Simultaneously, more states change to open and inclusive party primaries so that the names appearing on November ballots are chosen by the full voting public rather than the polarized activist bases of the parties. At least 18 states currently have open presidential primaries, but that is an incomplete reform. Open primaries allow all registered voters to participate, but the ballots remain either all-Democrat or all-Republican. Open, inclusive primaries would put all candidates before all voters.
Redistricting and primary reforms would bring more moderates to the House and Senate. A moderated Congress would in turn change how it does business.
House reforms would include voting for the speaker by secret ballot, which gives majority party members cover to vote their conscience without risking retribution from their own leadership. To increase “face time” with each other and build comity, Congress should work a Monday through Friday schedule in Washington, instead of today’s Tuesday through Thursday routine – but for three weeks a month so that members still have ample time in their districts.
Two more steps are vital. Adhering to the norm of 15-minute electronic voting would help eliminate bullying of members by their leaders to vote the party line. In recent years, majority party leaders have left votes open for up to three hours to coerce reluctant members to change their positions in favor of the party’s will.
The committee system needs to be restored as well, so that legislation is drawn up through deliberation and expert input rather than behind closed doors between party leaders and vested interests.
Citizens would also need to demand that the parties embrace two important campaign-finance reforms. First, members of Congress should be prohibited from fundraising from January to June of each year. That might offset the advantages of incumbency somewhat, but it would give legislators more time to focus on the nation’s business and provide a modest buffer against constant lobbying.