’s no crazier than causing a Western Water War by splitting California. The possibilities are endless if you ignore reality.

There are some very good ideas in It’s Time to Fight Dirty, but because Faris doesn’t believe that a good policy creates its own constituency, he ends up preferring complicated technocratic solutions like eight Californias, a rotating Supreme Court or fines for non-voters just to get around the problem that he assumes is a permanent feature of American life: that rural states will always be Republican. The recent red state uprisings like the teachers’ strike leave me unconvinced of that argument.

Faris also seems stuck on the argument that Democrats should “fight dirty” because Republicans have fought dirty. I don’t think these ideas are fighting dirty; they are just taking power when it is given. Creating a more democratic country is not fighting dirty; it’s a moral imperative. Which is probably just too earnest for a book title.

Photo: State Library of WA on Flickr (Creative Commons)

Third Parties Can’t Compete Without Electoral Reform

One of the more persistent philosophical and strategic divisions on the American left is between those who advocate conducting electoral politics primarily within the Democratic Party, a strategy called entryism, and those who advocate conducting electoral politics primarily via third parties. Entryists argue that an electoral strategy focused on third party politics is impossible in a first-past-the-post system such as the one used in most elections in the United States. Third-partyists argue that an electoral strategy that seeks to influence the Democratic Party from within will inevitably find itself co-opted and defanged by neoliberalism.

Both sides are, of course, correct. It is indeed impossible, under the current system, to achieve major electoral success outside of the Democratic Party. It is also impossible to transform the Democratic Party, in thrall as it is to capital, into a true workers’ party. There is a way out of this impasse: we must commit ourselves to reforming the electoral system and eliminating first past the post as a necessary precondition of third party politics. Achieving electoral reform in the United States will be a tall order, to be sure, but it is much more achievable a goal than transforming the Democratic Party into a socialist party or turning Socialist Alternative or some other grouping into a nationwide actor. Once achieved, electoral reform will allow us to embark on the project of building a true worker’s party as a real electoral force. This means that we must stop treating electoral reform as a minor afterthought: it must be one of the pillars of our politics.

Review of terms:

First past the post: Also known as single-member plurality, the electoral system used in the vast majority of American elections. Whichever candidate earns the most votes in the general election wins, even if a majority of voters would have preferred another candidate. This system inevitably favors the development of a two-party system due to the “spoiler effect,” in which two candidates with similar views split the vote and allow a politician with less popular views but more consolidated support to win. A well-known example is the 2000 presidential election, where Al Gore and Ralph Nader split the left-wing vote enough for George W. Bush to carry Florida—and with it the election. Voting for a third party candidate as a leftist is a risky proposition under first past the post, because you run the risk of inadvertently throwing the election to the Republican candidate.

Ranked choice voting: Also known as ranked preference and instant runoff, the electoral system used in Australia and several American cities, including Minneapolis, as well as for most elections in Maine, beginning with the June 2018 primaries. It’s seen by many as the most achievable serious electoral reform, and the one favored by the advocacy group FairVote. This system eliminates the spoiler effect that plagues first past the post, and allows third parties to participate on a level playing field.

There are other possible electoral systems, including the nonpartisan blanket primary or jungle primary (used in several American cities, including Chicago, and in the states of California, Louisiana, and Washington) and mixed-member proportional representation (used in Germany), but for the purposes of this article “electoral reform” will refer to ranked choice, which is more effective than jungle primaries at promoting third party viability and more achievable than mixed-member proportional representation in the American context.

There are three possible avenues for electoral reform:

Constitutional amendment: to eliminate the electoral college and implement ranked choice for the presidency, to eliminate the presidency altogether, to implement mixed-member proportional representation for the House, to eliminate or neuter the Senate. This is pie in the sky stuff—the states have ratified only a single constitutional amendment in the past 40 years and there’s no reason to believe an amendment this consequential could succeed.

Legislative action:

  1. At the state level: to implement ranked choice for Senate, House, gubernatorial, state legislative, mayoral, and city council races, to de facto eliminate the electoral college via the national interstate popular vote compact.
  2. At the local level: to implement ranked choice for mayoral and city council races.
  3. At the federal level: to implement ranked choice everywhere simultaneously.

Ballot initiative, in states and municipalities with provision for such:

  1. At the state level: same as 2a.
  2. At the local level: same as 2b.

Option 1 is impossible given present political conditions and 2c is only slightly less impossible (though the Fair Representation Act, which essentially combines ranked-choice voting and multi-member districts, is a promising start), so we can take those off the table.

In states without provision for ballot initiatives, or where ballot initiatives cannot change the state constitution (and where the state constitution enshrines first past the post), the only options are therefore 2a and 2b. In states and municipalities with provision for ballot initiatives, 3a and 3b are likely to be by far the most promising avenues for reform. In the Midwest, ballot initiatives can directly amend the state constitution in Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, and South Dakota. Many cities allow ballot initiatives to reform their own electoral systems as well.

DSA should make support for legislative action to eliminate first past the post (at all three levels of government) a non-negotiable condition of endorsement, but this is not likely to pay off in the short term above the local level, as the two major parties share an overwhelming incentive not to participate in electoral reform. The DSA should also make joining the national interstate popular vote compact a non-negotiable condition of endorsement in states that have not yet joined (in the Midwest, only Illinois has joined the compact).

In states and cities with provision for ballot initiatives, the DSA should coordinate with electoral reform groups like FairVote to place ranked choice on the ballot wherever and whenever possible. Several cities have successfully passed municipal ranked choice via ballot initiative, and Maine passed ranked choice for federal- and state-level races in 2016 (though its implementation has been in constant question, thanks to a string of legal challenges from the state Republican Party).

Electoral reform is quite popular. The general public is aware that something is wrong with our voting system, as evidenced by the success of the campaign for an anti-gerrymandering initiative in Michigan, and everyone hates the two-party system. As Maine found, a serious push to implement ranked choice via ballot initiative will find a receptive audience among the electorate. Rather than endlessly relitigate the pros and cons of entryism, let us build a political system where the vagaries of first past the post are no longer relevant.