Tuesday, November 08, 2016

10 Fixes We Need in Our Elections Process

Every year, like clockwork, we hear tales around this time of year of people not being able to vote because, due to some inane law, they missed a registration deadline or we hear countless reports of "voter fraud" on FOX News as if this is some widespread phenomenon that everyone thinks is happening all around them, like speeding through an empty work construction zone.  It's also the time of year where we proclaim, over and over again, that we need to do something about this, and then nothing is actually done to improve conditions for voters because about a week after the ballots are cast, we forget that we had all of these complaints until it's two years later and suddenly we're wondering why no one fixed these issues.

As a result of this, I've created a list of ten things I want Congress in the next session to take care of (yes, I'm aware they've got a lot on their plate-so does everyone else in America-learn to multitask).  I'll note here that the entire point of this list is to get people more access to voting, more people to actually vote, and ensure that elections feel as fair as reasonable to the candidates.  In addition, I want to ensure that elections are accurate and reflect the choice of all the people who voted, so while you're not going to see Voter ID (which is designed, inherently, to disenfranchise voters and eliminate a type of voter fraud that's non-existent), I am going to throw a bone to the Republicans in terms of a way to prevent voter fraud that is theoretically possible, especially as technology grows.  Without further adieu, here is my list of ten steps I want Congress/state legislatures to take in the next two years to ensure we don't have this madness again:

1. It's Time to Eliminate Caucuses

This doesn't even apply to this Tuesday, but oh how frequently we forget that things have happened in the past.  Remember earlier this year, when primary season would happen and caucuses in states from Iowa to Nevada were dominating conversations and giving us results that had considerably less to do with whom the state wanted and more to do with who could give away three hours of their evening to voting?  Yeah, that's unacceptable.  The complaint that only 9% of Americans voted for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump in the primary is one that, in part, is the problem of the electorate-you had plenty of choices (particularly the GOP) but you chose not to take them.  That being said, we shouldn't allow a system that intimidates voters or makes it so that people that have evening jobs are disenfranchised from the process.  I will state that I don't support open primaries, but that's because primaries should be for those who identify with a specific party (Democrats should get to pick Democrats, Republicans should get to pick Republicans), but there should be easy ways to register to vote on primary day, and everyone should be able to participate in the sense that there is a full day of voting similar to Election Day for the general.  You should not have to worry about having to devote hours on end to voting in a specific evening, and if you don't, you don't get your voice heard.

2. National Primary Day or a Rotating Primary

The monopoly held by New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, and Iowa is completely unacceptable.  The rest of the country should not get the leftovers of these four states, chosen arbitrarily by history.  The primary process has become a much more all-encompassing affair, and in recent years we've seen a lot more major politicians making a play for the White House than ever before, but by the time the bulk of the country gets to vote, these politicians are already out of the competition.  That's unacceptable.  I have long espoused for a National Primary Day, a 5-10 day window where everyone gets to vote on all of these candidates, but I am open to a compromise here (particularly since this could lead to a lot more contested conventions, which don't quite feel democratic either).  States from different regions of the country should get to vote in different cycles (perhaps ten states every Tuesday for five weeks?), with them alternating who gets to be in charge each four years.  This way, it's fair to all states (some get to go first, but then you get to go last), and the primary season doesn't last an eternity.  Honestly, there's no reason the primary season should last the eternity that it does, and that's another benefit here-shorter election seasons, which should hopefully allow for more productivity in Congress in an election year.

Dr. Jill Stein
3. Automatic Ballot Access at 5%

One of the biggest complaints currently amongst people frustrated with the political system is surrounding third-party candidates and their lack of access to the public.  In some respects I see the point of this problem, and in one in particular: ballot access.  I think that there should be a uniform rule that if you (or another member of your party) has received 5% in a statewide election (be it presidential, Senate, or gubernatorial), you should automatically get ballot access for the next four years.  End of story.  Many times it feels like the Green Party or Libertarian Party has to start from scratch every few years, even if they had a strong showing by a Jill Stein or Gary Johnson in a previous election.  This should apply to down-ballot as well (if you get 5% in a congressional race, your party should be granted automatic ballot access in that race two years later).  It's not fair that these parties seem to have to restart from scratch, and considering that Johnson/Stein both made it on ballots in the grand bulk of states, there's clearly an appetite for a third or fourth party option while voting.

