Posted by: The Last Liberal Gwinnettian | October 2, 2010

Change I Can Believe In

I think it’s time for us to all admit that our political system is broken. Partisanship is worse than ever before (okay, so no one in Congress has beaten anyone else with a cane recently – the dirty fighting has at least evolved past physical violence). As a result, nothing worthwhile is actually getting done, and what little is being accomplished isn’t very useful given that it must first be filtered through the rigors of an incredibly divided Congress.

Our country was built on amazing principles, among them the idea that each individual deserves to be adequately represented in his or her government. Unfortunately, our system has devolved into the Party of No and the Party of Eh.

The problem begins with the voters. After decades of being misrepresented in Congress, the voters simply don’t care anymore. Even during presidential elections, voter turnout in the United States hovers around 50-55% of eligible voters. In Australia, where voting is mandatory, 95% of eligible voters cast a ballot. In Austria, where voting is not mandatory, 92% show up. Luxembourg, Italy, Iceland, New Zealand, Denmark, Germany, Sweden, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Romania, Costa Rica, Norway, Bulgaria, and Israel all have voter turnout rates of 80-90%, nearly twice ours. Why? Because our system has continued to fail to represent the needs, desires, and wishes of our vastly diverse constituency. To put it bluntly, we’ve outgrown the system laid out for us in 1776.

This is not to disparage our Founding Fathers, our Constitution, or our principles. I believe that our Founding Fathers made the correct decisions for their time; I believe that our Constitution was and is an amazing document representing a great change in global political trends; I believe that the principles of liberty, democracy, fairness, and equality which form the basis of our government combine to create a sound guiding philosophy. However, I also believe that the system created 224 years ago for a relatively small rural country no longer works.

In 1775, the thirteen British colonies had a population of roughly 2.5 million. We were a predominantly white, Christian, agrarian society. The vast majority of Americans were poorly educated; most were functionally illiterate. Moreover, the technologies of today, particularly mass communication technologies that have permanently transformed our society, were not only not invented, they hadn’t even been thought of yet.

Things have changed. Today, people no longer wait for news to arrive via word of mouth or an outdated newspaper, they have up to date information at the touch of a finger. We are an incredibly divers population of more than 300 million people of nearly every religion, creed, and ethnicity. Yet our system of government has failed to evolve along with our society.

In order to bring our political system up to date, there are several key changes that need to take place. Among them:

  1. Term limits for elected positions. Our Founding Fathers never dreamed of the day when being a politician would be a life-long career choice. Today, more than 90% of incumbents seek and are awarded reelection. Despite the fact that the majority of Americans routinely disapprove of Congress, they continue to reelect their representatives. As a result, history continues to repeat itself. If the same people continue to represent us, then how can true change ever occur?

    Unfortunately, in order to place term limits on Congressmen, those same Congressmen would have to vote in favor of limiting their power. Given the greed inherent in human nature, it is little wonder that term limits are still nonexistent. The only way that Congressional term limits will ever become reality is if we, the people, insist that we will no longer vote for representatives who are unwilling to limit their own scope of power in favor of the good of the people. Somehow, I think that we will be eating popsicles in hell long before that happens.

  2. Elimination of the Electoral College. The Electoral College was designed at a time when the American populace could not be trusted to make informed decisions regarding their elected officials. The vast majority of Americans were illiterate and, given the lack of technology at the time, were incredibly ill informed regarding national issues. Moreover, due to a lack of technology, the type of national vote count needed to render the Electoral College unnecessary could not occur. None of that is the case today. Americans are literate and have access to the information necessary for an informed decision. We have the technology to complete a national vote count within a day of the election. There is simply no reason to maintain the Electoral College.

    In an equal society, one man one vote would be the rule. In our society, the Electoral College means that some people’s votes carry greater weight than others. For example, California has a population of about 36,961,664 people; the state has 55 electoral votes. This means that each electoral vote represents roughly 672,000 people. By contrast, Wyoming has a population of about 544,270; the state has 3 electoral votes. This means that each electoral vote represents roughly 181,400 people. In other words, the vote of a citizen of Wyoming counts 3.7 times more than the vote of citizen of California. Are Californians somehow less important to the nation than people from Wyoming? Are their opinions less valid, their voices less important?

    In addition, the Electoral College creates a situation in which political strategy requires that a serious presidential candidate campaign more heavily in certain states. The only reason that the concept of “blue state” vs. “red state” exists is the Electoral College. Because certain states historically swing one way or another, they are often virtually ignored during any presidential campaign. For example, because Georgia is a Republican stronghold in national elections, the Democratic presidential candidate rarely, if ever, bothers to campaign here. In 2008, over 1.8 million Georgians voted for Barack Obama, despite the fact that he ignored our state in his campaign. To be fair, the 2 million Georgians who voted for McCain weren’t exactly actively wooed either. Neither party tends to spend all that much time in a state in which the outcome is basically predetermined. Instead, states such as Ohio – those states that just can’t seem to make up their minds – get all the attention. It’s a bit like being the well behaved child shunted off to the side while the adults focus their attention on the misbehaving sibling. The Electoral College has created a problem: The majority of the states are virtually ignored, rendered somehow less important.

