Behind in the polls, Steve Olikara is nevertheless bringing good ideas about elections to the table in the U.S. Senate race.

Steven Olikara, the founder and former CEO of the Millennial Action Project, has an impressive record of working on national issues, and the 32-year-old Milwaukeean is putting his experience to use in his ideas-based campaign for the Wisconsin U.S. Senate seat currently held by Republican Ron Johnson.

Olikara’s just one of many contenders for the Democratic nomination, but he has come up with some outstanding proposals — particularly when it comes to renewing American democracy.

Like most Democrats, Olikara recognizes that the way in which political campaigns are funded is indefensible. He’s an enthusiastic supporter of wide-ranging campaign finance reforms — including a much-needed proposal to limit the amount of money candidates can spend on their own campaigns to $250,000.

But what struck us the most in Olikara’s recently released “Agenda to Change the Business Model of Politics” is the focus he places on making structural changes for expanding democracy.

Olikara wants to institute nonpartisan open primaries and ranked-choice voting. His proposal, similar to one that has been implemented in Alaska for the 2022 midterm elections, would allow all candidates for an office to run in an initial primary. The top five primary finishers would then compete in a general election where voters could rank their choices from one to five. Votes cast for candidates who end up out of the running would then be redistributed to more viable contenders until, ultimately, a candidate passes the 50% mark. This system assures that voters do not have to pick “the lesser of two evils” and rewards contenders who attain broad support.

We share Olikara’s view that: “Our voting system nationwide is a constant reminder of how broken the Business Model of Politics really is. The primary electoral system disproportionately empowers each party’s most extreme voices while punishing those who seek common sense solutions.”

Olikara’s “final five voting” would, he argues, “give voters better options in elections and enable more bridge-building, independent-minded leaders to succeed in Congress. In electing such candidates, we will once again start sending to Congress public officials who are focused not on partisanship, but on finding solutions for the people they were elected to serve.”

In 2019, Olikara worked to bring together a bipartisan coalition that developed a final five voting bill for consideration in the Legislature. It didn’t get far because, unfortunately, the Wisconsin Legislature as it’s currently constituted is the place where good ideas go to die.

The same can be said of the U.S. Senate, especially when Senate seats are occupied by the likes of Ron Johnson. Which, of course, is why Olikara and a number of other fine Democrats are bidding to oust the lamentable incumbent. There are many measures of the contenders for the Democratic nomination — poll numbers, fundraising figures, name recognition — and by most of them Olikara is currently trailing the better-known and better-funded candidates. But candidates should also be assessed on the quality of ideas and, by this measure, Olikara is a frontrunner.

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