We are facing increasing case numbers of COVID-19 in the Midwest and across this country, and this fall could be a worst-case scenario with the confluence of influenza and COVID-19. We have never needed an effective, functioning government more than we do now, but instead are seeing partisan bickering, dysfunction, and misinformation spreading like a virus itself.
Unfortunately, our current system is structured in a way that inflames rather than calms. We polarize and politicize so many things, and the coronavirus has become exhibit A. We must address the polarization and dysfunction plaguing our democracy so that we can effectively respond to the pandemic and the next health crisis.
We both talk to audiences across the country, and one of the most frequent questions people ask is, “What’s the one thing we can do to fix our health care?” And the answer is, fix our democracy. If we fix our democracy, health care policy and policy on a whole host of things we care about will improve. We will have better health care and a better response to the pandemic and the next health crisis when we have the most representative government — one that appeals to our needs, our reason and sense of unity, not one that inflames our biases and preys on our weaknesses.
We need to change how we function at a core building-blocks level, and those building blocks are how we vote and the leaders we elect to represent us.
We recently had an opportunity to speak about political dysfunction and how it is hindering our response to the pandemic at an event hosted by FairVote Minnesota, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that advocates for ranked-choice voting. The event was moderated by Rep. Kelly Morrison, M.D., one of a growing majority advocating for this reform at the Minnesota legislature.
We see ranked-choice voting (RCV) as a key reform to redress the dysfunction in our current system and create a more representative government with leaders who want to focus on fixing problems rather than scoring partisan points.
RCV allows voters to rank their preferences, and the rankings are used to conduct a virtual runoff to ensure elected officials earn broad majority support. It is a simple but powerful change to the ballot that encourages candidates to reach beyond their base and build broad coalitions of support, incentivizes positive campaigns based on the issues and elects leaders who are responsive to the concerns of the majority and incentivized to solve problems and get things done.
No one thing is going to solve the dysfunction in our government, but if there is a legacy we can leave our kids and grandkids, it’s supporting RCV and bringing about a more civil, more effective and more trusting form of government. Not only does it strengthen our democracy and bring our country closer to its ideal, it’s also something we can achieve.
We are excited to see RCV being used in Minneapolis, St. Paul and St. Louis Park and on the ballot for mayoral and City Council races in Bloomington and Minnetonka this fall. Minnesota is among the many states with cities using RCV, and it will have its debut in New York city next year. Maine uses RCV for state and federal elections, including for president in 2020. Two more states — Massachusetts and Alaska are poised to pass RCV this year. It is our hope that we soon follow these states and pass it statewide in the Minnesota Legislature next year.
While politics has become dispiriting, RCV can give us hope. It can strengthen our democracy and would have a tremendous impact for years to come. This reform can elect the kind of leaders we need, make us better prepared for the next health crisis and improve our state for the better. Join us in supporting RCV. Your democracy needs you.
Michael Osterholm is the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. Andy Slavitt is founder and chairman of United States of Care and host of Lemonada Media’s podcast In The Bubble.