The University of Chicago Center for Effective Government introduces the Democracy Reform Primer Series to explore the effects of proposed political reforms, aiming to inform and shape the debate on enhancing US democratic institutions.

With Americans’ faith in government at record lows and concerns about democracy mounting, the University of Chicago Center for Effective Government (CEG) is launching the Democracy Reform Primer Series, the authoritative guide to what we know about the anticipated effects of implementing specific reforms to our political institutions.

Initial primers in the series will cover critical issues debated at different levels of US politics, including: ranked-choice voting, term limits, filibuster reform, the timing of local elections, elected versus appointed judges, vote by mail, public funding of elections, election administration, primaries, and several others.

Anthony Fowler
Anthony Fowler

Professor Anthony Fowler, a political economist who studies elections and political representation from the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy (the academic home of CEG), is the Democracy Reform Primer Series’ editor. Each primer is written by a distinguished scholar who clarifies a prospective reform’s intended purpose and critically evaluates what the best available research has to say about its likely effects.

“As the democracy reform movement takes hold, it is critical that we take a hard look at what the best available evidence has to say about the likely effects of prominent reforms,” said Harris Professor William Howell, CEG director and author of several books including Presidents, Populism, and the Crisis of Democracy and a forthcoming work examining the US administrative state. “The Democracy Reform Primer Series promises to inform, discipline, and enliven vital public discussions about changes we might make to the institutions that govern our nation.”

The Primers do not endorse one reform over another—rather, they explain what the scholarship says about the promise and implications of each policy, so that readers can make sense of what enacting the policy could mean for the American democracy.

Toward that end, The Democracy Reform Primers will be featured prominently in CEG's media partnerships with Chicago Public Media and the Associated Press. Through op-eds written by leading democracy reformers in the Chicago Sun-Times that reflect on the Primers, this series brings scholarship in conversation with practitioner experience to help the public better understand the possibilities of different reforms. Additionally, the Primers will help the Associated Press shape coverage of these issues by providing targeted materials so that journalists are empowered to write about democratic reform through an evidence-based lens.

“This initiative is meant to deliver scholarship into the hands of the public and key stakeholders in the democracy field in a way that is accessible and engaging,” explained Sadia Sindhu, CEG’s executive director. “The goal of the Democracy Reform Primers is to help shape the debate about the path forward for institutional reform, so that our leading reformers and voters themselves can put their support behind evidence-based policies.”

The primers are supported by Democracy Fund, a non-partisan foundation working to strengthen and defend US democracy, and by Ray Iwanowski, MBA ’79, who has recently provided generous support for the primers and other democracy-strengthening initiatives at the University of Chicago.  

“These primers are an important and innovative effort to advance democratic reforms in pursuit of a more open and just US political system,” said Rudy Mehrbani, the senior director for the Governance Program at Democracy Fund and a member of the CEG advisory council. “Each one should inform the policy dialogue about a reform in ways that provide confidence to those officials, advocates, and voters who are grappling with whether and how to move forward.”

The primers are one of many initiatives under way at the Center for Effective Government this election year. Throughout 2024, CEG programming with its Democracy Fellows will bring experienced democracy reformers to campus to engage with students and faculty. In late March, CEG will host a discussion with one of its Fellows, Jennifer Pahlka, author of the acclaimed public policy book “Recoding America.” Additionally, in the run-up to the 2024 election, CEG will be continuing the Democracy Solutions Project—its partnership with Chicago Public Media—to help shape coverage of key policy issues. The Democracy Solutions Project will culminate in a public event just prior to the 2024 election that will feature scholars, practitioners, and journalists discussing the challenges facing our democracy and how we can work to address them.