Electoral Reforms

On Appletree, commenter Squashed offers a list of electoral reforms the US should undertake to have more democratic elections. In a nutshell, he suggests,

1. direct presidential voting.

2. Automatic [instant?] run off.

3. Permanent public record of votes.

4. national holiday. (no, not whole day, just half day.)

5. then media reform, too much bullshit pundits controling the national media, and not enough diversity and sane opinion

(read the rest for the entire set; I just reproduced one sentence or clause from each point).

My own slate of proposed electoral reforms has a somewhat different nature. For a start, I used to be very neutralist, leading to a huge list of political and electoral reforms writing which in constitutional language would probably run into four figure word counts. But now I’m a pluralist, so I’ve culled from my original list the most pressing and most practicable reforms. In descending order of importance:

1. (6) Abolition of the Electoral College. The Electoral College dates back to when the US was a federation rather than a single country, and is based on the idea that political interests were primarily state-based. This system might make sense for a federation like the EU; for a country where regional interests cross state lines and small states are already overrepresented in government, it doesn’t. Besides, what it does in practice is make voters in Ohio and Florida more equal than voters in New York and Texas.

2. (5) Nationwide or at least regional proportional representation in the House. Democrats and Republicans already behave more like coalitions than like parties; a multiparty system will then let Republicans choose to vote for the religious right, the neo-conservatives, or the libertarians, and Democrats choose to vote for the progressive caucus, the neo-liberals, or the Edwards/Gephardt wing.

3. (5) Full-blown national holiday. It works in Israel; it should work in the US.

4. (4) A ban on soft money contributions. Israel takes it to the extreme, and forbids the media to make statements that could influence the election 60 days before the election, save for officially allotted time to political commercials and debates. In the US it’ll probably get stricken down on first amendment grounds and for a good reason, but regulating issue ads and banning soft money contributions will help make elections harder to buy.

On a somewhat related note, having a real public media channel will go a long way to making things better. PBS isn’t a real channel; I’m thinking more along the lines of BBC, only without a dedicated TV tax. That channel could a) provide balanced political content, b) set standards for reporting for other channels to follow, and c) air political commercials based on an allotment formula rather than cash on hand.

The other issues I don’t think are very important. Even the four issues I explained above aren’t priorities; the numbers in parentheses explain their importance to me on a 0-10 scale. Most hot-button political issues I rate at 8+, or 6-7 if the choices that are considered mainstream are too narrow for me.

The reason for that is the same reason I’m not very warm toward reinstating the Fairness Doctrine: it reeks of neutralism. The problem with process-based issues is that they’re still political reforms, and therefore getting them requires winning an election first. But if you can win and get your voting system of choice on the books, why not make sure you also get your foreign policy and health care system of your choice first? These, after all, affect a lot more people.

Real-world politics is more pluralist than neutralist. This is especially true of the US, where tripartite meetings and other cooperation-based forms of lobbying never caught on. A successful political movement will only devote limited resources to process issues, and then only to those that really promote democracy, like direct elections and referenda and proportional representation. It’ll focus not on media regulations, but on getting its message out to the media, which is perpetually biased in favor of the politically competent.


10 Responses to Electoral Reforms

  1. Cairnarvon says:

    Don’t forget public funding for election campaigns. That should soften the effects of corporatism a bit.

    I still say compulsory voting is a good idea. As it stands, tons of moderates just don’t vote at all, and most extremists do. If you have compulsory voting, you almost have to have the national holiday as well, though.

  2. Alon Levy says:

    The US doesn’t need more moderates voting. Its political gamut is so tiny it doesn’t matter. Even among political activists, there aren’t enough communists and Nazis to threaten the system.

    Public funding for election campaigns can work only if there’s a good system of deciding how to fund candidates. If there are multiple parties, per-delegate funding could work (say, $30 million per party plus $2 million per member of Congress). But as long as the voting system suppresses third parties, such a system will cause too much mayhem.

  3. Cairnarvon says:

    Well, yes, proportional representation and the diversification it’s supposed to bring is a prerequisite, of course. Without that, anything else is just a plaster on a wooden leg.

    The details of public funding could be figured out later.

  4. squashed says:

    >> The problem with process-based issues is that they’re still political reforms, and therefore getting them requires winning an election first. But if you can win and get your voting system of choice on the books, why not make sure you also get your foreign policy and health care system of your choice first?

  5. squashed says:

    whew, wordpress. just ate my post.

    quikie rehash

    – Not all rule/law are equal. Voting law is a meta rule, things that control the creation of other laws. (the people who represent us)

    -Modern campaign and message are mathematically optimised, hence why politicians are spending more money on “more value” vote, rather than crowded urban area that doesn’t have high representative number. This can be seen from N.H vs LA/Chi phenomena.

  6. Alon Levy says:

    No, not all rules are equal. Those that represent major injustices should be fought. Those that are really procedural rules should be second to policy issues.

  7. squashed says:

    policy can’t go anywhere when the “voting proceedure” is broken. (ie. it keeps bringing in “wrong” people that does not reflect the will of the general public to make law)

    That’s why nations has “constitution”, those are “meta” rules. The foundational rules that directs all other rule.

    Voting proceedure IS fundamental to the operation of democracy, even more so than wealth transfer (SS, tax), social contract (SS/medicare/etc) If the voting proceedure is broken, all the rest of law will skewed toward certain group of law makers, or demographic.. etc.

    hence the current strange campaign behavior in the US, even the pattern of voters suppressions, etc.

    The simple plurarity election causes a lot of strange unhealthy political behavior. Things are geared toward winning that one time event, instead of creating sensible political discourse.

    eg. the fact that simple IRV makes people go to vote twice alone will reduce the “let’s manipulate media to win that single point of event” behavior.


  8. Alon Levy says:

    Simple IRV doesn’t make people vote twice. It’s in fact designed to incorporate runoffs into one-round voting. But even two-round voting is prone to manipulation, especially when the contest becomes about placing second, as it sometimes does in France.

    Voter suppression has very little to do with the voting system used. It can be done a bit more easily when the system is more complicated, and computationally IRV is even more complicated than any Condorcet variant. But really, it’s a question of how corrupt election officials are.

    Voting procedure is fundamental to the operation of democracy, but when you have a political movement, you should focus on a) what you can get, and b) what can motivate people. One of the things that marginalized the left is its insistence on focusing on issues that nobody cares about, like voting procedures, animal rights, and fat acceptance.

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