Fixes Previously Addressed
Several of the challenges and fixes in this volume overlap, and several fixes have already been discussed, so we will not belabor those details again. These include
- Manner of choosing the president
- Ranked Choice Voting,
- Three rounds of presidential primaries,
- A vice presidential primary and general election separate from the election for president,
- A Chamber of Deputies in place of the US Senate
- Multi-seat Congressional Districts
- A fully-automated solution to gerrymandering for state legislatures as well as Congress
Some items remain to be discussed in this chapter, including
- A compressed election season schedule
- Voting rights, voting registration, and election procedures
- Campaign finance reform
- Candidates and elected officials: Financial disclosures, transparency, and nepotism
Compressed Election Season Schedule
We observed earlier that the presidential election season is too long. The same can be said for the hundreds of House and Senate campaigns.
So let’s do something about this. Let’s force politicians to restrict their campaigning to a limited and designated time period before each election, which might accomplish two things: 1) We will not need to endure incessant TV ads (with the same repetitive sound bites and talking points ad nauseam) and campaign signs and literature and robo-calls and solicitations for money 24/7 as we are today, leaving us perchance the opportunity to become excited about politics and a particular campaign when the designated time for campaigning rolls around; and 2) Maybe, just maybe, if politicians do not need to spend all of their time raising money and campaigning, perhaps they will find time to actually tend to the people’s business, and if they did that, then maybe, just maybe, their collective job approval rating would move somewhere north of abysmal.
But how, I hear you ask, can we make this happen?
First, consider how our British cousins do it. They do not tolerate incessant political campaigns. In 2015, the election season began with the dissolution of Parliament on March 30, and elections took place six weeks later, on May 7. All of the campaigning was crammed into those six weeks. Every day, a spokesperson for each major party held a press conference to discuss their party’s platform, while all the Members of Parliament and candidates were out on the hustings, and every party and political organization ran a zillion ads. Meanwhile, no one was failing to do their day job, because Parliament had been dissolved and was not in session. When the election was over, the leader of the winning party asked Her Majesty for leave to form a new Government. The Queen accepted the new Prime Minister, who moved into #10 Downing Street the same day, and the new Parliament convened before the end of May. I probably got a few of the details wrong here, but you pretty much get the picture. The campaign was brief but intense, and when it was over, it was over.
So how can we accomplish a similar result, but based on our American political system?
Here is a simple consolidated proposal for conducting all national elections. If the recommendation to conduct every in-person election over a nine-day period is accepted, then the date given for each election in this list is the final day of voting at the end of that nine-day period:
- July 4 of the federal election year (all years divisible by 2 for Congress, and years divisible by 4 for president and vice president): Congress adjourns sine die; candidate campaign fundraising may begin; candidate campaigning for all federal offices begins
- Last Sunday in August: Round 1 presidential primaries
- Last Sunday in September: Round 2 presidential primaries
- Last Sunday in October: National Primary, consisting of Round 3 presidential primaries, vice presidential primary, and all Congressional primaries
- Second Sunday in December: General Election
Implementing this abbreviated election season requires some national legislation, but even more importantly, it requires a cultural shift. People must recognize the value in overhauling our current perpetual campaigning practices, and citizens will have to demand a shortened campaign season.
Some currently elected officials will oppose this change, because change is always fraught with uncertainty. The current officials know how the current system works, and even if they do not like perpetual campaigning and fundraising, they have mastered the art and they know that it keeps them in office. However, one can hope that enough of them will see the advantage to the public in adopting these changes and perhaps also political advantage to themselves in becoming reform advocates.
Because of the free speech clause of the First Amendment, we cannot stop politicians from campaigning outside the “official” campaign season, which will begin on Independence Day. However, news media can refuse to cover campaign events and can also point out that those conducting such events are violating the spirit of the rule that the public insisted on. Finally, the voters can punish such violators at the polls. The shortened campaign season may take some time to really sink in, but voters are bound to prefer it over the existing interminable cacophony.
