In our old--very nice--neighborhood in Atlanta, we had a few...how shall I put it? Bossy? neighbors. Our friend Nancy down the block often ridiculed her neighbors across the street, who would knock on her door every fall weekend, saying "We're raking our leaves this weekend, Nancy, what are you doing??" Some of the folks, because we lived in a "swanky, unpscale" neighborhood (in the parlance of my Stepmom, Norma), thought it was their duty to boss around the less fastidious among us.

Well, I have some bossing around to do. Let me apologize in advance to those of you who don't need to be bossed around.

Nancy Pelosi, Sherrod Brown, Hank Johnson, I'm talking to you right now. And all the other Democrats who will make up the new majority in our next Congress, i'm talking to you also. Stop whatever you are doing and click on the title of my post to link to an article at TomPaine.com about the MOST IMPORTANT issue you should tackle when the new Congress caucuses in the New Year. Briefly, quoting the bullet points from this article:

1) Have an affirmative right to vote in the Constitution. Sixty Democrats have already signed onto House Joint Resolution 28, a proposal to establish an affirmative right to vote in the Constitution. We should make protection of our right to vote a national concern, one demanding as many protections as that other great pillar of democracy, our right to free speech.

2) Make election officials nonpartisan and held accountable. It hardly matters whether the method of voting is with paper and pen or open-source computerized equipment if election administrators are not trustworthy or accountable for their actions. Secretaries of state overseeing presidential elections in 2004 in three battleground states—Ohio, Missouri, and Michigan—were co-chairs of their state's George Bush reelection campaigns. In Missouri the secretary of state was running for governor and oversaw elections for his own race! Not to mention a highly partisan Republican secretary of state ran elections in Florida, and a partisan Democrat did so in New Mexico. A Mexican observer of the 2004 election commented, "That looks an awful lot like the old Mexican PRI to me." Election administrators should be civil servants who have a demonstrated proficiency with technology, running elections and making the electoral process transparent and secure. If they make mistakes, they should face consequences.

3) Create a national elections commission. The U.S. leaves election administration to administrators in over 3,000 counties and nearly 10,000 municipalities scattered across the nation with few standards and little uniformity. This is a formula for unfair elections. Most established democracies use national elections commissions to establish minimum national standards and uniformity, and to partner with state and local election officials to ensure pre-election and post-election accountability for their election plans. The Elections Assistance Commission established recently by the Help America Vote Act is a pale version of this and should be strengthened greatly.

4) Have universal voter registration. We lack a system of universal voter registration in which citizens who turn 18 years of age automatically are registered to vote by election authorities. This is the practice used by most established democracies, giving them voter rolls far more complete and clean than ours—in fact, a higher percentage of Iraqi adults are registered to vote than American adults. Universal voter registration in the U.S. is now possible as result of the Help America Vote Act which mandated that all states must establish statewide voter databases. Doing so would add 50 million voters to the rolls, a disproportionate share being young people and people of color.

5) Use "public interest" voting equipment. Currently voting equipment is suspect, undermining confidence in our elections. The proprietary software and hardware are created by shadowy companies with partisan ties who sell equipment by wining and dining election administrators with little knowledge of voting technology. The government should oversee the development of publicly-owned or at least publicly-controlled software and hardware, contracting with the sharpest minds in the private sector. And then that open-source voting equipment should be deployed throughout the nation to ensure that every county—and every voter—is using the best equipment. Other nations already do this with positive results.

6) Hold elections on a weekend or make them a national holiday. We vote on a busy workday instead of on a national holiday or weekend (like most other nations do), creating a barrier for 9-to-5 workers and also leading to a shortage of poll workers and polling places. Puerto Rico typically has the highest voter turnout in the United States, and makes Election Day a holiday.

