Six Simple Steps to Save American Democracy*
(*Simple to state, but probably not so simple to implement.)
More parties will mean more voices, more ideas, and hopefully a more engaged public. It will also mean an end to the Democrat versus Republican death match that’s killing politics, strangling civic life, and endangering the nation.
We had viable third parties throughout American history because we had a different system to elect our Representatives. From the nation’s founding until 1968, each state could choose their own system to elect members of Congress. Some had slate elections where every candidate ran state wide, some had multi-seat districts, and many others had single seat districts like we have to day. Slate elections and multi-seat districts allow a candidate with as little as 10% support to get elected, and this allowed third parties to win elections, go to Congress and gain a voice on the national stage. It is time to return to this time tested system.
Congress has an approval rate of less than ten-percent, yet over ninety-percent of Congressmen win re-election. The reason is that incumbency creates invaluable name recognition and access to money. Many people support term limits as a way to change this, but term limits have problems of their own. Inexperienced members of Congress will have to rely on staff, bureaucrats, and outside experts (read lobbyists) to understand complex issues. This will shift power from elected representatives to un-elected insiders or self-interested outsiders.
The better solution is modified term limits, limiting not the total number of terms but the number of consecutive terms. Senators, for example, could serve only two consecutive terms, and Representatives only five consecutive terms. If they wanted to run for re-election later they could, but as a challenger not an incumbent.
3. Right to Vote Amendment
Believe it or not, there is no constitutionally guaranteed right to vote. Roughly a quarter of the Constitution is devoted elections, yet conservative constitutionalist justices on the Supreme Court say there is no right to vote because the right itself isn’t explicitly set out in the Constitution. This, as Donald Trump would tweet, is “bad!”
A simple right to vote amendment would give voters the right to challenge laws limiting access to polls, and diluting representation through Gerrymandering. This would go a long way toward stopping state politicians from enacting petty laws to disenfranchise voters.
Do you think your Representative is “out of touch with the District?” Of course he is. (And 80% are male, so I stand by my sexist pronoun.) In the first Congress there was one Representative for every 45,000 people. In 1920 there was one for every 200,000 people. Today there is one for every 750,000 people. Of course they are out of touch.
James Madison, the chief author of the Constitution, proposed a Constitutional amendment setting it at one representative for every 50,000 people. If this had passed, the House of Representatives would now have over 6000 members, which would be a bit much. But if there was on for every 500,000 people the House would have roughly 610 members. This is more than we have now, but it is in line with every other major democracy in the world. Under our current system our Representatives are far too disconnected from the people they, which makes a mockery of the idea that we are a representative democracy.
5. National Popular Vote for President
The President is ostensibly supposed to represent all of the people, and so should be elected that way by a simple majority vote. Under the current system the smaller states exert an outsized influence on Presidential elections. Small states already have an outsized influence in the Senate, with the least populous state Wyoming, having the same two Senators as California, the most populous. The set-up of the Electoral College gives them added weight in Presidential elections, allowing them to double dip, and this is inherently undemocratic.
The Electoral College was a compromise cobbled together by the Framers to ameliorate the concerns of the Slave States. It is antiquated and convoluted, and should be abolished.
6. Multi-Day Voting
Voting should be easy, with as few impediments as possible. Having elections on a work day with limited hours makes it difficult for some people to vote. We should enact a national system that ensures that everyone has an easy access to the polls. Many states allow early voting a week or two before the official “election day.” With modern computer technology this is easy to do, and it should be the norm across the nation. A 55% voter turn-out for one of the most monumental Presidential elections in decades should be a national embarrassment. A 60% voter turn-out should be the minimum, not the maximum.
With these simple steps America will look younger, feel better, and lose those extra inches around the waist. And more importantly we will once again be a functioning democracy.