Tag Archives: Electoral College

Urgent Election Reform


Elections

 

ELECTION REFORM

Elections are the sacred well of democracy. When the waters are poisoned there is nothing left. Without fair and open elections the choices of the people are thwarted and democratic government collapses. When this happens, the government ceases to be the servant of the people, and instead allows the usurpation of government authority by an unqualified but well organized oligarchy. Oligarchs rule rather than govern. Government becomes the tool of tyrants. The United States has in recent years failed to provide fair and free elections.

The collapse of fair and open elections has already resulted in a substantial loss of our democracy. Our country, despite our boasting of being the world’s oldest and strongest democracy, has allowed our basic institutions to crumble. We have gone from “Every vote counts in the election,” to “The election will be decided by who counts the votes.”

There are a series of reforms that are urgently needed if we are to salvage what remains of our democracy. The following is a partial list of those urgently needed reforms.

Abolish the Electoral College

Twice in the past sixteen years the Electoral College has thwarted the will of the American people. This is simply unacceptable. In 2000, Al Gore lost Florida and the election by only some 500 votes out of 103 million votes cast. There was a cluster of errors in the Florida vote count. It is estimated that Pat Buchanan erroneously gained an estimated 32,000 votes that were intended for Al Gore due to the “butterfly ballot” fiasco. There were other irregularities as well, including the handling of absentee ballots. By counting ballots on a state-by-state basis, such irregularities come to the forefront and determine the outcome of the election. But when the national vote is taken as a whole there is a different outcome. Any irregularities are “averaged out” and the winning candidate is the overall choice of the electorate.

In 2016 we had the will of the people thwarted again by the Electoral College. This time it was 80,000 people across three states that would have changed the election outcome. In the end, Hillary Clinton received 3,800,000 more votes than Donald Trump in what turned out to be her losing effort.

The Electoral College perhaps made sense in the 18th Century. At that time the United States was a confederation of states, much like the European Union is today. But by the time of the Civil War, our nation became one nation and not a collection of states. The Electoral College, that vestige of the 18th Century, makes no sense in the 21st Century.

End Gerrymandering

We have gone from voters selecting their candidates to office holders selecting their voters. Our current system of gerrymandered districts thwarts the will of the voters. Elected officials can stack the deck on state legislative chambers and the United States Congress by manipulating district boundaries. These boundaries are normally set by the very state legislators that benefit from manipulating these boundaries. We need to remove the setting of district boundaries from the political process. In California district boundaries are set by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission. Since implementation in June 2012, independent studies have confirmed that California now has some of the most competitive districts in the country. Other states need to follow similar procedures.

Support Voter Registration

New voter registration procedures have become a new form of poll tax. Estimates are that hundreds of thousands of citizens have been disenfranchised by these efforts. The burden of these procedures fall disproportionately on the poor, people of color, and the elderly, and those for who English is a second language. We need a new national voters’ rights act to replace the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which was essentially struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013.

No one could deny that we need to clean up our voter rolls. There is no systematic effort to purge the rolls of deceased voters or those who have moved away. But so far this has not been a real issue. After searches for voter fraud spanning decades, no one has ever found more than a handful of actual voter fraud issues, and certainly never enough to sway an election.

In many states convicted felons have a lifetime ban on voting. African Americans make up 13% of the population, but 38% of the prison population. Voter disenfranchisement due to a felony conviction has a strong racial component. It is possible to disenfranchise whole communities by refusing to allow convicted felons to vote, including those who have already paid their debt to society.

Maintain Poll Access

Every election seems to have issues with voter access to polling places. Amazingly, such issues only seem to occur in selected precincts. There is misinformation as to poll locations or hours. There are shortages of ballots or voting machines that do not work. Too often people in these “selected” precincts must wait for hours to cast their ballots. This is another burden that falls disproportionately upon the poor. An hourly worker might have to rush to vote before work, while a salaried manager could vote at his or her leisure.

The act of voting should not be an ordeal. Instead of a 12 hour election window we should be given an extended time of perhaps one week to vote. We should be able to vote by any number of means. We can invest and do banking online. Calculate and pay taxes online. We should be able to vote online as well. For those without computer access, voting computers could be set up in libraries, schools, offices, or other public places. There should also be mail in options for those who are computer challenged. If we can use our bank ATM cards in Mexico City, or Bangkok, we should be able to vote from anywhere during an election period without difficulty.

Demand Election Integrity

Somehow we need to make our elections work. There have been endless reports of lost ballots, voting machine malfunctions, and absentee ballots that have been lost or ignored. Elections should be determined by the votes casted and not by who counted the votes. Here again is a situation where “selected” precincts seem to have much greater irregularities than the norm. If we cannot trust our state and county officials to conduct fair and accurate elections then perhaps we should have outside parties, such as fiduciary institutions, or CPA firms, to collect and count the ballots.