7) Ending redistricting shenanigans by adopting proportional voting. Most legislators choose their voters during the redistricting process, long before those voters get to choose them. More than 98 percent of U.S. House incumbents won re-election in every House election from 1998 through 2004, with more than 90 percent of all races won by noncompetitive margins. The driving factor is not campaign finance inequities but winner-take-all elections compounded by rigged legislative district lines. As a start, redistricting must be nonpartisan, driven by nonpolitical criteria. But by far the most important solution is a proportional voting system that would make voters more important than district lines.

8) Hold instant runoff voting. Our "highest vote-getter wins" method of electing executive offices creates incentives to keep third-party candidates off the ballot as potential spoilers. Our current plurality system is not designed to accommodate three or more choices, allowing important policy areas to be completely ignored by major party candidates. Most modern democracies accommodate voter choice through two-round runoff or instant runoff elections for executive offices. Instant runoff voting has been introduced with sparkling success in San Francisco and Burlington, Vt., keeps winning at the ballot box and has the support of both leading Democrats like Howard Dean, Dennis Kucinich and Barack Obama and leading Republicans like John McCain. Three major November campaigns this year would replace primary elections with one majority, spoiler-free election in November—a change Congress could adopt by statute for all their elections.

I agree most with point 2. And 4, 5 & 7... these are all important.

In my mind, this is the MOST important legislation that you should contemplate, and, symbolically, it should be the first.

Yes, before raising the minimum wage.

Yes, before dealing with campaign finance reform.

Yes, before trying to undo the damage Republicans did to our Senior Citizen's financial health with the Medicare "reforms;" or anything to do with an overall reform to our healthcare system.

Yes, before opening debate on alternatives to the status-quoist policy we've pursued too long in Iraq.

Yes, before ending corporate wellfare and figuring out how and why we switched our tax burden from the richest corporations earning staggering profits, to middle class wage earners.

Yes, even before considering the mountain of evidence, staggering off in many directions like spokes off a gigantic wheel, that has been suppressed by the previous Congress, which supports impeachment of our corrupt, secretive, Napolean-complexed, criminal, constitution-destroying President.

Make our elections fair, documentable, and make those administering them accountable.

Make sure gerrymandering is a practice laid to rest now, confine it to history like child labor and women who couldn't vote were by previous Congressional action.

If there was criminal activity involved in Diebold's hidden agenda of adding more votes to Republican rolls, under the guise of electronic voting, find out who authorized it and hold them accountable, and prosecute them to the full extent of the law.

Do it now.

All you citizens out there: Write a letter to your perhaps newly-elected Representative this week, and ask them to tackle this and to do it now. This article has all your talking points.

I'm writing my first letter to Sherrod Brown this weekend. And I won't be raking any leaves.


Mr. Scott said...

There's no evidence, really, that the framers of the Constitution had any thought of giving universal voting rights to all citizens. It's supposed to be left up to the states.

The 14th, 15th, and 19th Amendments set guidelines on how states cannot restrict voting only if they decide to allow it in the first place.

I'm no fan of amending the Consitution (unless we're talking about a repeal of the 16th Amendment), but if my arm were getting twisted I would only go along with a right to vote with the caveat that you've got to be a citizen. Simply turning up on terra firma with an electric bill to an apartment in a voting precinct won't cut it.

Bruce said...


Of course you have logic on your side. The shambles of our electoral system is a substantial threat to democracy and thus deserves to be prioritized. And to restructure the system in time for the 2008 elections, we have to start now.

But you have to admit that the issue is difficult and not very politically sexy. Moreover, the electorate put the Democratic House and Senate in place to get us out of Iraq, to institute a fairer tax structure, and perhaps to reform our health care system. (And maybe even to impeach Bush)

It would not be difficult to convince people that election reform is needed, but to get them to prioritze it is a different matter.

Sam said...

Hi Bruce, yes, I agree, it isn't a very sexy issue. But then again, neither is Heatlhcare reform nor building walls around our borders.

One does have to wonder if the recent Democratic gains were severely attenuated by those devil machines and their secretive masters. Maybe it was really a landslide.

In any event, the way we cast and count votes must change.

Sam said...

Alexandra Walker makes some good points about the need and the growing will for election reform:


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