Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Book Nook: You Call This Democracy?

Whether you’re a student, parent, educator or engaged citizen seeking the truth, You Call This Democracy? How to Fix Our Government and Deliver Power to the People from public policy expert Elizabeth Rusch paves the way for every citizen to not only understand the flaws in our current democracy but to also fix them.

“We think we live in a democracy. One person, one vote. But how democratic is our government really?” Rusch asks. “The hard truth is that political power is not shared equally among all citizens. It shouldn’t matter if you are rich, poor, urban, rural, Democrat, Republican, old or young when you mark your ballot. Your race and gender shouldn’t matter either. But they all do.”

You Call This Democracy? gives an honest view of how our democracy truly functions, who really has the power and why (and how that power impacts politicians and policies) and how we can work together to make our democracy more responsive to the will of the people.

Consider the following:
1. Presidents can take office without winning the popular vote.
2. Voting districts are drawn by politicians for their own benefit.
3. Millions of citizens—young, old, poor, people of color, women—are blocked from voting.
4. Money wields much more influence than the wishes of ordinary Americans.

You Call This Democracy? offers insightful solutions to undemocratic elements plaguing our government, with inspirational examples of citizens already working to make change. International comparisons, extensive sources and resources prompt readers to dig deeper ― and take action.

Supplementary materials to the book include Rusch’s “50 State Democracy Report Card” , where people can check to see how democracy fares in their state overall and on specific metrics, and how they can strengthen democracy in their state; and a series of short, fun, informative videos on the issues covered in the book, called Flash Course on Democracy, available free.

Additionally, discussion guides and debate questions are available at

Learn more in this interview.

Why is it important for people to be aware of things on the ballot besides the presidential election?
Our country is stuck, unable to make progress on important issues that affect our lives, such as access to affordable health care, violence at home and on the streets, the health of our economy and our environment. These issues have been around longer and are bigger than who wins the presidency. There is surprising bipartisan agreement on what do – but these measures don’t pass because our democracy doesn’t reflect the will of the people. Small, smart improvements in our democracy could lead to huge leaps forward for our country.

The great news is that ordinary citizens all across the country are already working to improve our democracy and winning. That why I encourage citizens to learn about pro-democracy measures on the ballots in their states. For example, there are pro-democracy measures on the ballot in Alaska, Arkansas, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, among others. My book You Call THIS Democracy? highlights the issues to watch and why they matter. My Flash Course on Democracy videos break down some of the issues in a fun accessible way. My 50 State Democracy Report Card can give people all across the country a sense of what needs to be improved in their states.

How can Covid-19 affect turn out - and how can it present an opportunity to change typical participation rates?
This is definitely a good news, bad news situation. The bad news is that many people are rightfully afraid to go to the polls for fear of being exposed to or spreading COVID. That could suppress voter turnout. The better news is because of COVID, twenty states have joined the four states that already offer easy access to vote by mail. In this election a record 83 percent of Americans will have access to vote by mail. I live in Oregon, which has had vote by mail for years. It so easy. A ballot shows up in the mail and I can fill it out whenever and wherever I want, using any thing I need to research the issues and candidates and I can mail it back or drop it in a ballot box. Despite what you might hear in the news, vote by mail is safe and secure and fraud is virtually nonexistent.

You can sign up to get YOUR ballot in the mail here.

There is another surprising way that COVID creates an opportunity to boost voter turnout. Because of the closure of college campuses, labor market woes and fear of COVID, more young people and young adults will be at home on Election Day and much of the season leading up it. (Government data shows that almost 3 million adults moved in with a parent or grandparent this spring, most of them 25 and younger). Pair that with research showing that parents are the single most powerful determinate of whether someone votes and we have a special opportunity for parents to launch their children into a lifetime of voting simply by voting and encouraging their young adult children to vote!

What are some election topics that people can discuss without it becoming a partisan fight?
There is strong bipartisan support for many efforts to improve our democracy. An amazing 70 percent of Americans support ditching the Electoral College for a National Popular Vote, with similar levels of support by Democrats, Republicans and Independents. Three-quarters of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents support taking the drawing of voting districts maps out of the hands of politicians and putting it into the hands of voters. Three-quarters (from across the spectrum) also believe it’s very important that major political donors don’t have more influence than ordinary Americans. These and other fixes discussed in You Call THIS Democracy are nonpartisan or have strong bipartisan support and could act as a bridge over our troubled political discourse. You can talk about them with everyone!

What do people need to know about their state elections and how they're run?
One thing that surprised me in writing You Call THIS Democracy? is how much say states have over how elections are run and how different the rules are from state to state. I guess I assumed that elections are the same everywhere and that we all vote with the same guidelines and rules. But that is just not true. Some states have rules that make voting more accessible to citizens. Some states automatically register citizens, offer early voting or same day registration. Some don’t. Some states offer vote by mail to accommodate our busy lives while making it easier for the elderly and disabled to vote. Many don’t. I thought citizens might like to know more about how elections are run in their state compared to other states, so I created the 50 State Democracy Report Card, so people can check to see how democracy fares in their state overall and on specific metrics, and how they can strengthen democracy in their state. You Call THIS Democracy is also full of specific easy ways to advocate for prodemocracy measures in your state.

I hope You Call THIS Democracy? starts national conversation about the health our democracy that leads to needed changes in states and across the nation – for the good of us all.

Elizabeth Rusch is the author of 20 award-winning books, and more than 100 magazine and newspaper articles. She is also the creator of the “50 State Democracy Report Card” and the video series Flash Course on Democracy. You Call This Democracy?, an Amazon Bestseller, was featured in the New York Times Book Review and received a starred review from Kirkus, which called it “a riveting must-read.” Rusch and her work have also been featured in The Discovery Channel, Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Think Out Loud, The Wall Street Journal, Teacher magazine, Parenting Magazine and Working Mother, among many others. Rusch has a master’s in public policy from the University of California, Berkeley, and has served as a Jacob K. Javits Fellow in the U.S. Senate. Visit her at and on YouTube.

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