We really should consider giving an abbreviated and fixed election timetable a chance. If nothing else, it would at least help all of us become less apathetic and more involved the first couple times we did it.
Let Everyone Vote!
From South Africa to Nigeria to Egypt, universal suffrage swept across the African continent in the latter half of the 20th century and became a hallmark of the post-Colonial landscape. Americans watched their televisions with fascination as urbanites and villagers alike waited in long lines to be able to vote for the first time.
Yet in our own country, many citizens still struggle to secure their right to vote. Many citizens, discouraged at their perceived lack of political power, fail to try to vote at all.
The preface to this work laid out what needs to be our underlying principle: Democracy works best if all participate. If we wish to build and maintain a vibrant democracy, we must work diligently to make universal suffrage in America a reality rather than merely an idealistic but unachievable dream, or, what’s worse, a principle to which we give lip service but do not really wish to achieve.
Some of the improvements that voting rights proponents need to champion include:
- Automatic registration of all citizens upon their 18th birthday. What plausible argument can be offered in opposition to this idea? Potential voter fraud is not credible: few 18-year-olds are credible fraudsters.
- Automatic voter registration when a citizen interacts with government for any reason: filing taxes, filing for Medicaid or welfare, recording a real estate transaction, enrolling at a public school or college, as well as showing up to vote. Again, why not?
- Weekend voting: polls open on Saturday and Sunday rather than a weekday. The argument for voting only on the first Tuesday in November was based on an agricultural society, in which farmers needed to buy and sell at the farmers’ markets on Saturday, attend church on Sunday, then perhaps travel by horse and buggy on Monday to reach the polling place (usually the county seat) on Tuesday, and return home later Tuesday to again participate in the markets on Wednesday. That argument no longer obtains. Today, most Americans work Monday through Friday, so the time to vote ought to be on Saturday and Sunday, when relatively fewer citizens must be at work. In fact, the preferred option is to combine early voting and weekend voting, so that in-person voting in all elections occurs over a nine-day period, including two weekends, and ending on a Sunday.
- Convenient polling places and extended hours of operation. Again, why not?
- Absentee ballots available to all voters without giving a reason. Vote counters must accept and count all absentee ballots received before the end of in-person voting. Again, we should make voter participation as convenient as possible.
Various organizations are involved in efforts to bring about these reforms, including the League of Women Voters (http://lwv.org/issues/protecting-voters), Common Cause (http://www.commoncause.org/issues/voting-and-elections/), and Fair Vote (http://www.fairvote.org/).
One recommendation deserves special consideration, namely, universal automatic voter registration along with a national, permanent Voter-ID, issued through a National Voter Registration Authority. Americans have long resisted any form of national identification card, and this idea smacks of a national ID card. You might recall the vigorous debate concerning the growing use of the Social Security Number as an ID number by various entities, both public and private. That debate ended with federal legislation forbidding the use of SSNs for anything other than paying taxes and tax-related transactions. States, for example, could no longer use the SSN on drivers licenses. Congress was responding to the public’s perception that the ever-expanding use of a person’s SSN reflected Big Government intruding on our personal privacy.
