This week, Denver will be a hub for organizations and individuals that are part of a movement pushing national, state and local reforms they believe will make the political system more fair and representative. The National Association of Nonpartisan Reformers, a relatively new nonprofit based in Denver, will be holding its second annual summit on December 5 and 6.
Because the country has become more polarized in the past few decades, calls for both sides of the aisles to come together, resolve differences and work toward common goals can often come off as naive to the splintered and tense political reality. But the National Association of Nonpartisan Reformers makes a case that there’s a powerful resistance emerging to counter this polarization with proposals for real structural changes.
Its member organizations profess to step above the increasing rift between the left and the right and concentrate on pushing reforms that they believe would improve the functionality of the system for both sides. It approaches that goal with a “big tent” approach (with the caveat that all organizations must be non-partisan). Issues at hand range from influence of money in politics, to the way that we vote, to the dearth of political participation, to gerrymandering.
According to Jim Jonas, the executive director of the NANR, its core values are bringing more transparency, more participation and more competitiveness to our local and nationwide political systems. It welcomes any organization that advances similar goals, though they may disagree on how to get there.
“It’s really about getting more representative government,” Jonas says. Currently, he argues, “elected officials get there through a system that is not serving the people.”
Jonas started the organization two years ago. He is a political communications consultant who has worked on several campaigns (for a handful of Republicans in the ’90s and more recently an independent’s bid for a Kansas Senate seat) and for several corporations and nonprofits that span a spectrum of political leanings and industries.
“Several years ago, a few of us said we need to come together and start pooling our resources, professionalize the organizations that we were trying to get off the ground and make them successful,” he says. The past few election cycles have seen a dramatic rise in organizations and campaign efforts pushing political reform. But they vary widely. “Some have significant dollars behind them, others are grassroots and citizen-driven, others are highly professionalized and run in all the right ways, and everything in the middle,” he says.
The NANR summit will bring like-minded organizations together to help figure out how to make non-partisan reform successful.
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Among its members are several organizations that support changing the way we vote, including FairVote, which supports ranked choice voting, and the Center for Election Science, which supports approval voting. Other member organizations support reforms such as open primaries that don't require participants to have a party affiliation, abolishing the electoral college in favor of the popular vote, doing away with limits for candidates to qualify for the debate stage, and reducing the influence of dark money and lobbyists in politics.
While some of the organizations have broad goals, others have defined objectives. Jeff Clements, a lawyer who represented several public interest organizations in the 2010 Supreme Court case Citizens United v. FEC, co-founded American Promise to combat the decision that ultimately struck down restrictions on independent campaign expenditures and gave rise to super PACs. American Promise's goal is to pass a 28th Amendment, which would affirm that governments can set reasonable limits on campaign spending and can distinguish between corporations and people. Twenty states, including Colorado, have passed resolutions in support of ratifying the amendment.
In addition to being the headquarters of the National Association of Nonpartisan Reform, Colorado has been a hub for these kinds of reforms. In 2018, it passed a ballot measure intended to curb gerrymandering, and also established open primaries. A number of NANR member organizations, such as Let Colorado Vote and The National Vote at Home Coalition (which pushes mail ballots as opposed to in-person-only elections to increase participation) are also based in Denver. “It’s an appropriate place for us to be,” says Jonas.
While the summit itself is exclusive to members except at a hefty price of $600 for non-members, some organizations involved are hosting separate events open to the public. American Promise will host an event for businesses at WorkAbility, 1576 Sherman Street, on Wednesday, December 4, from 4 to 6 p.m., and another event discussing organizing in support of a 28th Amendment the same day at 6:15 p.m. at Falling Rock Tap House, 1919 Blake Street. Advocates will debate the merits of approval voting, ranked choice voting, score voting and STAR voting methods at the Annual Electoral Reform Symposium from 3 to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, December 7, at the LOT, 3435 Wynkoop Street.