4. Debate Access Should Remain at 15% in Polls

There's some question around whether or not polling should be used to allow people into debates, particularly with reputable polls being harder and harder to come by, and I get that.  However, I don't think that a third party, just because they exist, should be granted access to debates.  The reality is that debates are when people decide whom they're going to vote for, and having a third party candidate whom polling shows has no shot at winning is more a distraction than a public service.  15% is a pretty low threshold to clear-most Democrats even in Utah or Wyoming, or Republicans in Vermont, can easily clear those numbers.  If a third-party candidate reasonably has a shot at the White House, or a down-ballot race, they should be able to get to that point by the September/October debate season.

5. No-Excuse Absentee Ballots/Early Voting for All

We're now on Election Day, and while above was more about fairness and ensuring a fair fight for candidates/states, here it's all about getting as many eligible voters voting.  And that means early voting and no-excuse absentee ballots for all.  Period.  The goal in voting is to get as many eligible voters to vote, end of story-we want a democracy where everyone has taken part, not only those who can make it convenient for themselves.  That means that the elderly, people with limited mobility, those traveling, and those just unsure if they'll make it to the polls should not have to worry about getting out to vote-they should be able to get an absentee ballot as long as they want one.  That's a step in the right direction, and has been proven to get more people voting.  

Secondly, we need to have national early voting, as the idea of simply voting on a Tuesday that was convenient for farmers some 240 years ago is idiotic.  In our present economy, people frequently work evening shifts, two jobs, or do not have a co-parent or partner to take care of children in the evenings.  As a result, we need to have an election voting period that works with all schedules.  My recommendation, quite frankly, would be a 12-day voting period, beginning with a Friday, and ending with the traditional first Tuesday after the first Monday of November.  This would allow at least every day of the week to have at least one voting day (as someone who used to have a midweek weekend, I can get the appeal here), allows two weekends (where people find it the easiest to vote), and ends with our traditional Election Day (which I believe is not only constitutional, but a nice nod to tradition, which I'm not totally against as long as it doesn't hinder more voting).  This should be national, and every precinct should have the same hours-no arbitrary deletions of a Sunday voting day for nefarious purposes in some counties.

6. Create Automatic Registration

The goal of Election Day, as I mentioned above, should be in principle to easily allow all eligible voters to vote for all of their eligible offices.  Period.  One of the biggest hindrances to this process is arbitrarily changing someone's registration to be registered by having a deadline before the elections or by "purging" infrequent voters from the voter rolls.

These are both nonsense, in my opinion, and something no one should have to deal with.  The only time someone should be purged from the voter rolls is if they have died or are no longer a US citizen. Period.  Otherwise, people should stay on the rolls so that we don't run into a situation where someone is not accorded their right to vote.

Additionally, I think you should automatically be registered to vote upon your 18th birthday or after becoming a citizen.  There's no really good reason why this isn't the case now-American men already have to register for the draft once they reach adulthood-why can't we be in a situation where you also register to vote at the same time (for both men and women)?  You can choose, at that time, to be registered to a specific party or no-party affiliated, and then in order to vote in partisan primaries, you can change that party registration, but in order to vote in a general I think it should be automatic, and no one should have to worry about registration.  Additionally, the government should be able to handle things like name-changes and automatically update registration when someone gets married.  This way same-day registration (another good idea), doesn't even need to happen since every eligible voter would be able to vote without worry.

7. Felons Should Get to Vote

This is a topic I occasionally catch my liberal friends off-guard with, as it's one we don't often think about, but I do think that felons, once they have completed their jail time or probation, should be allowed to vote.  This law varies from state-to-state, but I think that if we believe that serving a jail sentence is what constitutes punishment for a crime (that is what our court-of-law is based upon), we need to be able to allow those who have finished their punishment to be allowed their constitutional rights to vote.  I think the problem here for some is they don't think that certain types of criminals should be allowed to gain reentry to society, but that feels more like a criminal justice issue (where you debate length of prison sentences), then one that should be blanketly applied to all those convicted of a felony.  If you're a citizen, paying taxes and have served your time, you should also get a say in whom your leaders are.

