Four Practical Fixes For The Toxic State Of American Politics


The problems in the American political system are not so much ideological as they are structural. Here are the 4 reforms that can fix them.

By David Grace (

Government By True-Believer Ideologues

It’s no secret that politics in America today is a mess.

  • The country is sharply divided and trapped in gridlock.
  • There is little or no cooperation between the political parties.
  • Middle-of-the-road compromise for the good of the country as a whole is next to impossible.
  • Each side distrusts and even hates the other
  • Many representatives are afraid to even talk with members of the other party for fear of seeming to be cooperating with “the enemy.”

I could go on, but I think most of you know what I’m getting at.

Is there a way out of this mess?

I think that four structural changes to the electoral process could solve almost all of these problems. Whether these changes can be accomplished in today’s hostile and polarized political environment is the another question.

In decreasing order of importance, here are the four structural changes that I think could return us to a middle-of-the-road, consensus, cooperative form of government that leaves the extremist ideologues on both the left and the right out on the fringes where they belong.


For two reasons, party primaries have resulted in the most extreme, ideological, true-believers in each party becoming their party’s state and federal legislative members.

(1) A Small, True-Believer Minority Of Each Party Picks The Candidates

Less than 20% of the members of each party actually vote in each party’s congressional primaries.

This 20% is always the most ideological, most dedicated, angriest segment of the party’s membership. Essentially, you get Democrat candidates who are picked by a majority of the most far-left 20% of the Democratic Party and you get Republican candidates who are picked by the most far-right 20% of the Republican Party.

Since a majority of the voters in each party’s primary elects the party’s nominee, that means that as little as 11% of the party’s membership representing its most extreme members often picks their party’s nominee.

Even worse, on average only 60% of all voters are either registered Republicans or registered Democrats. If membership in a district is split 30% Republican and 30% Democrat, that means that each party’s candidates are picked by 11% X 30% = about 3.3% of the actual registered voters in that district.

Talk about minority rule!

(2) Candidates Picked This Way Have Zero Interest In Compromise

Incumbent Congressmen know that if they compromise with “the other side” or if they try to work in any bipartisan way or if they fail to excoriate the “other side” at every opportunity, they’re likely to face a primary challenge by someone who will campaign on the platform that they aren’t far left enough or far right enough.

That means that even if the Congressman in question believes that a centrist piece of legislation is good for the country he/she will be reluctant to vote for it for fear of losing his job to a more extreme candidate in the next primary election.

This is negative feedback paralyzing the political process.

The primary system forces candidates to be beholding to only the most extreme right or extreme left 3.3% of the electorate.

Since 80% of Congressional seats are safe seats, 80% of Congressman are essentially under the control of 3.3% to about 5% of the registered voters in their districts.

How the hell is this country, any country, supposed to work well with that kind of a true-believer minority government?

Replace The Party Primaries With One General Primary Open To All

We could replace the two separate party primaries with one general primary. The incumbent and the four people who gathered the most signatures on a nominating petition would go on the ballot.

Each voter would pick a first choice who would get two votes and a second choice who would get one vote. The candidates with the top two vote totals would stand for election in the general election.

As a result we would get candidates favored by the broad center of the electorate. Once elected, the winner would have an incentive to cooperate with other Congressmen to craft compromise legislation that would appeal to the majority of the voters in their district without fear that the most extreme true-believers would banish them from office for not being ideologically pure enough and not being hostile enough to people on the “other side.”

I wrote a column detailing how this all would work here:

How We Got Stuck With Two Candidates We Don’t Like And How We Can Stop That From Happening Again


Politicians of both parties have created the boundaries of electoral districts to guarantee that each district is safe for some party or ethnic group. You have Republican and Democrat districts, Black and Hispanic districts, etc.

If you have a safe Democrat district that is, for example, 40% registered Democrat, 25% registered Republican and and 35% independent and only 20% of the Democrats vote in the party primary then 20% X 40% = 8% of all registered voters vote in the primary election that picks the candidate that will be elected in the general election.

That means that a majority of the 8%, maybe 4.5% of all registered voters will pick the winner of the Democrat primary who will then go on to win the general election in this safe district.

Since it’s a safe Democratic district that means that less than 5% of all of the registered voters in that district actually pick the Congressman who will represent that district in the House of Representatives.

Since 80% of all Congressional seats are from safe districts, a tiny minority of registered voters actually picks 80% of all Congressman.

And you wonder why politics is such a mess.

We Need To Get Rid Of Safe Districts

When you represent a safe district, the election is over as soon as you win your party’s primary nomination.

When a Congressman represents a safe district, he/she does not have to worry about doing the right thing for the country, paying any attention to anyone beyond his party’s most hard-core members, acting reasonably and with common sense, or cooperating with other members to achieve a workable solution to problems.

No, he/she only needs to make sure they don’t piss off the party’s true believers, the 4.5% or less that he needs to vote for him in order to win the primary or who will kick him out of office in the next primary if he/she isn’t hard line enough.

Safe districts are “safe” because they are gerrymandered to be that way.

Get rid of the gerrymandering and you will get rid of a large number of the safe districts.

