Benjamin Ratner ’19 has lofty goals for his summer internship: he wants to help bring about structural reform to our political system. Since the end of the semester, he’s been spending most of his time in Takoma Park, Maryland, working for FairVote—a nonprofit dedicated to electoral reform. Ratner is one of eighty students awarded grants this summer from Bowdoin’s funded internship program, which provides recipients with a generous stipend to live on while they pursue internships or projects of their choice.
“I applied to work at FairVote because I see voting—and participation in our democracy more broadly—as a a profoundly empowering experience, and I want to work toward a world where every person has a hand in the decisions that govern their communities. That idea is central to FairVote’s mission,” says Ratner, who is a government major and history minor.
He was also attracted to the idea of working for a small nonprofit where he would be an important part of the team, rather than something like a congressional office, where he says he would be doing a lot of grunt work. “FairVote has done an excellent job integrating the interns into the daily projects that go into the group’s national strategy.
“FairVote’s primary focus,” Ratner explains, “is on promoting ranked-choice voting (RCV) at every level of government, but we’re also working to advance forms of proportional representation and give more people a voice in politics.” His position at the group is electoral systems and reform research intern. “As a member of the research team, I help analyze election data from across the country with a focus on the ways RCV can remedy some glaring defects of our current system,” he says. Ratner also helps the legal team with its research and writes articles for FairVote’s website. He plans to publish an independently researched report by the end of the summer.
It’s rewarding experience, he says. “Like many Americans, I have found myself growing deeply pessimistic with the state of our political institutions. It has been easy to doubt that the democracy I envision and have spent time thinking about at Bowdoin can ever materialize. For these reasons, I have found it really meaningful to be a part of a group that defends the right to vote and is committed to changing our elections for the better.”
He says he has learned a lot from FairVote’s combination of on-the-ground advocacy and big-picture research. “One of the highlights so far,” he added, “was using GIS software and statistical modeling to track support for RCV reform among communities of color in Santa Clara, California. I was able to contribute the findings to an amicus curiae brief FairVote filed in a California voting rights case, which aims to remedy vote dilution of Santa Clara’s racial minorities.”
The opportunity to work in an environment he’s passionate about and to be surrounded by like-minded people is an energizing experience, says Ratner, and one that’s given him serious ideas about life after Bowdoin. “I can see definitely see myself working in the voting rights and democracy reform world sometime in the future.”