Bringing our electoral and legislative processes into the 21st century is the next item that commands our attention. Really, this includes several things we tend to think of as separate concerns: the security of electronic voting devices, voter suppression, gerrymandering, and legislative processes. But they really all become part of the same problem if we accept the premises that full voter participation is desirable, that political power should be distributed equally across the voting population, and that modern technology should be applied to make participation easier for voters, more secure from manipulation by bad actors, and available to Congress to enable remote participation in situations like the one they are confronting now.
If this seems like a Democrat’s partisan wish list, I simply point to the person who found his way into the White House with the help of a foreign power, who continues to seek their help for re-election, who won the office with less than a majority of the vote, and who avoided removal from office by threatening primary opposition to any disloyal Republicans in the Senate. The result has been a travesty of government, something that looks more like low budget television than a process for governing for the welfare and defense of a nation. Even the Republicans I hang out with don’t like it. And, for all that, it’s not even entertaining.
And, more consequentially, it has left us poorly equipped to meet the challenges of the pandemic. We started late, we planned poorly, and we put out incorrect information and dangerous advice.
Proper apportionment to achieve equitable representation is not that demanding of a problem. It may not be rocket science, but it does require a consensus commitment to democratic principles, that is to say a bipartisan consensus. The conservative party in state legislatures across the land, alleged to be the Republicans, could achieve this in concert with Democrats who would gladly welcome their help in drawing lines that respected the intent of the Founders. Surely that is something most Republicans could endorse.
Voting security requires treating votes with no less value than we do our money. Accountants require evidence on paper that can be used as a basis for auditing and verifying the accuracy of basic entries and reported totals. That we do not require a paper trail for electronic voting devices is, at its worst, a system purposely set up to be abused. The most innocent interpretation is that it is sloppy, lazy accounting. Surely the party that perennially promises to run the government like a business opposes an un-auditable system like this one.
It would not be that difficult to fix but we ALL have to want to fix it, not just the “Democrat party.” If they can’t agree on requiring a paper trail for states’ electronic voting systems, I suggest what may be an even more secure system, the method used by the Iraqis and others to prevent election fraud: dipping the thumb in indelible ink when a voter casts a ballot. It may sound primitive but it is a more secure system than the ones we are using in – what are we calling it? – the most advanced democracy on Earth.
The legislative process pretty much ground to a halt when the country required social distancing for our basic survival. There was no reason for that when businesses and education carried on with the help of tools like Zoom, Go to Meeting, and Google Hangouts. The big boys and girls in Congress could learn to live with email, online meetings, text communication just like the rest of the world in these kinds of circumstances. Yes, there would be some loss of discussion, negotiation, and compromise. But there is so little of it now in their face-to-face meetings that I can’t see much negative effect in going electronic.
So that gives us a basket of issues to work on that make up the second entry on our national post-pandemic to-do list: fix the gummed-up machinery of democracy.
In the early days of recording, RCA Victor demanded high enough fidelity in reproducing “his master’s voice” that even Nipper, his lop-eared hound would recognize it coming out of the speaker. We owe our voters an electoral and representational design that would upgrade our system to the same 21st century standards that we apply to high definition sound and graphic reproduction. Once we agree on our values, the rest is simply an engineering problem.
4 thoughts on “Post-Pandemic To-Do List for America: Thing Number 2”
Quick question, are you proposing that the electorial college be eliminated? If not then the political power should be spread across the population not the voters. That’s one think people forget about the electorial college, if 10 million people vote or 50 million people vote the state gets exactly the same number of EC delegates because it is set on population plus 2 (Senate) not those who bother to show up to vote. Yes, this does give more say to smaller states per capita but I am ok with that.
Yes, if it were left to me I would eliminate the Electoral College. However, that is probably never going to happen unless there is a general constitutional convention. Small population states are not likely to vote to reduce their own power in selecting the president. And they will have a blocking minority in any effort to amend otherwise.
I will offer more on the EC later. Maybe a larger problem is the unit rule tradition. There are a couple of things we could do that would make it more democratic. But, more later.
Thank you for your comment. If you don’t have a problem with smaller states having more power then the Electoral College is the team to root for,
There are a couple of “solutions” to the way the electoral college functions that don’t require a Constitutional amendment. One being tried now by some states is to pledge the electors to vote for the candidate that receives the most popular votes. Enough states to achieve 270 electoral votes chooses the winner. Another is to pledge the electors to vote for whomever wins their representative district. The two representing the Senate seats could be pledged to vote for the winner of the state, the winner of the overall popular vote, or be unpledged. The later would not make it a one to one ratio of the popular vote, but would come much closer to approximating it without major tampering with the system. The original intent was for unpledged electors who would vote their preferences after they were elected by the people.
Thanks for your comment, Ed.
Yes, Maine and Nebraska have legislated to get away from the unit rule. I would like to see all states go that route or, maybe even better, just all agree that the popular vote winner would get the electoral votes of their states.
Maybe it’s time we tried democracy.