Voting machines, ballot counts, and any online or mail voting methods must be fool proof. This is our democracy we are talking about. We need to provide the resources and make the effort to insure that every vote counts. “Accidents,” “oversights,” and “unavoidable situations” must not be allowed as excuses. These can be avoided by proper planning, training, and redundancy.

Require Financial Disclosure

We must never again allow any candidate to run for President of the United States without submitting at least five years’ worth of federal tax returns. In the past this has been the custom, but it was not a requirement. Trump was able to avoid this disclosure despite his frequent assurances to the contrary. The president must be free of any conflicts of interest. Without the income tax disclosure there is not even a roadmap to look for possible conflicts. This disclosure must be made at the start of the election cycle so that voters have a chance to review and analyze these documents. For this reason the documents must be disclosed before any names are placed on the primary ballots. California now has such a law. We need a similar rule for congressional candidates as well.

 

The Electoral College Has Failed Us Again


It’s time to dump the Electoral College (November 2016)

statue-in-grief

For the second time in recent history, the Electoral College has thwarted the will of the American voter. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in 2016, as did Al Gore in 2000. That is twice in 16 years that the Electoral College has failed us. The Electoral College is an 18th Century anachronism that may have made sense back then. But is the 21st Century it has become a disaster.

No one wants to see another Electoral College tragedy like the one that occurred in 2000.  George W.  Bush was elected by a handful of votes in Florida that overrode the choice of millions of voters across the country.  In truth, the election was decided by one vote when the US Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision gave Florida and the election to Bush. Now it has happened for a second time and the results will be even more devastating.

The Electoral College is full of mathematical aberrations which make for unfair elections.  Wyoming has a population of 563,626 and 3 electoral votes, or one electoral vote for every 187,875 people.  California has a population of 37,253,956 and 55 electoral votes, or one electoral vote for every 677,345 people.  Thus the vote of a Wyoming resident counts 3.6 times as much as the vote of a California resident.

But there are even more to worry about. The rules are not even consistent from state to state. Maine and Nebraska split their votes according to congressional districts. While this might actually make sense, the rules should be standardized across the nation.

Even more troubling is the potential for an “unfaithful elector.” One of the electors from the state of Washington declared that he would refuse to cast his ballot for Hillary Clinton out of personal conscience. On election night there were some scenarios that pointed to an Electoral College tie vote at 269 each. In such a situation, one unfaithful elector could change the results of the election out of personal whim, and not be accountable.

The Electoral College system disenfranchises those who vote for the losing parties in each state.  If you are a Republican in California or a Democrat in Texas you need not even bother to vote for president.  Your vote for president will not even be counted in this winner-take-all system.  The only way to make your vote count is to move your voter registration to a swing state, like Florida, where it just might make a difference.  But such shenanigans are shameful and ought not to be necessary.

The Electoral College made sense in Eighteenth Century America.  Back then America was much like Europe is today.  The European Community is still a collection of nations, even though there is the beginning of a European government. In the Eighteenth Century colonial America was also a collection of nations.  People were Virginians or Georgians or New Yorkers.  No one thought of us as a federation.  In the Eighteenth Century it made sense to vote for the president by states.

The name “The United States of America” comes from the Declaration of Independence.  But what the Declaration of Independence really says is, “… the thirteen united STATES OF AMERICA.”  The emphasis was on the individual states and not on a union.

It was the Civil War that finally fused this collection of states into a nation.  The Spanish American War in 1898 marked the birth of the American superpower, capable of influencing events beyond our borders.

Now in the Twenty-First Century the Electoral College is a dangerous and destructive historical anachronism.  We are one nation and we need to vote as one nation.  The elected president should be the person who commands the most votes regardless of the states in which those votes were cast.

 

 

Our 18th Century Constitution


Our Eighteenth Century Constitution

The world, and this nation, was a much different place back in 1787.  The changes over the past 225 years are  indescribable.  It is hard to understand the passion of the Tea Party and other conservatives to return to an 18th Century viewpoint of government.  Do these antiquarians realize that the original Constitution allowed for chattel slavery? And that suffrage was limited to white, male, property owners?  Have we learned nothing in the past 225 years?

Even in its amended state, The Constitution is still showing its age.  What made perfect sense back in the 18th Century makes little or no sense today.  In the 18th Century America was much like the European Union of the 21st Century; it was a collection of sovereign states struggling to work together for security and economic development.  It took the newly minted Unites States of America until after the Civil War to decide that it was one nation, and not a loose collection of states.

