On Saturday, October 3rd, Phish drummer Jon Fishman took part in Democracy Comes Alive, a one-day, nonpartisan virtual music festival aimed at channelling the power of music to make a critical impact on civic engagement in this November’s elections and beyond.
Fishman, a former elected official in his Maine hometown and an outspoken advocate for voter participation, spoke passionately with host Ari Fink of SiriusXM about a number of topics pertaining to the importance of voting and the various improvements that could be made to our current voting system.
Right out of the gates, Fishman set the table for his various nuanced arguments; when Fink mentioned checking his voter registration online, Fishman responded, “It’s nice that you can go online and check your registration … but it’s pathetic that it has to be checked. I mean, I don’t know why its just not a national policy that when you go to get your driver’s license, you’re automatically registered. … It should just be the most automatic thing. I don’t know why there would be any people in this country of any party that would stand in the way of voter registration or try to in any way hinder the addition of … legitimate voters. In a participatory democracy, you would think that that would be the one nonpartisan issue that everyone would be on board with.”
“The only interests that would try to discourage people from being automatically registered have to be people or interests … whose intent, on some level, is to hinder the democratic process overall,” he continued. “They don’t want a democracy. They want something else.”
Before diving too deeply into election reform, Fishman began by looking back on his time on the Lincolnville, ME Board of Selectmen. “You get to know you town a little bit better,” he explained of holding local office. “It’s not anything I didn’t learn, in a certain way, from being in a band all these years. It’s like joining another band. The same principles apply. You have to be a team player, you don’t really get very far with a ‘my way or the highway’ attitude, you pick your battles. … I felt like being in a band for 36 years really trained me well for selectmen.”
He also explained to Fink how he discovered the fan-favorite comedy series Parks and Recreation immediately after his term ended and marveled at the show’s depiction of local government. “They really did nail municipal politics,” Fishman laughed.
Next, Fink led the discussion toward ranked-choice voting. Fishman has long been an outspoken proponent of the concept, which would allow voters to pick their candidates in their order of preference, rather than the current system of picking one candidate over the rest of the field. The idea, he argued, would directly address the omnipresent concept of choosing “the lesser of two evils” and allow more voices into the discussion while not being “spoilers.”
“I have come to feel that it is very possibly the single most important change that we could make in American politics for the betterment of our democracy and for the preservation of a truly participatory democracy, which is what this is supposed to be. It’s a completely nonpartisan thing. It doesn’t benefit the Republicans any more than it benefits the Democrats, but it does benefit a wider range of parties. It brings more parties into the fold. It benefits the voter, it helps reduce the effects of money in politics by its nature. It also, by its nature, pulls the political discourse back towards the center.”
He continued with a detailed explanation of how ranked-choice voting would eliminate “vote-splitting” and remedy the inherent shortcomings of our current system of “plurality voting,” citing instances in which both the Democrats and the Republicans were able to elect a president without the majority of the country’s support and laying out how the use of ranked-choice voting in those cases would have produced results that better represented the wishes of the electorate.
Jon Fishman surmised, “You can go in the voting booth and vote your heart, not your fear. … It’s not who we’re voting for, it’s how we’re voting for them. … I think with ranked-choice voting, you get that more accurate reflection of the society’s true feelings and true sentiment.”
Lukewarm feelings on our current choices of “the lesser of two evils” aside, Fishman made his position clear with regard to voting in the election: “You have to participate. This applies to any election cycle in any year throughout history: the lower the participation, the greater the apathy. … Less participation always benefits the powers that would want to take democracy away from you. … If you don’t vote, you’re aiding an eventuality where ‘vote’ no longer exists.”
Ending with a challenge, a proud Jon Fishman noted Maine’s progress as the first state to adopt ranked-choice and asked, “We’re the first state. Who’s gonna be the second state? That’s my question. … I guarantee you that any state that gets this, they’re not going back.”
You can watch the full Democracy Comes Alive conversation with Jon Fishman and Ari Fink below:
Democracy Comes Alive Conversations – Jon Fishman (Phish) & Ari Fink (SiriusXM)
Jon Fishman joined 50+ performers and 10+ other speakers as part of Democracy Comes Alive, presented by Live For Live Music in partnership with voter registration nonprofit HeadCount. The 10-hour streaming event, powered by Nugs.TV and Plus 1, generated $40,000 and counting in funds for HeadCount as well as the participating artists, who remain out of work as the pandemic continues. In addition to the funds generated, Democracy Comes Alive led thousands of people to HeadCount’s tools to check your voter registration status and register to vote. For more information, head here.