The Politics of
Reform and the
Promise of Ranking
In the last chapter, I offered a tale of two reformers. Spencer Overton fights for election reform in a world without data. Dan Esty battles for environmental change with an important weapon: an index that ranks countries based on performance. In this chapter, I'll explain why the Democracy Index could provide a similarly powerful tool for election reformers. Indeed, if we focus on the key leverage points in the reform process—voters, policymakers, and election administrators—it is clear that a Democracy Index could do a great deal to smooth the path for change.
Voters are a key leverage point in the reform process. We wouldn't worry about partisanship or local competition if voters pressured elected officials to do the right thing. Unfortunately, it is often tough for reform proposals to get traction with voters. That might seem strange given that the word democracy is invoked with reverence by schoolchildren and politicians alike. Everyone is affected by a badly run system. So why aren't voters energized about these issues?1
While voters care about how elections are run, discussions about reform are largely inaccessible to them. In most policy debates, voters need a “frame”2 to help them understand the problem and get behind a solution. Just think