The Constitution never mentioned such things as NASA.  We spent much of the 19th Century arguing over whether we could have a central bank or not.  George Washington kept the entire Executive Branch of the federal government in two filing cabinets.  The only communications network was the post office, as established in Article I Section 8.

Some would say that the Constitution has served us well over the past 225 years.  However, there are distinct signs of its increasing dysfunction.  If the Constitution were to be written today it would be a much different document.  Listed below are some highlights of changes that might be in order.

Electoral College

In 2000, the will of the nation as expressed by the voting population was thwarted by the dangerous and antiquated Electoral College.  There were a whole series of problems in the election in Florida.  Because of the Electoral College, Florida got to decide on its own who was to be president.  Just to cite one of the many problems, “butterfly ballots” in Dade County caused 35,000 votes for Al Gore to be mistakenly cast for Patrick Buchanan.  Even Buchanan himself conceded that these votes rightfully belonged to Al Gore.  But there was no way to fix them.  In the final tally George W. Bush won the state and the presidency by 537 votes in the state of Florida.

With a tight and hotly contested election underway now in 2012, the Electoral College may once again thwart the will of the people and elect the candidate that came in second in the popular vote.

There are so many issues with the Electoral College that one scarcely knows where to begin.  One issue is the “unfaithful elector,” who may fail to vote his state’s preference.  This could be done for partisan reasons, or perhaps just to throw a monkey wrench into the entire proceedings.

If you are a Republican in California or a Democrat in Texas there is no need to vote for president at all in 2012 as your vote will not be counted.  The only way to make your vote count would be to transfer your legal residence to a swing state such as Florida or Ohio.

Gun Control

As recently as the Reagan Administration, the Constitution was thought to link the “right to bear arms” to “well regulated militias”.  Indeed, the very wording of the Second Amendment seems to make that point perfectly clear.

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. 

More recently, the Supreme Court on the urging of the National Rifle Association has taken that passage to mean the private use of  unlimited firepower under any circumstances.  While it is understandable that some people would want to own hunting rifles, and guns for home defense, there can be no justification for military assault style weapons, armor-piercing bullets, or large 100-shot magazines such as was used at the Aurora, Colorado shooting.

For the sake of argument, even if we accept the NRA’s position that there is no link between the “right to bear arms” and “well regulated militias,” it seems inconceivable that the “right to bear arms” was ever meant to be an absolute.  Freedom without restrain is anarchy.  The Supreme Court has drifted towards anarchy in the issue of gun control.  What will our future hold if this drift continues?

There must be balance in all things.  We must always balance freedom with control to create a well-regulated society where all of us can pursue our own dreams in safety.  What kind of society do we create if we have to worry about being shot to death in a movie theater, or in a house of worship?

The Preamble to the Constitution sets out one goal of government as being to “promote the general welfare,” and to “insure domestic tranquility.”

If we allow private citizens to amass and use military style assault weapons then we risk the loss of government control altogether.  We could become a “failed state”, such as Somalia, Columbia or Pakistan, where power is held by heavily armed war lords and their soldiers, where government is either non-existent, as in Somalia, or unable to govern much of its territory.  Surely not even the NRA would want such an outcome.

Free Speech

Free speech is another area in which we need to balance freedom with restraint. Free speech, very much like the “right to bear arms,” is often construed as an absolute right in the eyes of the Supreme Court.  And such absolutism has created many senseless and preventable instances of abuse that could have been prevented.

Free speech as found in Amendment I of the constitution clearly seems to be tied to political speech.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. 

My background is not in law, but rather in theology, biblical scholarship, and sacred history.  As a biblical scholar I learned to do exegesis on ancient texts so as to discover their deeper meanings.

When I use my exegetical tools on this passage I find that it is clearly talking about political speech.  It is tied to petitioning the government for the redress of grievances.

There are a few things that should not be considered “free speech” under the constitution:

  • Commercial speech
  • Symbolic “Speech”
  • Hate speech
  • False speech in the public arena

Commercial Speech

If the speech is for commercial purposed than clearly it should be regulated.  There should be regulations preventing specious promises, distortion of facts, and all sorts of deceptions in the public marketplace.

Symbolic Speach

The courts have ruled many form of action are permissible under the rubric of “symbolic free speech.”  Examples include everything from panhandling, to flag burning, to going topless.  Panhandling should be seen as a commercial activity and hence subject to regulation.  Going topless does not seem to be “speech,” and does not seem to involve the redress (no pun intended) of grievances with the government.  Flag burning is the kind of topic that should be discussed as we seek to explore the boundaries of legitimate free speech.