Get rid of the safe districts and you will get Congressmen who will actually have to care about doing a good job for the majority of the people in their district instead of only needing to care about staying on the good side of the 5% or less of registered-voter hard-liners who control their party’s primary.

How Do We Eliminate Gerrymandered Districts?

Gerrymandered districts can be relatively easily replaced with ones whose boundaries are drawn without reference to party, age, wealth, race, ethnicity, education or any other demographic factors whatsoever. These neutral districts can and should be drawn by open-source, published software, not by people.

All the software needs to know is the population of each census block or nine-digit zip code in the state, the boundaries of the cities and counties, and the boundaries of rivers and lakes.

Once the software knows only that, it can draw all the district lines to meet the programmed the goals of (1) equalizing the population in each district; (2) keeping the districts as regularly shaped as possible, (3) as much as possible following the city/country boundaries, and (4) as much as possible following the boundaries of rivers, lakes and major highways.

I think a few Google, Microsoft or Facebook programmers on sabbatical could write such a program in a month or less.

I wrote a column detailing how this all would work here:

How To Quickly Create A Neutral, Non-Gerrymandered Election Map


50% of all the money that was spend on federal election campaigns in 2016 was donated by 1/30th of 1% of the adult population.

About 86,000 people/corporations donated half of all the money spent on campaigns for federal office in 2016.

86,000 out of about 243 MILLION American adults provided half the financing for all candidates for federal office.

How does any ordinary person expect to be fairly treated by legislators who get half of all their campaign money from 1/30th of 1% of the adult population?

Do you really think that in any conflict between what is good for Big Pharma, the banks, the insurance industry, the NRA, the unions and the billionaires and what is good for the ordinary citizens, that most Congressman are going to do what’s good for the ordinary citizen when that choice is opposed by any of the big money groups who regularly pay for his/her election and re-election?

If you do, I have a couple of bridges I’d like to sell you.

How We Could Limit Campaign Expenditures

The courts have already held that it is constitutional to limit campaign contributions made directly to candidates, so-called “Direct Political Contributions.”

I think that a reasonable dollar limitation on indirect campaign contributions, the so-called “Independent Political Expenditures” could pass muster with the Supreme Court in spite of the Citizens United case.

I wrote a column discussing Citizens United, campaign-financing limitations, and why a reasonable independent expenditure limitation might pass constitutional muster here:

Did The Supreme Court Miss The Real Issue In The Citizens-United Campaign-Financing Case?

If Congress had done it right, the real question in Citizens United would not have been, “Do corporations have the same free-speech rights as humans?” but rather “In order to prevent toxic corruption of the electoral process, can Congress reasonably limit (not prohibit) everyone’s independent campaign expenditures to no more than the amounts provided in the Act?”


One of the huge problems with our electoral system is that a relatively small minority of citizens elects the majority of our government.

As I stated earlier in this column, 5% or less of registered voters elect 80% of the members of the House of Representatives.

Again, you wonder why the Congress is so screwed up?

If we get rid of party primaries, get rid of gerrymandered, safe districts, get rid of Big Money campaign contributions, and if we make it easier for registered voters to actually vote, we should be able to get a government that more closely represents the desires of the bulk of the American people.

Voting Over The Internet Is More Immune To Fraud

In order to cast an Internet ballot the voter would first have to physically appear at a County office, personally show a valid ID, then have their fingerprints taken and face scanned into the system.

After that it would be exceptionally difficult for someone else to impersonate that registered voter or cast a ballot in their name. Voting with fingerprint verification is far more immune to voter fraud than the way we verify voters today.

Internet Voting Would Be Cheaper

Running enough polling places to process millions of votes all on one day costs a lot of money. Internet voting, like voting by mail, can take place over an extended period and it would be far cheaper and faster to process the results than those cast by a paper absentee ballot.

Voter Participation Would Be Higher & Voters Would Be Better Informed

Because each candidate would have their own web page with a detailed campaign statement linked to the County’s Internet Voting page, their stands on major issues would be easily available to the Internet voter. For that reason, the Internet voter would likely be more well-informed than an in-person voter.

Because voting would take place over several days, 24 hours per day, turnout would be far higher.

I wrote a column detailing how this all would work here:

An Open Plea To Google: Build The Foundation For Internet Voting In California. A Blueprint For How Google Could Make California The First State To Offer Internet Voting


Independent of party or ideology, I think these four structural changes to the mechanics of how we vote would result in candidates who

  • Represented the bulk of the American people rather than the fringe of the electorate,
  • Were motivated to cooperate and work for the good of the country instead of the desires of the true believers
  • Were elected by a broader base of the population, and
  • Were far less subject to the influence of wealthy individuals and corporate interests.

Can these changes be accomplished?

The true-believer ideologues and the party insiders who depend on them to stay in office are not going to want to surrender their minority control of the government back to the majority of the American people.

Add to that the number of Congressmen who are today under the influence of wealthy contributors coupled with the ideologically-poisoned makeup of our elected bodies and I doubt it.

–David Grace (

To see a list of my other columns go to:



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David Grace

David Grace

Graduate of Stanford University & U.C. Berkeley Law School. Author of 16 novels and over 400 Medium columns on Economics, Politics, Law, Humor & Satire.