8. Election Day Resources Should Be Allocated by Eligible Voters

Each year, we see lines that stretch for multiple city blocks, and hear stories of people who took hours upon hours to get to cast their ballot.  This is unacceptable.  We live in a country where no one should have to devote an entire day to voting, particularly since we have improved technologies and resources to ensure this doesn't happen.

It's worth noting, of course, that this seems to almost always happen in neighborhoods of persons of color.  This year, we saw that in Cincinnati and Las Vegas in particular (if you follow me on Twitter, you will see that I've been tweeting about this).  I can attest from personal experience that the longest I ever had to wait in line (roughly an hour) was when I lived in a predominantly black neighborhood. This isn't a coincidence-it appears that resources are not given out equitably to ensure that all citizens get speedy access to a ballot.

So my proposal is that all polling places should be distributed not by arbitrary geographic lines, but almost completely by population.  As a result, we should not be in a situation where county, city, or precincts are chosen by historical geography, but simply by the number of registered voters (and since I proposed there would be automatic registration, this should be all adult-age citizens) that are in the area.  That means that if suburban voters only wait ten minutes to vote, then those in more densely-populated areas should also only wait ten minutes to vote.  I would bake in some exceptions for those in rural communities where population would create undue pressure on travel (a place like Wyoming if you went simply by population you might have to drive twenty miles to vote), but no one should be using solely geography when deciding voting/polling resources in a city or surrounding area.

9. Every State Needs a Paper Trail

Look alive Republicans-this one's specifically for you.  I am not someone who subscribes to the idea that voter ID is going to stop voter fraud, mostly because by-and-large voter fraud doesn't exist, and it's certainly not widespread (and what does exist won't be solved by Voter ID).  Study after study after study has shown this.  However, after this past year I'm willing to admit there might be some improvements required to our voting process, specifically in terms of technology.

With the DNC hackings (amongst many others in the past year), reliance exclusively on technology at the polling place is not an acceptable way to conduct an election, and we need to have some sort of physical backup of votes in case of a cyber-attack or attempts to influence American elections.  For many of you, you might not think anything of this because you live in a state where you vote on a paper ballot, and while that is counted by machine, we have the physical copy in case we need to recount or there's an issue with the machine.  However, in five states (Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, New Jersey, and South Carolina), all voting is done electronically without the use of a paper trail, and at least some voting in another ten states is conducted this way.  This is unacceptable in an era of heightened cyber-security, and there needs to be a requirement that all states have either a paper trail or paper ballots as part of their elections process in order to ensure a secure election.

10. Electors Should Be Chosen by Campaigns

I think that we need to (truly) explore eliminating the electoral college, as it's clearly an archaic system that is designed to circumvent the will of the majority of the people (it says something that the only reason we are heading into election night with a question mark is because of a few arbitrary states, as it's quite apparent that Hillary Clinton will win the popular vote and be a plurality, if not majority, choice to be POTUS).  But until that happens, we need to fix one quirk of the electoral college: we need to have campaigns choose electors.

We're seeing that in Washington State right now, where two electors are threatening to discard the will of the people with an enormous breach of public trust by not casting their votes for Hillary Clinton should she (as expected) win the state's electoral college votes.  The reality is that faithless electors are the worst kinds of people-they believe that their wisdom is more than that of the people that trust them to carry out an archaic, almost always pointless duty.  The only time, in my opinion, that a faithless elector should indeed be justified in casting his or her ballot for someone other than the choice of their state is when a candidate they have pledged to support has passed away.  Period.  To prevent someone, from say, being a Bernie Sanders or Ted Cruz supporter, getting through the closed-room style decisions to become an elector, and then hold up the state's electoral college votes due to an over-inflated sense of ego (you can tell I'm mad about this one, can't you?) is something we should strive to do.  Therefore, the candidates and their campaigns themselves, and not the state party or a state convention, should get to pick whom represents them in the electoral college.  If they still end up with a candidate that doesn't back them, it's on them, but until the electoral college is put to the ash heap of history, this is the next best solution.

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