Monday, November 5, 2012

Reform Our Electoral System

Can we all agree that our nation’s electoral system is fucked up?  We have 50 individual states that set their own laws regarding the times, locations and who is eligible to vote resulting in 50 different sets of election laws.  Some of these laws make it easier for people to vote and some of these laws make it tougher for people to exercise their right to vote and these laws change year to year.  Add in that the various electoral subdivisions within each of those 50 states has different methods to cast a vote, plus that elections are overseen by partisan elected officials and you have a recipe for disaster on a grand scale.

If we wish to actually be that shining beacon of democracy that we as a nation claim to be, we need to make some serious changes.  These changes include standardization of eligibility and voting methods, standardization of voting times, creation of a national voting “holiday”, reform of the Electoral College, elimination of partisan elected electoral officials and campaign finance reform.  This is not exhaustive, but it is a good starting point.

STANDARDIZATION OF ELIGIBILITY:  This one should be a no brainer, but there are people in this nation who just don’t want other people to vote.  These “undesirables” include (but are not limited to) African-Americans, Hispanics, the poor, the elderly and those convicted of felonies.  Conservatives (of both parties) are the ones who push for the exclusions while liberals push for their inclusion.  Myself, I think that even those convicted felons serving time should be eligible to vote (they retain other rights, why not their right to vote?).

So, it is my belief that the easiest standardization of eligibility would be this: If you are at 18 years of age or older at time of the election and are a citizen of the United States, then you are eligible to vote.  Period.

STANDARDIZATION OF VOTING METHODS:  After the 2000 elections “hanging chads” fiasco, Congress deemed it wise to send billions of dollars to the states to “update” their voting methods.  There was no requirement for standardization across the nation, let alone within the individual states.  Each voting subdivision was allowed to choose which voting methods they wished to use.  Some chose electronic voting machines, some with printed paper “receipts” and some without.  Some “optical scan” paper ballot systems.

I prefer the optical scan paper ballots myself.  Even if the optical scanner breaks down, you can at least hand count the paper ballots.  With electronic voting machines, if the machine breaks down, there is the strong potential that all of the votes cast on that machine are lost.  Not to mention that these machines have been proven to be easily hacked and that bad software can “flip” votes cast.

So yes, my vote would be to require that all electoral subdivisions use optical scan paper ballots.

STANDARDIZATION OF VOTING TIMES:  We live in a 24 hour society yet in many states, the hours that one can vote on election day are set at times that don’t acknowledge that fact.

To me, the solution is simple: Voting on election day should be from 1:00 am until 11:00 pm in every electoral subdivision.  Couple this with making Election Day a National holiday and we may no longer need “early voting”.

MAKE ELECTION DAY A NATIONAL HOLIDAY:  I remember while watching the History Channel’s mini-series of the Hatfields & McCoys a couple of scenes regarding election day.  This was a day that they got dressed up and the entire family went to the polling location and turned it into a party.  The thought that kept running through my mind was: Why don’t we do that now?

So yes, I believe we should make Election Day a mandatory national holiday.

REFORM THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE: Currently, each state decides how their Electoral College votes are cast.  The great majority of states have a “winner takes all” system for their Electoral votes while a few states apportion their Electoral votes.  The way the Electoral College works now, the respective presidential candidates only need to focus on a few “swing states” as the “winner takes” all system makes most states “safe” for either major party.

If we were to use the following method to apportion Electoral College votes, the respective candidates would need to spread out where they campaign and not focus so much on just a few “swing” states.

Each candidate receives an Electoral College vote for each Congressional district they hold a majority of casted votes in plus if they hold the majority of cast votes in that state, they receive the remaining two Electoral votes.  For example, take Arizona.  Arizona has 11 Electoral College votes (9 Congressional districts + 2 Senators).  Let’s say that President Obama has the majority of votes in the Arizona 2nd and 9th Districts.  This would give him 2 of Arizona’s 11 Electoral College votes and since Mitt Romney would have a majority in the remaining Congressional districts, he would get those 7 Electoral College votes and would most likely gain the 2 remaining Electoral College votes by having a majority of casted votes for the entire states.  This changes the entire Electoral College map dynamic and the dynamics of campaigning.

So, I say don’t get rid of but instead reform the Electoral College system to apportion votes based on the above method.

ELIMINATE PARTISAN ELECTED ELECTIONS OFFICIALS: As we saw in 2000, partisan elected election officials have political motivation to sway an election the way of their party.  We are seeing it again in 2012 with Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted has become the poster child of what is wrong with partisan elected electoral officials.  A couple of states have countered this by creating non-partisan commissions that oversee elections.  I think the non-partisan commission is the best way to go.  It takes away the incentive to sway an election toward a particular candidate or party.

CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM:  It is estimated that $5 billion will be spent during this election cycle for all races combined.  This is an astronomical amount of money.  Other than putting severe limits on how much one can contribute to a campaign, who can contribute and who can receive campaign contributions, I am not sure what can be done.  Plus, without a constitutional amendment, the US Supreme Court’s decision to equate money with speech will contravene any such attempts to reform our campaign finance laws.

In the end, it is up to us to institute reforms and once these reforms are enacted, remain vigilant to see that these reforms are not undone.

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