I wrote the following on Facebook yesterday after writing the recent Ranking the Presidents series:
Writing just over 6,000 words recently about our presidents made me realize that our country still hasn’t really figured out our own governance. We swing wildly back and forth between extremes, or different versions of the extreme, and some perfectly capable leaders end up being neutered by forces inside and outside their personal control.
I’m not saying that we should give President Trump a chance or anything, I would just be cautious about trying to find the next person right now by looking as far left as possible. Sometimes, the most success is found by a person in the middle that can work with both sides of the political aisle.
Or we’re all doomed to this black/white, right/left cycle for perpetuity and we have reached the end of this Republic. Guess we’ll find out.
It prompted a quick back and forth discussion with a friend about how we have ended up in this position we are in and how we could possibly resolve it. He and I both had some great thoughts about a solid way forward, and despite it feeling awfully hopeless sometimes – especially for those currently in the minority party right now – there are a couple of things that can and should change for the better to restore a bit of luster to politics in the country. Granted, a lot of these changes will be hard and won’t happen overnight, but that doesn’t mean that we should just throw up our hands and stop resisting.
Below are five things that we, as citizens, can and should push for in order to restore a bit more of democracy to our republic:
- VOTE! – We live in a representative democracy. We don’t directly elect the president using a popular vote, and we send Representatives and Senators to Washington, DC or our state capital in an attempt to voice our concerns for us. Currently, the only way to hold these folks accountable is to vote them out of office (or recall elections in those jurisdictions that allow for them).
Unfortunately, we as a nation don’t have a great track record when it comes to actually showing up to vote. In the latest election, only 60% of people eligible to vote* actually did so. The last midterm election is even worse, with only 36.7% of eligible voters voting. This is well below a lot of other “Western” countries, especially those with compulsory voting.
*These numbers are a bit different from some of the others out there which tend to count the percentage of registered voters that voted. I don’t think that is an accurate reflection of the actual voting eligible population, as some people just choose not to register to vote for whatever reason.
- Make Voting Easier – This is something that will require a bit more effort, as we have one political party in this country that is trying to make it harder to vote instead of easier. The 2016 election was the first presidential election since the 1960s that the Voting Rights Act wasn’t fully in place, and a lot of state-levelrestrictionson voting greatly hampered some people’s ability to vote.
The easiest way to make it easier to vote is to just let people vote. Voter fraud is something that is so small of a problem – and checks are already in place to prevent it – that adding additional restrictions seems counter-intuitive. If you want an engaged voting populace, you shouldn’t make them jump through hoops to participate in their democracy, which only causes frustration and will make that person less likely to vote the next time around.
Another thing is to make voting more accessible in one of two ways: make Election Day and national holiday every two years or move Election Day to the weekend, while also allowing for early, mail-in, and electronic voting. We might be a bit far away from full online voting, but giving people multiple methods of casting their ballot only increases their chance of actually casting one. Instead of voting in a 12 hour window on a day in the middle of the week, additional voting windows would allow for people to vote around their own schedule, making it something they can look forward to instead of showing up, waiting in line and leaving frustrated. Combine this with compulsory voting, and we can get turnout closer to 90% and truly represent our citizens in our government.
- Privatize and Make Redistricting Apolitical – Every 10 years, the U.S. does a Census to count folks and then reapportions Representatives appropriately. In 2010, for example, 8 states gained seats and 10 states lost seats in the House of Representatives. It has the potential to change the party dynamics of the House, if only because each individual state is responsible for redrawing the district lines. This tends to lead to gerrymandering, especially when one party dominates the state house and wants to ensure that they get more people from their party elected to national office.
The federal courts have had to step in recently in a couple of states to tell them to fix their “racially gerrymandered” district lines, so obviously there is a problem with the way some states are doing it. The politics need to be removed from redistricting. We have amazing mapping technology that can draw lines based on populations down to the neighborhood if needed, yet legislatures will still manipulate the lines to their advantage. In Utah, for example, Salt Lake County, whose population probably skews about 50/50 between liberal and conservative, has its population split into three of our four congressional districts, effectively weakening the Democratic vote and making it more difficult for a Democrat to win a House seat here. With four Congressional seats and approximately 30% of our voters voting Democrat, they should have a better chance of electing someone that shares their political views.
- Impose Term Limits – One of the biggest problems is that our elected officials – other than the President – can serve for as long as they want (as long as they continue to get elected). This leads to a lot time spent running for office every 18 months instead of actually governing, and with the gerrymandering problem, a lot of non-competitive districts. This in turn drives down participation because why vote if your person doesn’t have any chance of winning.
I would propose that a Senator can’t be elected to serve more than 2 terms, and no more than 15 years total if appointed into the office, and Representatives be limited to 4 terms (8 years), with a max of 10 years total. This would eliminate career politicians who spend too much time in Washington and not enough time addressing the concerns of their constituents. Even a person that served in the House and then moved onto the Senate would only be able to serve around 20 years and wouldn’t become institutionalized by spending 30+ years in Washington. Unfortunately, the people that would have to make this change – the Congressmen themselves – have no incentive to fire themselves from their cushy jobs. In that case, we should change all legislators pay to a per diem basis for every day actually spent in Washington at work.
- Publicly-Financed Elections – Big money has made elections unfair, allowing corporate interests to fund their preferred candidates. The Citizens United decision pretty much guaranteed these kind of contributions as a form of free speech. But all this does is make it more difficult for the “little guy” to compete in any election without their own corporate backers. Millions are spent on Congressional elections – and billions on presidential ones – leaving the average citizen at a severe disadvantage.
However, if all elected offices were funded out of the general election fund, everyone would start on the same level. No candidate could blitz television with ads that the other wouldn’t be able to afford. Again, this is something that will take some work to change as many of the people currently in office are beholden to certain corporate interests, but if the campaign of Bernie Sanders proved anything, small donors can make a difference if enough of them are able to come together for a good cause. Equal elections are fairer elections, and would only encourage more citizen participation.
These five steps would probably require a generational shift away from the way things are currently. But they are also very important in restoring some of the fairness that seems like it is missing in elections in the United States. In the meantime, continue to hold your elected officials accountable by doing the Number 1 thing on this list: VOTING! And if you are already a habitual voter, start working to get out the vote of those people that don’t show up regularly and help keep them informed into what those decisions could ultimately mean. Just try to do it beyond sharing something on Facebook, or writing 1,500 words on a blog that four people read…
Until next time…
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