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electoral reform 
30th-Jun-2004 02:00 pm
I had a really interesting conversation with navyboy last night. We started talking about Fahrenheit 9/11, but ended up talking a lot about why our elections suck so much and what to do about it. We both agreed that two things would make a huge difference.

1) Public Campaign Financing

Any person who could collect a threshold number of signatures would qualify as an official candidate and would get an equal share of public money to spend on a campaign. Candidates should only be allowed to spend public money, not their own, and not money from contributors. No one would ever have to raise money again, which would seriously reduce the power of moneyed special interests. This would also prevent people with personal fortunes from effectively buying an elected office.

2) Abolish the Electoral College

I think the Electoral College is a huge problem and responsible for a great deal of voter apathy. Why bother voting if you know your state is going to go one way or the other? Presidents should be elected by a direct popular vote. I'd love to see it done with instant runoff voting or a similar voting system that broke the two-party chokehold on American politics. For those who think that the Electoral College is some sacred cow that can never be changed, keep in mind that originally the President wasn't even elected by the populace - state legislatures chose the electors. We've changed the system before, and we should do so again.

Unfortunately, there are strong, entrenched interests who would oppose both of these reforms. The current power structure likes the current campaign finance system - after all, that's the system that put it in power. And small states don't want to give up their disproportionate power. So what do we do? Keep talking about it, I guess.
30th-Jun-2004 02:26 pm (UTC)
I agree with the public campaign financing. This could also help break the hold on the current two-parties as well. I think that funds for this should come from a new business tax based on company type and an average of campaign contributions in the past.

I disagree with the elimination of the electoral college. One of the reasons this is in place is to remind us that the President is not supposed to be the peoples voice in the federal government, that is the role of the Legislature. I do think we need state-by-state reform so that states aren't all or nothing in giving their electoral votes.

Just my two cents.
30th-Jun-2004 03:23 pm (UTC)
I wholeheartedly agree with the abolition of all-or-nothing. That is where a lot of the weirdness about the current system arises (i.e. swing states and uncompetitive states, etc.)

However, the electoral college has undemocratic effects of its own: namely that people in states with small population have more of a say than people in states with a large population. Each Wyoming resident (assuming they all voted) gets a 11/billion say, while I only get a 3/billion say (the lowest in the country, I might add!)

I don't see how this makes it not the peoples' voice-- since all electors are allocated in a manner somehow determined by the popular vote-- just not a fair peoples' voice.

Maybe I'm just grumpy that California is getting robbed. :)
30th-Jun-2004 03:43 pm (UTC)
The slant towards smaller states was a pivotal reason for the College. In this way it is supposed to make each State more equal.

If it were done only by population the populous states could easily overrun the concerns of the small states.

This is why each state gets 2 Senators - and is thus reflected in the Electoral College.

To some people the State government and powers are more important than the federal ones.
30th-Jun-2004 04:13 pm (UTC)
Right, the system does equalize the power of the states, as in the arbitrary political borders drawn on the ground and the political hierarchies therein. What is the particular value in making these equal? It is people that pay taxes, people that fight wars, and people who are affected by federal policies. Not arbitrary chunks of land. Or the number governors and legislatures.

Yes, the Senate does serve a useful purpose, in that it cuts up the country in a different way than the House, requiring any legislation to pass a majority (typically) of both systems of subdivision. This is a way of requiring more consensus than just a raw majority. The rights of the minority are strengthened even further by the rules of debate in the Senate.

Doing the same thing for the Presidency is redundant for most legislation because this check is already exists in Congress; however, the President has additional powers that can not be immediately checked by Congress (such as ordering someone to a foreign land to die for their country).

One life, one vote... not subject to where I live.
30th-Jun-2004 08:11 pm (UTC)
One life, one vote is in effect for the part of the government that is your voice in the political arena - Congress.

The Presidency was never intended to represent you or be your voice, unfortunately FDR was successful in changing the political focus so that people assume that it is.

It was intended, and in many ways still standing, that the States hold most of the power even though Congress has usurped much of this power in tying things to interstate commerce.

Remember, we are the UNITED STATES of America. The State political entities should not be so easily disregarded.

BTW..this is fun :)
1st-Jul-2004 12:45 am (UTC)
Except Congress does not have almost any voice in the "one life" part, at least not directly and not immediately.

What do you mean that the President does not represent me? I am not sure that I agree with that. The position is insulated from the whim of the majority, yes, but he is still selected from and accountable to the people. Who do you claim that he represents? Oil companies and business interests? *eats shoe* :)

Usurped? That happened in like... 1819. There are just so many problems that can not be addressed on a state-by-state basis. The states definitely do have their place, but the federal government is definitely not going anywhere. If how financial resources are a measure of power, take a look at your pay stub and see the ratio between the two.

Yes, much good fun! :) What do you consider yourself politically?
1st-Jul-2004 08:04 am (UTC)
Just because someone is selected from and accountable to a group doesn't mean they represent they represent that group. The framers of the constitution (though many of the things they intended have now gone to the wayside) expected the Presidency to be somewhat separate and further removed from the people. They also didn't plan for it to have quite so much power, since we had just gotten out from under the thumb of a King.

Congress has (IMO) been very lax in letting the President take so much focus and at times power away from them. The Presidency was to balance the congress with help from the Supreme Court, not to be the most powerful office.