Fast forward 20 years, and the problem today is that the public does not yet recognize that personal privacy in any sphere is largely a thing of the past. When a terrorist bomb explodes in an urban area, police have video surveillance of nearly every person and nearly every square foot of the impacted area for the hours before the attack, and law enforcement has this information very quickly after the attack occurs. When you pass through a toll booth on the highway, a camera captures your license plate and a snapshot of the driver. Google knows of your travels through the GPS in your vehicle, Apple knows where you’ve been and who you’ve been talking to through your use of your iPhone, Bank of America knows your every use of an ATM, Amazon knows what you like to buy and when and to whom you ship it, and every retailer who accepts a credit/debit card knows what you purchased and when you were in the store, Websites track your visits, and your Internet Service Provider knows all the places you go on the Web. This is only the beginning of the list of large data collection agents who have built and continue to amass an amazingly extensive record of your life. Furthermore, these data can be subpoenaed by a court, and the private entities who have collected the data can be required to reveal it. All this is occurring even before we consider what the Federal Government is collecting directly or inadvertently, from NSA or FBI captures of telephone or Internet traffic to background checks for getting a government job or obtaining a security clearance or qualifying for a government-insured loan. It really is high time that the public realize that having a national Voter ID does not compromise your privacy – you’ve lost that a long time ago through disparate aspects of modern life. Please believe me about this – I have been involved in the cybersecurity world for many years, and I can testify that this list is only the beginning of the information about you that is readily available to the government in cyberspace. The very last thing you need to worry about with respect to your privacy is the potential loss of that privacy through a national voter database.
So what are the Pros and Cons of having a national Voter-ID? First, we should mention that Congress could and should restrict its use only for voting. Just like the SSN, we should not start using your Voter ID as your universal identification every time you want to borrow a book from the library. So, the Pros are as follows:1) every single American citizen will be automatically registered to vote upon reaching age 18 or upon interacting with government at any level at any time or when proactively registering to vote; 2) duplicate registrations for the same person in multiple jurisdictions will be eliminated, because as soon as your eligibility in a new location is recorded, your eligibility in the former location will be automatically cancelled; 3) the same system which automatically registers new voters will also purge voters who have died; 4) as a result, voter fraud, already a minuscule problem as every serious study of this subject has demonstrated, will practically cease to exist; and 5) states can save all the money currently spent on voter fraud investigations and on maintaining and purging voter rolls.
Campaign Finance Reform
Congress outlawed campaign contributions from corporations and passed restrictions on unlimited contributions to political parties, political campaigns, and individual candidates, as well as rules requiring public disclosure of people and organizations making such contributions. The core legislation is called the McCain-Feingold law, after its principal sponsors, Senators Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) and John McCain (R-Arizona). In the Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission case, the Supreme Court threw out most of the significant provisions of the McCain-Feingold law, especially the provisions dealing with corporate contributions and with disclosure.
While Americans hold their First Amendment rights very dear, we need also to protect our democracy from domination by Big Money. For this reason, Citizens United needs to be overturned — either by legislation that passes constitutional muster or by new justices on the Supreme Court or by a constitutional amendment. Public financing of all federal election campaigns could also do the trick and, whatever the cost, would be a small price to pay for a Congress that could not be bought and sold.
So, in sum, campaign finance reform has these components:
- Limits on who can contribute to political campaigns,
- Limits on when campaign contributions can be made,
- Limits on the amounts that can be contributed to one campaign, to one party, or in one election cycle,
- Limits on candidates soliciting campaign contributions,
- Disclosure of all campaign contributions, and
- Public financing of political campaigns.
Several grassroots organizations are working on this problem, including Wolf-PAC (http://www.wolf-pac.com/), EveryVoice.org (http://everyvoice.org/), End Citizens United (http://endcitizensunited.org/), Common Cause (http://www.commoncause.org/issues/money-in-politics/), League of Women Voters (http://lwv.org/issues/reforming-money-politics), MoveToAmend.org (https://movetoamend.org/), and MAYDAY.US (https://mayday.us/). Follow the links to these organizations and their campaigns to find out more, join, volunteer, and contribute.
Advocates for campaign finance reform have already written a ton about the need to reduce the influence of money on politics and on political campaigns, and I have nothing new to contribute to this debate. I’ll only say that I believe strongly in this cause, and I am both a member of and a contributor to each of these grassroots organizations.
Candidates and Elected Officials: Financial Disclosures, Transparency, and Nepotism
As a condition for appearing on a general election ballot, all candidates for federal office from president on down should be required to release their personal tax forms and disclose their personal assets. Elected officials should be required to continue to do this annually. We should also forbid elected officials to nominate or appoint members of their immediate family to any post in the Government.