“A Republic, if you can keep it”: Challenges to the US Election System in a Changing World - Rancho La Puerta
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“A Republic, if you can keep it”: Challenges to the US Election System in a Changing World

Week of March 30, 2019

The Origins of the U.S. System of Government
In Ancient Greece, “democracy” meant a form of rule by the “mob” (the people), which was derided as dangerous. Centuries later, and on the other side of the world, the framers of the U.S. constitution grappled with many of the same questions the Ancient Greeks did, as they sought to create a new system of government that would avoid the perceived dangers of pure democracy and the known dangers of absolute monarchy and aristocracy. The American framers arrived at a different conclusion: a representative Republic. . Now, more than 200 years and 27 amendments later, how has the Founder’s system of government changed?

How Could Our Constitutional Structure Be Improved?
Today, our federal government is very different from what our founders intended—and also from what other western democracies look like. When democracies worldwide are under pressure from populism and authoritarianism, it’s useful to look at some of the inherent tensions in the US system as a result of features specific to our Constitutional history, such as the Electoral College, Gerrymandering, the composition of the US Senate, and the current push for a new Constitutional Convention.

Money in Politics in the US versus Other Democracies
The raising and spending of money to influence elections in the US has changed significantly in the last ten years as a result of Citizens United and other decisions of the US Supreme Court. The Court based these decisions on its interpretation of the First Amendment, in several instances over-ruling earlier cases where the Court had a different understanding of that amendment. How has this change affected politics and legislating in the US, and how do pother democracies approach these free speech and campaign finance issues? What practical steps could we take now to change the status quo in campaign finance?


You may remember Trevor Potter for his flash of national media fame as Stephen Colbert’s on-air Super Pac lawyer, creating Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow and keeping a straight face as he explained “dark money” and 501 c4 organizations to Jon Stewart. But Trevor is the real thing–a non-partisan expert in money in politics and how our election system actually works. He is a former Chairman of the Federal Election Commission, and has taught or spoken at Oxford University and many of the US’s top law schools about the Constitution and our electoral system. Nowadays he spends most of his time as President of the Campaign Legal Center in Washington DC, working for solutions to some of the greatest challenges to our democratic system of elections and government, so he blends academic and real life experience at a time when democracies are under threat around the world. He is a graduate of Harvard College and the University of Virginia School of Law. He was John McCain’s election lawyer and has a reputation for being a straight-talking non partisan thinker on these timely issues.