Mar 252016
This entry is part 5 of 7 in the series 2016 Elections

I was recently involved in an exchange with someone in a discussion thread about elections, candidates, and what a sad state we’ve reached in this country. We seem no longer interested in extending the right to free and fair elections, but have allowed Republican controlled legislatures and Congress to withdraw that freedom. And that doesn’t even take into account the Republican Clown Car of candidates they’ve posited for President.

One of the commenters concerns was that the founding fathers likely never envisioned a class of professional full-time politicians. I have to agree with him on that one. Some people argue that if the founders had meant to limit terms, they would have written it in, but then you look at Washington, and all the early Presidents who voluntarily limited their terms. I suspect they just assumed everyone would be as wise (boy were they mistaken). I used to be opposed to term limits for Congress and legislatures, but I’ve changed my mind on that one, and believe it is required for democracy to have a chance. That is sort of outside the scope of “elections,” but I wanted to include that.

money-ballot-box_bAs regards changes to our election process, I think several things have to happen. First, I can’t understand how a person can go into Congress not as a millionaire, and leave a millionaire just a few years later, on a $160k a year salary. I make a six figure income, have for a few years now, and even including the value of my house, I’m nowhere near being a millionaire. So the first thing is, Citizens United has to be reversed by whatever means we can, and a lot more money has to come out of politics.

Of late, the Republican party is doing all it can to restrict voting and depress voter participation. The new rules include onerous voter ID laws, restricted early voting, and making voter registration more cumbersome. Then, there’s just the out right and blatant suppression. Take Maricopa County, Arizona . In the recent primary, they reduced the number of polling places from 200 to 60, resulting in long lines and 5 hour waits. This is just absurd. In Alabama, the enacted a voter ID law, and then closed all the DMV offices in ares of the state with high African-American populations.

The list of these goes on and on, and at some point, absent action by the people of these states, the Justice Department needs to step in. It was never the intent of the founding fathers to suppress voter participation.

The commenter lives in Hawaii which allows a person to opt in to “life-time” absentee balloting. ” Here in Florida, you can at least opt-in for that for all elections each four years. We need to take more steps like this. I’ll discuss more actions as we go along.

Voter registrations should be easier if not automatic, and voter ID laws need to just plain go. It was a solution in search of a problem.

There is no doubt there have to be changes to campaign financing. It is now out of control with people spending millions of dollars for seats in state legislature races. Again, this was never envisioned by the founders. There need to be very strict campaign finance laws, and public financing. The concept of the dark money now controlling politics thanks to the Citizen’s United case is the next big issue, and thanks to Scalia and his cronies, this will require a Constitutional Amendment to change. First off, corporations are not people, and that has never been part of any legal construct. Yes, corporations are legal “entities,” but that doesn’t confer person-hood. As someone famously quipped, “I’ll believe corporations are people when Texas puts one to death.”

I do not believe that money is speech, but it can buy you a megaphone, and I understand that. Again, absent constitutional changes, I’m not sure how we address that, but a good start is requiring the full disclosure and reporting of the donors…at a first level basis. What I mean by that is, today, donors get shielded by donating to one PAC, which then donates to another, which donates to yet another, etc. essentially laundering the money so the original donors can’t be easily identified. This has to stop. We’ve seen that people rethink their donations when they know they might become public knowledge, which the reason for this money laundering scheme they’ve developed. Going back to the founders, they certainly believed in, and clearly meant to assure a right of the people to go into the public square and speak freely, especially when engaging in political speech. But that was literally taking your soap box into the town square, getting up on it, and making your speech. In other words, they never thought it would be about anonymous speech.

We need significant changes to the election process itself. In many countries, campaigns and ads end some days before the election day, and we should do the same. Casting a ballot is a sacred obligation in a democratic republic, and the process should be treated with dignity, not smarmy campaign ads. In addition, election day should be a national holiday, and it should not be optional. Only essential services should be allowed to be open from the opening to the closing of the polls.

We have to return to paper ballots. The news channels want to call the elections before it gets too late on the east coast, and each wants to beat the other, so we have gone to electronic voting machines. This last election in Kentucky is a prime example of the fuckery that is going on with electronic voting machines. There was an extremely high vote in favor of the Republican gubernatorial candidate, with a very suspicious high rate of non-votes for down ticket races. We’ve caught these before, and little has been done. Carl Rove famously commented that to control the outcome of election is not that difficult. He explained it doesn’t require a huge conspiracy, only throwing the election in a few contested places. This is due to the Electoral College system.

It is fine to use optical mark scanning machines to do a preliminary count if we can’t live without that, but that kind of balloting leaves a physical artifact which can be hand-counted. Again, if the ballot is the holy grail of democracy (and I believe it is), then it deserves the respect of leaving behind the artifacts, and of being carefully counted. I believe news organizations should be prohibited from making projections once the polls are open, and I believe results should not be announced until 24-48 hours after the polls close. Let’s take the time to count the ballots…all of them.

That brings us to the next issue, the Electoral College system. I generally defer to the wisdom of the founders, and I do understand their reasoning for this process in the early days of the Republic, but it has today outlived its usefulness. It results in “paths to the presidency” strategies that don’t always lend themselves to getting the most votes nation-wide. It results in more populous states having an undue influence on candidates with the effect of the individual votes cast in less populous states not having their full impact. Candidates for President should have to appeal to the broadest number of voters…not just the voters in the biggest states.

So there it is, my “modest” list of things we must do to preserve the republic we were given. It will be hard work, as many of these will require constitutional changes, but absent these changes, I don’t see how the Republic survives. In summary:

  • Congressional and legislative term limits;
  • Strict limits on campaign financing;
  • A quiet time before election day;
  • Full disclosure of PAC donors, and eliminating corporate money in politics;
  • Automatic or easier voter registration;
  • Elimination of recent voter suppression laws, extending early voting, expanding absentee balloting, curtailing obvious voter suppression activities and holding elections officials personally accountable;
  • Election Day made a non-optional national holiday;
  • A return to paper ballots, and a quiet time following election day for counting;
  • Elimination of the Electoral College.
That should about do it, what would you add or take away from the list?
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