Fixing Congress from the states.

The best ideas for saving and strengthening our democracy are happening closer to home.

Even in this atmosphere of intense political disagreement, most of us can agree that Congress is broken. But it is unlikely that Congress will fix itself anytime soon, so it is up to the people to fix Congress. And like most major change in America, that comes from the laboratories of democracy, the states.

More than three out of four Americans disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job.

Even Congress thinks Congress is broken. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) said the Senate hit “rock bottom” and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said the Senate reached a “low moment.”

Thankfully, the elections clause of the U.S. Constitution gives the people a roadmap for congressional reform through the states. It says that the times, places and manner of holding congressional elections shall be decided by state legislatures. The Constitution gives state legislatures the power to draw election maps for congressional districts, as well. And in the twenty-four states that allow citizens to initiate ballot measures, the people have the power to reform how we elect Congress ourselves.

So if we change the state laws that determine the way members of Congress are elected from the states, we change Congress. Already progress is being made on this approach to congressional reform. In fact, there are more statewide political reform measures on the ballot in 2018 than at any time in U.S. history.

State laws are solving the problem of gerrymandering, where politicians manipulate the voting district maps for their own personal gain. Anti-gerrymandering policies have been adopted in Ohio, Arizona, California, Florida, and Iowa. Ballot measures to end gerrymandering will be decided by voters in Michigan, Colorado, Missouri and Utah on November 6.

Making elections more modern and secure through automatic voter certification has caught on in thirteen states. Michigan and Nevada will vote in November on ballot measures to join them.

Boosting voter participation with vote from home and Election Day voter registration is another way state laws are impacting congressional elections. Twenty-two states allow certain elections to be conducted entirely by mail. And in Oregon, Washington, and Colorado, all elections are by mail, so voters can fill out their ballot in the comfort of their home and election officials can match voter signatures to a secure file. Seventeen states allow voters to register at their polling places and this year Maryland voters have the opportunity to become the eighteenth.

And the most groundbreaking innovation that could improve congressional elections is ranked choice voting. With ranked choice voting, also known as instant runoff voting, voters rank candidates in order from their favorite to least favorite. If your first choice cannot win, your vote automatically counts for your second choice, so you do not waste your vote. This gives voters more power, more choices, and the ability to support who you actually like the most. It also eliminates the “spoiler effect,” when votes are split between similar candidates causing a candidate not backed by a majority of voters to win. Candidates have to compete for votes with their best ideas, not just how much money they can raise. Ranked choice voting has been used in local elections in seven states: Minnesota, Colorado, California, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Maryland and Maine. Maine became the first state to use the commonsense system in statewide elections this year, and reformers are planning to pursue that policy in several more states.

State by state, the way we elect Congress is changing for the better. As these laws get adopted and implemented, we should see more competitive congressional elections and more voter participation. Soon, hopefully, we will hit a tipping point of state laws passed that will lead to federal reform.

In the past, major federal reform on a range of issues has come after state laws paved the way first. Women won the right to vote in twenty-seven states, starting in Wyoming, before it was the law of the land federally. Thirty-four states legalized interracial marriage before it became federal law. Passing state laws on those issues and many others has been an essential catalyst to winning federal reform.

My organization, RepresentUs, recently released a five-minute animated video that explains how the people have the power to unrig the system using this proven approach. It is time to intensify the rush of state-level political reform to fix our broken Congress.

Dan Krassner is the political director for RepresentUs, the nation’s largest nonpartisan anti-corruption group. Follow him on Twitter: @DanKrassner

via Chela Horsdal / Twitter

Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle" debuted the first episode of its final season last week.

The show is loosely based on an alternative history novel by Philip K. Dick that postulates what would happen if Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan controlled the United States after being victorious in World War II.

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via Mike Mozart / Flickr

Chick-fil-A is the third-largest fast food chain in America, behind McDonald's and Starbucks, raking in over $10 billion a year.

But for years, the company has faced boycotts for supporting anti-LGBT charities, including the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

via Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

RELATED: The 1975's singer bravely kissed a man at a Dubai concert to protest anti-LGBT oppression

In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage". I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

Chick-fil-A also has plans to expand to Boston, Massachusetts where its mayor, Thomas Menino, pledged to ban the restaurant from the city.

via Wikimedia Commons

"There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are," Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told Bisnow. "There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message."

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Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?


Oh, irony. You are having quite a day.

The Italian region of Veneto, which includes the city of Venice, is currently experiencing historic flooding. Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro has stated that the flooding is a direct result of climate change, with the tide measuring the highest level in 50 years. The city (which is actually a collection of 100 islands in a lagoon—hence its famous canal streets), is no stranger to regular flooding, but is currently on the brink of declaring a state of emergency as waters refuse to recede.

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The Planet
via Gage Skidmore / Flickr and nrkbeta / flickr

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) dropped a bombshell on Tuesday, announcing it had over 900 emails that White House aide Stephen Miller sent to former Breitbart writer and editor Katie McHugh.

According to the SPLC, in the emails, Miller aggressively "promoted white nationalist literature, pushed racist immigration stories and obsessed over the loss of Confederate symbols after Dylann Roof's murderous rampage."

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via Twitter / Bye,Bye Harley Davidson

The NRA likes to diminish the role that guns play in fatal shootings by saying, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people."

Which is the same logic as, "Hammers don't build roofs, people build roofs." No duh. But it'd be nearly impossible to build a roof without a hammer.

So, shouldn't the people who manufacture guns share some responsibility when they are used for the purpose they're made: killing people? Especially when the manufacturers market the weapon for that exact purpose?

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