San Francisco Bay Guardian

S.F., crucible for democracy
By Krist Novoselic
August 13, 2003

I FIRST BECAME interested in electoral reform with my work on music issues in Washington state. One of the goals of that work was to mobilize a constituency. And through all of my efforts I've found that the problem with people not participating in our democracy comes down to one thing: our electoral system discourages people.

Remember the last presidential election, when some people told voters not to throw away their votes on Ralph Nader and to vote for Al Gore? I believe this kind of rationale is nothing less than admitting that the voting booth is a garbage can. And who is to presume whose votes belong to whom?

The fact is that too many people don't have representation. Are you a Republican in a Democrat district? Are you a Democrat in a Republican district? Let's not forget Independent, Green, Libertarian, or other political stripes shut out by design.

I started to research political reforms and came across the Center for Voting and Democracy. With that group's valuable information, I recognized the potential of preference voting and full representation.

I come from a music background. This has helped me see the huge potential for a meaningful electoral reform in our nation. Popular music goes through trends that operate in a cycle. Once music becomes predictable and a formula to sustain the establishment, people become cynical, stop buying music, and tune out. This sad state of affairs opens the gates for the new wave of bands. The new sounds draw people back in, thus restoring vitality.

We can make this same analogy in regards to our democracy. Elections have become so predictable that the majority of people don't even bother to vote (only 38 percent did in the 2002 midterms).

The political establishment knows how to game the formula or our exclusive elections to sustain themselves. As a consequence, people become cynical, stop voting, and tune out.

We can blame ourselves for not recognizing the signs of our broken democracy, or we can work to fix it. We can sit back and watch our democracy linger, stuck in its current state of stagnation, or we can rise up to the challenge of building a true democracy - an inclusive democracy.

The time has come, I believe, for the new wave in American politics. The time has come for an inclusive democracy. The only way we're going to do this is through meaningful electoral reforms like instant-runoff (or ranked-choice) voting and full representation.

Our current political culture is stagnant, and the proof is in the turnout numbers. IRV is smart, proven, and holds the promise of inclusion. What is the value of a democracy without inclusion? IRV's promise of inclusion will restore vitality to our sagging democracy.

That's why we need to make IRV happen in San Francisco. S.F. is the beachhead for meaningful electoral reform in the United States. I know that the establishment is watching this city. And we know they want to see IRV fail. This is too important to let slip away. S.F. has come too far. You've got the weight of the majority of this great city's voters. Remember, majority rule, like inclusion, is the foundation of the very idea of democracy.

Krist Novoselic is the former bass player for Nirvana and a Washington state political activist. This op-ed is adapted from remarks he made to a Center for Voting and Democracy fundraiser July 31 .