    One man, one vote. It’s fair and reasonable.

  3. Drastic overhaul of our two party system. Why, in a country of 300 million very different people, are we only represented by two political ideologies? Is it reasonable to expect that all 300 million of us fall into merely 2 categories? Of course not.

    Other countries, such as Great Britain, have a system in which parties earn seats based on the percentage of the population that voted for them. In other words, if party A gets 30% of the vote, they get 30% of the seats. As a result, a single party rarely earns a true majority – a plurality is far more likely. This means that the various parties are forced to work together, form coalitions, and – get this – compromise! I know, it seems unbelievable that politicians might actually be able to compromise – but in other places, it really does happen and I see no reason why it couldn’t happen here.

    Opening our system up to third (and, let’s get really wild, perhaps even fourth or fifth) parties would ensure that people are more likely to be able to vote for a candidate who reflects their personal opinions and ideologies. Given that the entire point of a representative democracy is to, well, REPRESENT people, this seems like a pretty smart idea to me.

  4. Campaign finance reform. Without campaign finance reform, the playing field will never be level. We have a system in which the candidate who spends the most money typically wins. Where do the candidates get these vast sums of money? Either they are already incredibly personally wealthy, or they go out searching for donors. It shouldn’t be a prerequisite for candidacy that you either be wealthy or be willing to sell your soul to special interests.

    When candidates head out on the campaign trail, fundraisers are a fact of life. And when donors appear, they too often expect something in return for their money. This is contrary to absolutely every principle we hold dear.

    Instead, let’s try a really crazy concept: Everyone gets X amount of money, and that’s it. Let’s level the playing field, thereby not only insuring fairer elections but also widening the pool of potential political candidates. Perhaps if political candidates didn’t need to pander to special interests for funding, bright, intelligent, honest, ideological people without moneyed connections might be tempted to run for public office.

Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a country in which everyone has an equal say in the government? Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a country in which your vote might actually count for something? Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a country in which anyone could one day serve in government?

Wouldn’t it be nice to care again?

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Responses

  1. The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. Elections wouldn’t be about winning states. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps. Every vote would be counted for and directly assist the candidate for whom it was cast. Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in a handful of swing states.

    Now 2/3rds of the states and voters are ignored — 19 of the 22 smallest and medium-small states and big states like California, Georgia, New York, and Texas. The current winner-take-all laws (i.e., awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in each state) used by 48 of the 50 states, and not mentioned, much less endorsed, in the Constitution, ensure that the candidates do not reach out to all of the states and their voters. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or care about the voter concerns in the dozens of states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. Policies important to the citizens of ‘flyover’ states are not as highly prioritized as policies important to ‘battleground’ states when it comes to governing.

    The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes–that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for president. It does not abolish the Electoral College, which would need a constitutional amendment, and could be stopped by states with as little as 3% of the U.S. population. Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action, without federal constitutional amendments.

    The bill has been endorsed or voted for by 1,922 state legislators (in 50 states) who have sponsored and/or cast recorded votes in favor of the bill.

    In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). The recent Washington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University poll shows 72% support for direct nationwide election of the President. Support for a national popular vote is strong in virtually every state, partisan, and demographic group surveyed in recent polls in closely divided battleground states: Colorado– 68%, Iowa –75%, Michigan– 73%, Missouri– 70%, New Hampshire– 69%, Nevada– 72%, New Mexico– 76%, North Carolina– 74%, Ohio– 70%, Pennsylvania — 78%, Virginia — 74%, and Wisconsin — 71%; in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): Alaska — 70%, DC — 76%, Delaware –75%, Maine — 77%, Nebraska — 74%, New Hampshire –69%, Nevada — 72%, New Mexico — 76%, Rhode Island — 74%, and Vermont — 75%; in Southern and border states: Arkansas –80%, Kentucky — 80%, Mississippi –77%, Missouri — 70%, North Carolina — 74%, and Virginia — 74%; and in other states polled: California — 70%, Connecticut — 74% , Massachusetts — 73%, Minnesota — 75%, New York — 79%, Washington — 77%, and West Virginia- 81%.

    The National Popular Vote bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers, in 21 small, medium-small, medium, and large states, including one house in Arkansas (6), Connecticut (7), Delaware (3), The District of Columbia (3), Maine (4), Michigan (17), Nevada (5), New Mexico (5), New York (31), North Carolina (15), and Oregon (7), and both houses in California (55), Colorado (9), Hawaii (4), Illinois (21), New Jersey (15), Maryland (10), Massachusetts (12), Rhode Island (4), Vermont (3), and Washington (11). The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Washington. These six states possess 73 electoral votes — 27% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.

    See http://www.NationalPopularVote.com


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