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.
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.