Hollie Russon Gilman '04 Discusses Civics With Upper School Students 

Spence Upper School students spent a lunch period in conversation with Hollie Russon Gilman '04 about civic power and the state of our nation.

Gilman, currently a Political Reform program fellow at the think tank New America, brought a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the discussion. She has previously served in the Obama White House as the Open Government and Innovation Advisor in the Office of Science and Technology Policy and as a field organizer in New Hampshire. Gilman also recently co-authored with Sabeel Rahman a new book out by Cambridge University Press, Civic Power: Rebuilding American Democracy in an Era of Crisis

In the week following the presidential election, this meeting gave students an opportunity to discuss a range of topics, including the efficacy of the electoral college and the reasons behind political differences between urban and suburban/rural areas. 

Sophia K. ’23 asked why most major cities tend to lean Democrat, while suburban and rural parts of the country tend to lean Republican.

Gilman explained that this geographic divide in voting patterns has evolved over time. “People used to be more mixed in terms of how they voted across urban and suburban or rural areas...but now people are spending more time with people like themselves, in sort of like-minded bubbles.”

The result of this, Gilman further noted, is “a ‘great sorting’ happening across the United States along geographic, economic, educational and racial lines.” 

Ana Lucia M. ’22 wanted to know whether the electoral college will continue to be at the forefront of U.S. politics for the foreseeable future, and if not, what Gilman thought the alternatives may be.

Gilman reflected that her thinking on the subject has changed a great deal since she first learned about the electoral college in her eighth grade history class at Spence. “I remember thinking about the trade-offs of these systems…and from an institutional design perspective, I thought this balance made sense.”

Gilman emphasized that, “Increasingly, it looks like the electoral college is not functioning the way that the framers had in mind. ‘Is the electoral college representative of the electorate?’ is the big question.”

Gilman cited several potential alternatives, including ranked-choice voting, which allows voters to rank candidates instead of selecting a single one.

“Voters can mark their first choice candidate, their second choice candidate and their third choice candidate and so on, and if one candidate has an outright majority, that first-place candidate wins, but if no candidate has a majority in the first round, the second-choice preferences come into play, and the candidate with the fewest number of first-choice votes is eliminated,” Gilman explained. “Voters who ranked that candidate first transfer their votes to the second choice, and this keeps going until a single candidate gathers a majority.” “When you think about how you engage traditionally marginalized communities, leaders of color and women,” Gilman said, “this is a way to do that.”

Gilman is in favor of this voting reform measure because “it allows many more voices” to be heard.