Tuesday, March 22, 2011

1998: Electoral Reforms

Here's another trip back to the Nonchalant Nineties, a time when we could afford to spend a year and a half obsessing over the president's sex life. The electoral follies of the decade inspired a lot of people to start thinking about systemic reforms, exactly none of which have come to pass...

I'm sure you're as tired of reading about the whole Clinton thing as I am of writing about it. I go back and forth on this stuff, and since I said last issue that I'd reluctantly support him, I figured it was time for me to attack him some more. But I just don't have the stomach for it this morning; not enough caffeine. Sometimes I think there's not enough caffeine in the world to make me care about his fate, but like I said, it's my job.

What makes me angriest is the degree to which he's given so much ammunition to his enemies, most of whom are also my enemies, and yours. Actually, more ours than his, but - say, is that coffee ready yet? So, yeah, he's put the Lizard majority in Congress on life support for another two years. But for God's sake, could we have designed a more insane process for electing a legislature if we had tried to?

Campaign finance reform is dead once again, and it's still worth fighting for, but really, it's only a baby step. Right now the two parties have gerrymandered the process so that only about fifty Congressional seats are in contention this year. The other 385 districts have been carved up so that they're safe seats for one party or the other - like our own Rep. Ed Pastor's seat. In this kind of atmosphere, it's not at all clear whether truckloads of campaign cash are actually buying seats in Congress, or simply flowing to the obvious winner.

No amount of campaign finance reform is going to fix that system. Clearly we need have greater ballot access for third parties - try and track down the late great Walter Karp's book "Indispensible Enemies" for an overview of how the Lizards and the Weasels have colluded over the past 100 years to lock out any challenge to their duopoly. But in order to make this a truly representative democracy, we need three specific electoral reforms: fusion voting, proportional representation, and NOTA.

Suppose, for instance, that the local Green Party wanted to run a slate of candidates for the city council next year. And suppose that Molly McKasson was running for mayor, but that the Greens didn't want to split up the votes against her opponent. Under fusion voting, both the Greens and the Democrats could nominate McKasson. If Molly won the election with 52% of the votes, and 5% of the total came from Green voters, then it would behoove the mayor-elect to pay attention to the Green agenda.

Unfortunately, fusion voting is currently illegal in every state except New York - where it has indeed allowed some lively smaller parties to flourish. In one of the stupidest Supreme Court decisions in recent years, Chief Justice William "Nixon's Revenge" Rehnquist held that it was okay to ban fusion voting because the Constitution has an interest in maintaining the two-party system - even though the Constitution doesn't say one word about parties!

That doesn't mean, though, that we can't enact a fusion system in Arizona - it just means that the pinheads up in Phoenix can shoot it down if they like. Now as to the second reform I mentioned, proportional representation, nearly every democracy on the planet uses some form of it in choosing their legislatures - the US and Britain being two of the only exceptions. Prop rep works two ways:

First, say the state of Texas has an even forty seats in Congress. Under the current system, if the Republicans get 51% of the vote in each of those forty districts, they represent the entire state - winner taker all. Under prop rep, they'd get twenty seats. The other twenty would be divvied up by the Democrats, the Perotistas, the Libertarians, the Greens and whoever else. That way, everybody gets some representation.

Another way prop rep can work is by weighting your vote, also known as instant runoff voting. For instance, even though you wouldn't know it from reading the corporate media, there were seven major candidates for President in the last election: from the Democrats, the Republicans, the Greens, the Libertarians, the Reform Party, The Natural Law Party, and the Constitution Party. Even though Bill Clinton wasn't my first choice, I sure didn't want to see Bob Dole or Ross Perot living in the White House.

With vote weighting, I could have ranked the seven candidates from my first choice to my last choice. That way, if my guy Ralph Nader doesn't win (big surprise), nobody could say I'm handing my vote away to Dole. If no candidate got a majority (which is in fact what happened in 1996 and 1992), an instant runoff could take place, and my vote would then switch to my second choice. Here, too, the eventual winner could see where his or her votes came from, which would encourage coalition building, and widen the spectrum of political views being represented.

The third major reform we need is NOTA - None of The Above. In Russia, they have a binding NOTA requirement, which means that if NOTA gets more votes than any of the candidates, a new election must be held, and none of the same people can run again! I can think of several elections in my lifetime where NOTA would have been my favorite.

There are a couple other reforms that might come in handy. For instance, why do we vote on a Tuesday? Hello? Most people have weekends off. How about Sunday elections? Also, in Australia, voting is mandatory. It's not like the mandatory voting in El Salvador, where they'll send a death squad after you. But it's like jury duty. You're expected to show up and mark your ballot. Of course, you can mark it with obscene cartoons in goat's blood if you like, but if you don't show up to vote, that's a misdemeanor. I wonder what William Rehnquist would make of that?

And speaking of jury duty, I have my own modest reform proposal. Why don't we just pick our members of Congress the way we pick our juries? Pull a bunch of candidates at random off the voter registration rolls. Then ask them a bunch of questions to weed out anyone with an obvious conflict of interest. Your wife owns an oil company? You're excused. You own controlling stock in a defense contractor? Thanks for your time. And of course, you let go anyone who has a really good excuse for not serving, but everybody gets compensated for their time.

Now, is there anybody out there who thinks this could possibly give us a worse Congress than the one we have now?

No comments:

Post a Comment