Local club welcomes Institute for Political Innovation

By Page H. Gifford

For the first in-person meeting of the Progressive Club in over a year, Jeff James welcomed 37 attendees to the pub at the Lake Monticello golf course on July 13.

“That is the most I have ever seen in the eight years since the club started,” he said. Perhaps it was the intriguing subject and speaker that they came to hear. Brian Cannon, director of campaigns for the Institute for Political Innovation, spoke about a new innovative way to vote, similar to the ranked-choice voting used in the New York City mayoral race and used in Australia for over a decade.

“We are building Final Five Voting campaigns all across the country. Some of these campaigns will be in states where you need to work with the legislature to improve the system – much like we did in Virginia with redistricting, he said. “Other states will be able to go directly to the citizens similar to what they do in Michigan, Missouri, Florida, etc. My job, and the job of the whole campaign team at IPI, is to help identify people who can help start the movement in their state in a cross-partisan, high-level way that helps boost our chances of success.”

IPI is a cross-partisan, not-for-profit organization founded by former CEO Katherine M. Gehl that contributes theory, scholarship, and strategy to promote modern political change in America.

“We believe the first big step is changing the incentives our elected leaders in Congress have so that they reflect the will of the people, not some small segment of the population allowed to vote in primaries.”

Gehl in her TED talk discussed political theory identifying “our greatest obstacles and opportunities, and it has nothing to do with gerrymandering, the electoral college, or term limits.” She adds that John Adams once said, “There is nothing I dread so much as the division of the republic into two great parties.” She expresses concerns that are uppermost in the minds of a majority of Americans including those who came to hear Cannon and view Ms. Gehl’s TED talk.

“Ms. Gehl has been at this for a while trying to find ways to make our politics make sense. She’s worked with candidates directly, she’s worked with great organizations like No Labels and Unite America,” said Cannon. IPI’s origins can be traced back to a 2017 paper that she published with renowned Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter called “Why Competition in the Politics Industry is Failing America: A Strategy for Reinvigorating Our Democracy.” Then last summer Porter and Gehl published the book, “The Politics Industry,” that expounded on the views in that original paper.

The Final Five ranked-choice voting system she proposes determines the winner in a series of run-offs in one election. It eliminates the two-party polarizing system that currently exists.

Cannon explained they are in the early stages of beginning campaigns all over the country.

“Just last year in Alaska, a cross-partisan group of leaders got together after reading the original HBS paper by Gehl and Porter and built a reform plan around it for Alaska. It passed in November and will be implemented beginning in the 2022 elections. The team from Alaska now works directly with other state campaigns to inspire, strategize, and coach the next wave of reformers on Final Five Voting,” said Cannon.

Voter suppression was also a topic some were concerned about and asked Cannon what could be done.

“Our republic needs some real work. From ending gerrymandering to making voting accessible and secure for all eligible voters. IPI is proud to be a part of that broader reform community which can broadly be represented in the National Association of Nonpartisan Reformers.” He added that many of those organizations are tackling those other tough issues. IPI is exclusively focused on Final Five Voting.

James and the group had a brief discussion about voter suppression in several states like Georgia, Florida, Arizona and the possibility of it happening in Arkansas or Tennessee. He said the Progressives in this group have strong negative views about voter suppression and are worried about the state of American democracy.

“Many were pleased with Biden but not overly pleased because for some he is not liberal enough and too hesitant. I share that view but given the slim majority the Dems have, I understand the need to compromise and build the middle.”

Joe Shaver, who arranged for Cannon’s visit, gave his thoughts on the talk.

“I began by talking about my political reformation. Having been a registered Democrat for about 50 years, I read two books recently that have changed my political direction. The first was “A Declaration of Independents; How We Can Break the Two-Party Stranglehold and Restore the American Dream” by Greg Orman. He ran for the U. S. Senate in 2014 in Kansas as an Independent and while losing, garnered 45 percent of the vote. He now sits on the board of IPI,” said Shaver. He added that he read Gehl and Porter’s “The Politics Industry; How Political Innovation Can Break Partisan Gridlock and Save Our Democracy.” Shaver summed up Gehl’s Final Five Voting, as this: Republican and Democrat (the duopoly), make up all the rules about our political process to include elections, debates, and rules of Congress, and one of their primary objectives is to keep independents out of the mix. Gehl, in her TED talk, discusses the lack of competition and accountability in our government.

“People were asked to think about how often we have voted for the “lesser of two evils.” The push is for a change to ranked-choice voting in primaries and to do away with plurality elections, wherein a winner can have less than 50 percent of the vote.” Shaver also added something that says so much about the way Americans continue to engage in the same systems with different expectations  which was Einstein’s phrase, “to do things the same way and expect different results is insanity.”

“Brian Cannon was convincing in his presentation of the ‘rank-file voting concept’, a version of which was just used in the New York City mayoral race. He termed it “final five voting” and said it improves the choices for voters by allowing them not to fear wasting a vote, like the third candidate in a presidential vote, like Ross Perot, being a spoiler,” said James. “If people could rank their choices, they would be more likely to be able to select someone of greater appeal to them rather than a winner-take-all system of two candidates. Alaska and some other states are now implementing such systems, and voters do understand it and appear to like the system.”

Cannon claims our current system reduces competition in parties and makes incumbents vote safely so as not to lose their next primary fight. Gehl in her TED talk says “party primaries are bad rule number one, and plurality voting is bad rule number two.” In other words, it forces some people who have no choice to hold their nose and vote for someone who doesn’t represent their principles.

“After hearing the IPI talk, I believe it would improve voter satisfaction, but it is only one step in the myriad of reforms our voting system needs, like shorter and publicly funded campaigns, maybe required voting like Australia, improved voter turnout, honest election management so votes are honestly counted and recorded and not thrown out. Voting should take place over several days, and weekends, and be more accessible to more people, not restricted by phony measures allegedly attempting to correct voter fraud,” said James.

Cannon said he is proud to be with IPI working on a national level and grateful for all of those folks who worked hard in Virginia to get redistricting reform passed last year.

“So many folks in Fluvanna helped the cause before it was cool and stuck with us once the politics of it began to heat up. I’m taking those valuable lessons learned in Virginia to other states and they are so inspired by the Virginia story of how we came together for reform.”


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