Matthew Douglass is a board member of the nonpartisan Business for America and previously co-founded digital health company Practice Fusion in 2007.
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In America, democracy and capitalism go hand in hand. Watching our democracy function (or, more accurately, malfunction) over the past few years, I have come to the conclusion that there is a slow-moving crisis developing for our democracy — and our economy. For entrepreneurs to have a fighting chance and for existing companies to prosper, our legislators must strive to construct a truly competitive economic system that encourages innovation and works for everyone, not just those with the most political influence or campaign donations.
What might our country look like if we were to surrender policy-making to the anti-democratic forces of campaign donation-obsessed politicians, rent-seeking special interests and behemoth oligopolistic-minded corporations? Well, it would look a lot like what we have now:
- There has been zero meaningful action to combat catastrophic global climate change, which, if left unaddressed, will cost our economy and businesses hundreds of billions of dollars.
- The U.S. pays far more than other countries for the exact same medications, which means the American people pay through the nose to subsidize the rest of the world.
- Our legislators have shown no interest in regulating the biggest banks, which have only consolidated control since the 2008 Recession that their market abuses directly caused, ultimately wiping out nearly 9,000,000 jobs.
- Because of lenient anti-trust enforcement, smaller retailers are being forced to close their doors everywhere we look and entrepreneurship is experiencing its slowest rate of growth since 2004.
- The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico occurred because of lax environmental protection oversight of offshore drilling.
The lack of courage demonstrated by our elected politicians to rein in corporate abuses and protect our markets is our giant white flag of surrender, and its effects can be found in nearly every sector of our economy. Our prosperity has been seized by the anti-competitive and anti-innovation forces of a dysfunctional political system dominated by monied special interests. And it’s happening right out in the open for all of us to see. Fret not, however, because it is entirely within our power to squash the bugs that have infested our democracy.
Our elected leaders seem to have hoisted a giant white flag of surrender — either unable or unwilling to rein in corporate abuses and protect our markets. The effects of these anti-competitive and anti- innovation forces of our dysfunctional political system can be found in nearly every sector of our economy. Monied special interests are draining our prosperity, and it’s happening right out in the open for all of us to see.
As business leaders and entrepreneurs, we must demand our politicians step up and take action to protect economic competitiveness and provide guard rails for expansion of our capital markets. For American citizens to have confidence that legislators are working toward these dual goals of protection and expansion, it is absolutely crucial that we first do everything possible to make our democratic elections as competitive and fair as possible.
For America to thrive and innovate in an increasingly competitive global economy, we need strong, uncorrupted, fairly regulated markets.
This notion of prodigious change to our electoral system is not new. In fact, more than two-thirds of the amendments to the U.S. Constitution since the Bill of Rights were crafted specifically to address voting, representation and election shortcomings in our democracy. Fortunately, we don’t have to wait for a constitutional amendment to resolve our problems. There are actionable things we can do right now to expand democratic participation and restore trust in our elections.
For starters, I, along with many other business leaders across America, am supporting the Secure Elections Act, a bipartisan bill introduced in the U.S. Senate last year by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and James Lankford (R-OK). This bill requires paper records and rigorous audits to reduce the risk of vote hacking, improves information sharing between federal and state election officials and establishes cybersecurity guidelines to protect our elections.
Further, there are simple, proven changes that make voting accessible to more citizens:
- Enable automatic (opt-out) voter registration upon turning 18
- Allow no-fault absentee vote by mail for all voters
- Expand early voting dates and locations
- Restore voting rights for people who have served their time for non-violent offenses
Policies that expand voting rights benefit all members of a democracy, regardless their political affiliation. State by state, progress is already being made. In 2018, by an overwhelming margin, voters in Florida restored voting rights to non-violent ex-felons. On the same day, balloters in Nevada and Michigan approved initiatives to automatically register voters when they turn 18, bringing the total to 15 states where this is the law. It’s time to put partisan politics aside and do this in all 50 states.
Finally, elections can be made more democratic and competitive:
- End gerrymandering of districts
- Adopt open primaries
- Enact ranked-choice voting
In 2018, anti-gerrymandering efforts passed at the ballot box in Michigan, Missouri, Utah, Ohio and Colorado. In Pennsylvania, the 21st Century Election Reform Modernization proposal, introduced by Governor Tom Wolf (D), would enact many of these voter-friendly upgrades. The Fair Representation Act, co-sponsored by Ro Khanna (D-CA) here in Silicon Valley, Don Beyer (D-VA) and Jamie Raskin (D-MD), proposes an innovative approach to ensuring we all have a voice in our democracy, no matter where we live.
House Democrats are making a statement with HR1, the first bill of the 116th Congress, which addresses money in politics, ethics and voting rights. It’s a great step in the right direction, but for this to be successful, Republicans must join Democrats to create bipartisan consensus.
As business leaders, our political ideologies are as diverse as our industries. But one thing we should all be able to recognize is that for America to thrive and innovate in an increasingly competitive global economy, we need strong, uncorrupted, fairly regulated markets. To reach that ideal, we must first protect and strengthen the democratic foundations of our elections. I invite every business leader across the nation to join me in fighting for a more democratic democracy for all Americans by supporting legislation and lawmakers working diligently toward that goal.