Empower Mint is Ben & Jerry's latest flavor-- with a serious political message. On Tuesday, Ben & Jerry's launched a new flavor, and a new voting rights campaign, to raise awareness about the involvement of "big money" in the political process. The new flavor, Empower Mint, is a peppermint-forward ice cream base with generous swirls of fudge and chunks of chewy brownie. It's delicious but it also comes with a serious message. The Vermont-based brand also launched "Democracy is in Your Hands," a campaign dedicated to encouraging national voter registration and educate ice cream fans on the importance of reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act.
On April 7, Wisconsin held a statewide election for party primaries and a critical state Supreme Court seat--in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, decisions by Wisconsin's Supreme Court, the U.S. Supreme Court, and state legislators effectively blocked vote-by-mail procedures that could have assured more ballots were cast safely. A week later, the Kentucky Legislature overrode the governor's veto to further tighten voter ID requirements even while DMV offices remain closed, making it even harder for many voters to cast their ballots. These developments, which endanger voters' health in addition to their civil rights, are just a more baldfaced iteration of ongoing attacks on the fundamental institutions of democracy. Before the pandemic, Wisconsin officials had already purged more than 200,000 voters from the rolls, disproportionately affecting black and brown voters in a crucial November swing state. Brian Kemp faces a lawsuit over his infamous voter suppression campaign, which in 2018 undermined voter access especially in communities of color through a range of tactics from voter purges to faulty election machines, likely leading to Kemp's narrow victory over Stacey Abrams.
The Democrats' first order of business as they took control of the 116th Congress was introducing H.R. 1, the colossal "For the People Act." This 571-page behemoth of a bill covering voting rights, campaign finance reform, ethics improvements, and more was a perfect reminder of just how much power the Constitution gives Congress to make elections better in this country and, sadly, of how partisan the question of election reform has become. By beginning with election reform as "H.R. 1," Democrats signaled their priorities as they took over control of the House of Representatives. The bill now has 221 co-sponsors, all Democrats, including almost every Democrat in the House. It's disheartening that bipartisan movement on election reform is no longer possible and that few of the significant improvements in the bill stand a chance of becoming law until Democrats have control of the Senate and the presidency.
The Estonian capital is hosting the annual Tallinn e-Governance Conference, organized by the renowned e-Governance Academy: half research institute, half consulting company specialized in digital transformation, it is one of the flagships of Estonian global soft power, based on its capacity to show the way to a fully digital state. The Estonian success story is now well-known worldwide. This small Baltic republic, with its 1.3 million inhabitants, used the newest technology to build its administration "from scratch" once it recovered its independence following the implosion of the Soviet Union. Now, every administrative act of daily life can be done in just a few clicks, on a laptop or a smartphone, at home or away on holidays: from signing administrative paperwork to paying for the parking lot to voting at elections. Indeed, it is almost the full range of what the public sector can offer to its citizens that is available online, through a now-mandatory unique digital identity, and the single portal eesti.ee. The only 3 exceptions to that rule (getting married or divorced, selling real estate) are so due to political choices and not for technical reasons. Mostly among small countries with emerging economies and young or still underdeveloped state institutions, where the Estonian model is the easiest to replicate. But also within giants of this world, such as India with its colossal project "Aadhaar" that is in part inspired from the Baltic experience. Over the last few years, countless business and government delegations rushed to the shores of the Baltic Sea in order to understand the secrets of this success story that sounds like the best sagas from the Silicon Valley. The number of media articles and think tank grow exponentially; all have the credit to help discovering this still little-known country that indeed has a few lessons on digital transformations to teach us. However, there remains a blind spot in the way e-Estonia is covered, both in international press as well as by Estonians themselves. Did Estonia, "the only digital society which actually has a state" as President Kersti Kaljulaid enjoys to say, manage to invent a new form of democracy, or at least, find the way to upgrade liberal democracies for a digital world?