Getting the Cure Right for a Sick Democracy
Here's what I think we need:
- No private election spending.
- Free media air time on our air waves for candidates qualified by signature gathering.
- Public financing, ballot access, and debate access for candidates qualified by signature gathering.
- No gerrymandering.
- Hand-counted paper ballots publicly counted in every polling place.
- Election day holiday.
- Limited campaign season.
- Automatic voter registration.
- Full representation for Washington, D.C., and all of the U.S. colonies in the Caribbean and Pacific.
- Voting rights regardless of criminal conviction.
- National popular vote with no electoral college.
- Mandatory voting with an option for "none of the above."
- Abolition of the Senate.
- A larger House of Representatives.
- Direct public vote on important matters (national initiative).
- Ban on war profiteering.
- Ban on secret budgets and agencies.
- Ban on executive power use by vice presidents.
Here's how we could get it: Declare the current system so broken that you will invest not a minute and not a dime in trying to elect anyone president of the United States. Instead, put all that effort and money into a policy-driven nonviolent activist campaign for these reforms and other urgent policy changes (peace, the environment, etc.) at the local, state, and federal levels.
A "Democracy Slam" planned for April 22 at American University is a step in the right direction, mostly. Let's take a look at their proposals:
"Reform #1: Fix current primary election system with ranked choice voting: Rob Richie of FairVote on his paper with Stanford’s Larry Diamond why traditional primary rules and California Top Two model should be fixed with ranked choice voting and forms of Louisiana Top Two model. Rebuttal: Peter Rosenstein"
This is 100% well-intended but conflicts with hand-counted paper ballots publicly counted in every polling place, except in cases -- such as small local elections or caucuses -- in which there is only one polling place. In those cases, this reform should absolutely be used. In other cases, I think backers of this reform will find that the collection of reforms listed above accomplish most or all of the intended results.
"Reform #2: Shareholders, not CEOs, decide on corporate political spending: Lisa Gilbert of Public Citizen on reforms for SEC rules to ensure shareholders have a right to know and engage with how their CEO’s are spending money they invest in politics. Jamie Raskin on his “Shareholders United” proposal."
This is a good partway step toward no private election spending. Here's a place to support it in your state right now.
"Reform #3: Guarantee access for a third candidate to presidential debates: Alexandra Shapiro of Change the Rule on guaranteeing third candidate in presidential debates based on ballot access and signature collection. Rebuttal: David Lublin"
Of course, on its own this is not going to fix much. The third candidate will make the debate better or worse but not seriously contend for the election under the current system. What's needed are debates open to more than three candidates, under a system in which the financial advantage of the current big two parties is eliminated. Such a reformed debate system could include a final debate between a small number, perhaps even two -- which makes a certain sense under the winner-take-all system -- but the finalists would have to be determined by fair public voting or polling. (Whether to keep the current system or switch to a parliamentary one is optional, of course. There would be big advantages to de-emphasizing the executive. I don't list that change above because I don't think it's strictly needed to rid the U.S. system of its corruption.)
"Reform #4: Factor women candidates in Voting Rights Act case remedies: Dania Korkor of FairVote on why representation of women candidates of color deserves consideration in decisions about Section 2 voting rights remedies."
Also non-millionaire candidates.
"Reform #5: Reduce impact of money on elections with voting rule reforms: Mark Schmitt of the New American Foundation on his paper with FairVote’s Rob Richie on why reform of voting rules and ballots should be pursued to reduce the demand for money in elections. Rebuttal by Lisa Gilbert, Public Citizen."
This may be #1 again.
"Reform #6: Free courts from redistricting thicket w/fair representation voting: Drew Spencer of FairVote on "Escaping the Redistricting Political Thicket" paper, written with Cam Ferrante, on the legal argument for fair representation voting to free courts from choosing among competing redistricting criteria. Rebuttal: Trent England, OCPA."
This sounds like an effort to advance the cause of no gerrymandering.
"Reform #7: Require all citizens to cast a ballot: William Galston of the Brookings Institution makes the case for compulsory voting and the impact of high voter turnout elections. Rebuttal: Sarah John, FairVote."
This isn't necessary, but I think the pros outweigh the cons if there's an option for "None of the Above."
"Reform #8: Best state reform of Electoral College is National Popular Vote: John Koz of National Popular Vote and state senator Jamie Raskin debate Trent England of Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs and Sean Parnell of Impact Policy Management, with audience vote on merits of National Popular Vote and final words from participants."
Yes, good idea.
Reform #9: Right to Vote Amendment: Congressman Mark Pocan (WI-2) Rebuttal: Reading of paper excerpt from Heather Gerken, Yale Law School. Rebuttal response: Shuya Ohno, Advancement Project."
Yes and it should be a right that is not stripped away for any reason.
"Reform #10: Government By the People Act Small - Donor Empowerment and Public - Match Financing: Congressman John Sarbanes (MD-3) Rebuttal: Sean Parnell, Impact Policy Management."
This is an attempt to work around the bribery system without simply banning private spending. I wonder if it could have an impact, that is if it could keep up with the soaring pricetags of elections.
"Reform #11: Independent redistricting – Lessons from Arizona and Iowa: Aaron Scherb, Common Cause."
Good: no gerrymandering.
"Reform #12: Fair representation voting – Lessons from cumulative voting in Illinois: Rob Richie, FairVote."
Presumably Richie will argue against cumulative voting, so it's not really a reform proposal.
"Reform #13: Forms of Top Two primary – Lessons from California and Washington: Harry Kresky, Open Primaries."
This seems not to reform anything either.
"Reform #14: Ranked choice voting – Lessons from civility study of local elections: Grace Ramsey, FairVote."
This is a return of #1, again.
"Reform #15: Collaborative legislative policymaking – Lessons from 2014 study: Andrew Douglas, FairVote."
This might be a step in the general direction of national initiative, of greater citizen participation.
"Reform #16: Greater gender parity – Lessons from legislatures with more women: Cynthia Terrell, Representation 2020."
This sounds like a question of whom to vote for (or what to aim for with reforms) more than how to design an election system.
"Reform #17: Fixing primaries by boosting turnout in a national primary: John Fortier, Bipartisan Policy Center."
A lot of these reforms could do some good, but in many cases would not be needed in combination with others. And some important reforms are missing. The package of reforms listed at the top of this article would give us free, fair, open, verifiable elections.
The tricky part is that we won't have the resources to work for these reforms unless people do something that I'll repeat here because it is nearly incomprehensible to many: Boycott the presidential election of 2015-16. Leave it alone. Don't fund it or promote it. Fund and work on real activism instead.