At a time of deep disenchantment with the political system, dramatic proposals to upend how politics are conducted are starting to resonate with voters.
So far, Democrats running for president have endorsed proposals to abolish the Electoral College, expand the number of Supreme Court justices along with overhauling the role of money in politics. Some voters want them to go even further.
At a recent event at a high school in Littleton, New Hampshire with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., one attendee praised Warren for backing proposals to scrap the Electoral College in favor of a popular vote — then asked if she would support passing laws based on citizen petitions and national referendums.
Warren laughed. “You come to New Hampshire and you hear about democracy,” she said. “I love this.”
While the idea of a national system for citizen petitions isn’t mainstream, Democratic voters aren’t rejecting ideas that would have been unthinkable a decade or two ago.
That shift in sentiment comes at a time when just a third of Americans think the country is headed in the right direction, according to a recent Gallup poll.
But even as the Democratic presidential candidates keep throwing out different ideas — term limits for Supreme Court justices, restrictions on redistricting to prevent gerrymandering — voters are trying digest the proposals.
Two attendees in the crowd for Warren’s event, Jimmy Darden and Brian Romeo, were conflicted about abolishing the Electoral College. Both live just over the state line in neighboring Vermont.
Surveys suggest Democratic voters strongly support a national popular vote but Darden worried it would penalize voters in states with small populations like Vermont and New Hampshire.
“I think, even still, that just shows that everyone’s vote is not equal,” Romeo argued. “I feel like it should be, regardless of where you live.”
For those voters concerned about making big changes to the political order, South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who recently argued that additional justices should be added to the Supreme Court, argues experimentation can be healthy.
“In a country that changed its Constitution so you couldn’t drink, and then realized that that was a bad idea and changed it back, we have the mechanisms to do this responsibly but boldly,” Buttigieg told New Hampshire voters.
One open question is whether this talk of overhauling the political system will draw voters to a candidate in both the primary and general elections?
“I think these ideas are further down the list than what seems to me to be more important issues,” argued Maynard Goldman of Grantham, NH. “You know, jobs and the economy, immigration.”
His neighbor Dave Wood agreed, but said political gridlock had prevented recent Congresses and presidents from addressing those issues.
“If we can’t deal with healthcare and climate change and the big issues because we’re so partisan,” he said, “then fixing the partisan divide is the primary objective so that we can deal with the things that really matter.”