Hate Speech

Europe has very tough laws against “hate speech.”  Hate speech in the US is tragically allowed under the rubric of “Free Speech.”  Hate speech involves such actions as marches organized by white-supremacy groups in order to harass, threaten and intimidate minorities.  Hate speech is made by a sick “church” that disrupts military funerals in order to protest the presence of gay persons in our society.  Can you imaging the pain of losing a loved one who has made the ultimate sacrifice in serving our country.  And then, can you imagine the horror of an anti-gay protest turning a memorial service into a firestorm of abuse?

Hate speech is the taunting and bullying that causes many children, youth and young adults to commit suicide.  Hate speech is the use of racial or sexual epitaphs.

The First Amendment talks about the right to “peaceably to assemble.”  There is a great difference between a protest and a riot.  Similarly, the concept of “peaceably” should relate to free speech as well.  Free speech is meant to engage (peaceably) in political discussion, not to bully, threaten, harass and intimidate.

And once again, the Preamble to the Constitution sets out one goal of government as being to “promote the general welfare,” and to “insure domestic tranquility.”

False Speech in the Public Arena

The “Stolen Valor” law was intended to prevent people from claiming military honors under false pretenses.  One candidate for public office claimed that he held the Congressional Medal of Honor even though he had never served in the military.  The Supreme Court said that his outrageous lie was protected “free speech.” The government should have the right to regulate such egregious misrepresentation of the truth.  Outrageous lies ought not to be given protection under the rubric of free speech.

We have laws against perjury.  No “free speech” defense is allowed as justification.

The Reapportionment of the United States Senate

This is one of the most undemocratic provisions of the constitution.  Individual states that modeled their upper houses after the US Senate were told by the US Supreme Court that this was unacceptable.  Iowa was one such example.  Each of the state’s ninety-nine counties had one state senator.

The apportionment of the US Senate may have made sense in the Eighteenth Century, when we were a collection of sovereign states.  But it is an undemocratic anachronism today. If this style of apportionment is illegal for the Iowa Legislature it should be illegal for the Congress as well.

The Role of Government

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

This would be a great time to look at the role of government and what we would like to see it do in the 21st Century.  NASA once again comes to mind.  Should not one of the functions of government be to support basic research?

Our nation was made great due to a free system of public education.  And now that free public education that made us great is under attack.

Preservation of the global environment is a critical issue for our survival.  In the 18th Century the world’s resources were seen as infinite and inexhaustible.  Today we know that we are living on a small green and blue space ship with no chance of replenishment.  If we burn through our resources or poison our habitat we have no chance of survival.

Infrastructure was mentioned in the Constitution under the establishment of Post Offices and post roads.  Surely it is time to expand our language in this section.

We need to take the Preamble more seriously.  Why do conservatives skip over the wording, “promote the general Welfare.”  Does not this require a lot of government responsibilities that we should take seriously?

It’s time to …


Make voting count.

It’s time to dump the Electoral College (January 2011)

The 2012 presidential campaign will soon be underway, if it is not already.  No one wants to see another Electoral College tragedy like the one that occurred in 2000.  George W.  Bush was elected by a handful of votes in Florida that overrode the choice of millions of voters across the country.  In truth, the election was decided by one vote when the US Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision gave Florida and the election to Bush.

The Electoral College is full of mathematical aberrations which make for unfair elections.  Wyoming has a population of 563,626 and 3 electoral votes, or one electoral vote for every 187,875 people.  California has a population of 37,253,956 and 55 electoral votes, or one electoral vote for every 677,345 people.  Thus the vote of a Wyoming resident counts 3.6 times as much as the vote of a California resident.

The Electoral College system disenfranchises those who vote for the losing parties in each state.  If you are a Republican in California or a Democrat in Texas you need not even bother to vote for president in 2012.  Your vote for president will not even be counted in this winner-take-all system.  The only way to make your vote count is to move your voter registration to a swing state, like Florida, where it just might make a difference.  But such shenanigans are shameful and ought not to be necessary.

The Electoral College made sense in Eighteenth Century America.  Back then America was much like Europe is today.  The European Community is still a collection of nations, even though there is the beginning of a European government. In the Eighteenth Century colonial America was also a collection of nations.  People were Virginians or Georgians or New Yorkers.  No one thought of us as a federation.  In the Eighteenth Century it made sense to vote for the president by states.

The name “The United States of America” comes from the Declaration of Independence.  But what the Declaration of Independence really says is, “… the thirteen united STATES OF AMERICA.”  The emphasis was on the individual states and not on a union.

It was the Civil War that finally fused this collection of states into a nation.  The Spanish American War in 1898 marked the birth of the American superpower, capable of influencing events beyond our borders.

Now in the Twenty-First Century the Electoral College is a dangerous and destructive historical anachronism.  We are one nation and we need to vote as one nation.  The elected president should be the person who commands the most votes regardless of the states in which those votes were cast.

Greg