States too have given up much power, but still retain a good portion of it. I would put the start date of the big slide of losing authority around the Civil War and the acceleration of it at WWI. Ironically one of the topics I hate, the legalization of same-sex marriage, is one of the best current cases of states trying to assert their power.

I so need to go back to the Federalist Papers...sheeesh.

As for politically, I am dead-set against the "two-party" system we've developed so refuse to claim that I am either Dem or Repub and really have no interest in being claimed by the smaller ones...unless I find one I really like.

I'm considered liberal on most topics but tend to suprise people when I support things like the death penalty. I believe business should be heavily regulated and that personal lives should not. I don't care how large government is as long as they do it correctly.

30th-Jun-2004 03:30 pm (UTC)
0) Stop Gerrymandering

Let independent groups draw up the political maps without regard to the addresses of incumbents or voting data. Less than 10% of the seats in Congress are competitive when the country is split almost 50-50. Why? Because the legislatures draw the Congressional boundaries to favor incumbents and/or maximize the seats for one party. No wonder there are such freakezoids in Congress when their victory is so preordained that they can do whatever they want without fear of being voted out. How about the radical idea of keeping towns and counties in the same districts? Ooooh. In 2000, Iowa-- where a court drew the borders of the five measely House seats-- accounted for over 10% of the closely contested races in the country.
30th-Jun-2004 04:17 pm (UTC)
Oh yeah, good point. Gerrymandering is an abysmal practice and I agree with you completely.

I'm actually a lot more radical about this concept than anyone else I know. I think we should do away with geographically-based representation, or at least offer other options. I don't understand why I have to get lumped into a voting block with people just because I live near them. When I lived in Santa Cruz, my state assemblyman was the ultra-conservative Bruce Macpherson. I hated him and he stood against my views on every subject, but hey, he was my representative. I wrote to him on several issues, never got a single response.

I like to think about open-market representation by proxy. I'm trying to work out a good model for it. Like anyone can run as a proxy in an open representation marketplace. There can be one for state legislature, for instance. Candidates would describe their stand on issues - maybe it's standard party platform, maybe it's more personalized - but it gives voters a very good idea how they would vote on a given issue. The voters then choos proxies to represent them. Representatives wouldn't all have equal weighted votes in the legislature - they'd get to vote for each of their constituents. So if 8459 vote for Mark Leno, he'd get 8459 votes in the assembly, vs 3972 votes by someone else.

The cool thing is that you could choose how you wanted to be represented. I could proxy my vote to someone who was a regional representative, or someone who was specifically oriented around social issues. In practice it may make sense to give people two votes that they must proxy to different representatives, so voters could get both geographic and issue-oriented representation. Things might work out that you'd get a dozen different reps from San Francisco, each with a different bias on the issues. I think that would be wonderful, in that people would be better represented. You'd have to put some limits on the system, like establish a minimum threshold for number of votes a rep needs, or a maximum number of reps and choose them by some sort of instant runoff or preference voting system.

I imagine that in the marketplace there would be big brand representatives who people will vote for beause they are powerful and successful at moving their issues forward, and there will also be smaller reps that carry fewer votes, but can work together to get things done.

Hmmm, I should go back to school and work out some computer models and work with political policy majors to figure this all out. Or I could just wedge it into a novel. Someday I'll be the new Ursula K LeGuin!
1st-Jul-2004 12:10 am (UTC)
Is there any upper limit on the size of your proposed legislature?

Sounds like direct democracy where you authorize someone (or some people) to vote for you. Not that this is a bad thing...
3rd-Aug-2004 02:24 pm (UTC)
For practical reasons I'd say you'd want reps to have a minimum number of voters they were representing, which implies a max number of reps. And I don't consider it direct democracy. It's still representative democracy, it's just you aren't bound to geography in choosing your rep.
1st-Jul-2004 12:11 am (UTC)
Oh, how about this: you still get one vote, but you can split it up in whatever way you please.
1st-Jul-2004 08:08 am (UTC)
This is interesting and I'm still trying to work through it. My initial fear is that this would continue to work to disenfranchise minority views - not that we do such a good job on that now, but hey...that's what courts are for - but I'm not sure.

Verrrry interesting.
3rd-Aug-2004 02:19 pm (UTC)
It's respond to old comment day. Thanks LJ for the month-late emails!

The only benefit to gerrymandering is that you can give minorities representation. Maybe a metropolitan area has 3 districts, and the latino population is concentrated in an area that is split among the 3 logical geographic divisions. By fiddling the district boundaries you can give the 30% of the population that is latino the representation they deserve. This is the sort of situation that my thoughts about non-geographic proxy-based representation were intended to address.
1st-Jul-2004 10:00 am (UTC)
I love when you talk politics! turns me on! LOL!

JK... this is really interesting! Keep talking...
2nd-Jul-2004 12:56 am (UTC)
I'm with you on #1, not so much on #2. I like the idea of the EC's emphasis that the Presidency is not a popular vote election, but that each state casts votes for their candidate. Having a federal, popular election for President feels a step away from state government to nationalism.

Considering the backwards ass views of the majority of the voters of some of those states that are really only in the way of my travels from here to NY, I quite like the idea of maintaining state's rights. Popular vote elections for President feels like a step away from that.

Of course, it would probably be helpful if the role of President were returned to what it's supposed to be. He was never meant to be King. He's been given far too much power—that's supposed to rest with Congress.

(I think I'm just going to join the "just leave me the hell alone you greedy bastards" party.)
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