Tag Archives: reforms

8 Ways to Fix America’s Messed-Up Presidential Elections

Image result for empty voting precinct

In 2016 there were 17 major candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, so many they had to have two sets of debates—and the guy who won was the first of all. Seven pundit-viable candidates have declared for 2020 on the Democratic side, more probably on the way, yet many Democrats say they’re not excited by any of them.

There must be a better way.

Presidential campaigns could be improved—streamlined, made more relevant to more voters and their worries, and likelier to result in better outcomes—and it wouldn’t require revolutionary change, just common-sense reforms.

In a representative democracy the goal ought not to be engagement for its own sake. You want voters to vote because they’re vested in the outcome; you want candidates who, after they’re elected, work hard to fix the biggest problems. The ideal politician is responsive and accountable to the citizenry. Otherwise people look at politics and think “what a load of crap, it makes no difference to me.”

First, take a step back: get rid of jungle primaries and open primaries. Both of these newfangled experiments were marketed as ways to increase voter turnout and encourage moderation. They don’t.

In a jungle or open-participation primary like in California the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, advance to a second final round. Trouble is, both might be from the same party, disenfranchising the other party’s voters during the general election. If one party’s candidates split the vote, the minority party can win. Either scenario depresses voter interest and participation. In an open primary voters can cross party lines to vote in the other party’s primary. Studies show that open primaries do not result in victories by more moderate candidates (assuming that’s desirable); Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign shows what happens when a party whose electorate has moved way left is asked to turn out for a centrist.

Either we have parties and party identification or we don’t. Jungle and open primaries are mere mush.

Second, amend Article II of the Constitution. The requirement that only “natural born” citizens over age 35 may run for president ought to be abolished. If you’re mature enough to decide who gets to hold an office, you can hold it. The “natural born” requirement effectively turns naturalized Americans like Arnold Schwarzenegger into second-class citizens and opens the door to stupid discussions like whether John McCain, born in the former Panama Canal Zone, and Ted Cruz (born in Canada) qualifies. France, Germany, Great Britain and Israel are some of the countries that allow naturalized citizens to become head of state.

Opening the presidency to talented young politicians like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (age 29) would reduce the (accurate) perception that top-tier U.S. politics is a hetero white male game.

Third, give presidential debates back to the League of Women Voters. The LWV passed the sponsorship torch to the Commission on Presidential Debates in 1988 because the two parties wanted to control “the selection of questioners, the composition of the audience, hall access for the press and other issues.” Then-League president Nancy Neuman complained at the time: “It has become clear to us that the candidates’ organizations aim to add debates to their list of campaign-trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity and honest answers to tough questions.”

Neuman was prescient: since 1988 the debates have become soft-ball pabulum. Controlled by the two parties, the Commission excludes third-party candidates from participating. In 2012 the Commission even had the Green Party presidential candidate tied to a chair for eight hours for the crime of trying to participate in democracy. The LWV wasn’t perfect but it was independent.

Fourth, level the campaign financing playing field. The Citizens United Supreme Court decision that enshrined pay-to-play can be abolished with the passage of a bill limiting or controlling outside donations. As with food, France does it better: whereas top individual donors to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump gave more than $20 million each, the cap is €7,500 in France. There are two rounds in French presidential elections. Spending is severely restricted. “To help even out the playing field a little between bigger and smaller parties, campaign expenses can’t legally go over a certain threshold, €16.8 million for the first round, and €22.5 million for the second round,” according to The Local. That’s tiny compared to the $2.6 billion spent by Clinton and Trump in 2016.

U.S.-style political TV ads are banned in France. No matter how small their party, each candidate gets a small number of official statements on the air. In the second-round general election, the airtime of each candidate is exactly equal.

Like France, we can and should limit campaign spending to give new and outside voices an equal chance at getting their opinions out to voters.

Fifth, make voting simultaneous and easier. The major flaw with early voting is, what if big campaign news—one of the candidates talking about “grabbing their pussy,” say—breaks after you voted in October? It’s not like you can take your vote back. Make Election Day a national holiday (as it is in most developed countries) and let people vote on their computers or smartphones. 89% of Americans use the Internet; two out of three do their banking online. How great would it be if candidates’ policy positions and detailed explanations of ballot initiatives could be linked directly via an election app?

Sixth, and most likely to be controversial, is my list of American citizens who should not be permitted to run for president.

  •             If you’re an incumbent officeholder, you should not run. Finish your term first, complete your commitment to the voters of your state or district.
  •             If you cannot pass a simple test about the U.S. and its political system, you should not be allowed to run. We’ve had too many idiot presidents already. What is the Second Amendment? What is the capital of Puerto Rico? Which branch of government may declare war? How many members are there in Congress? Ten questions, you must correctly answer seven.
  •             If you own investments in a business, stock or other investments, or hold office in a company, you should not present yourself as a candidate for the presidency. Conflicts of interest should not be permitted; divest and stick your cash in a 0.3% annual interest savings account. Serve the people, not yourself.
  •             If a close family member by blood or marriage served as president or vice president, you should not run. Your spouse served? Your sibling? Your parent? Find another job. America is a big country and not a hereditary monarchy; give someone from another family a chance.

Seventh, abolish the Electoral College.

Eighth, make it easier for third parties to run by loosening ballot-access rules. Reduce the number of signatures required to get on the ballot. Get rid of laws requiring that you get certain percent of the vote. More choices means more options means greater likelihood that you agree with someone who’s on the ballot.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Cops Shouldn’t Write Tickets – How to Fix the Broken Relationship Between the People and the Police

After years of no one – at least not the white people who control the media – giving a damn about what happens to black people at the hands of white cops, suddenly the terrible relationship between people and the police is a huge problem.

This is what happens when the power dynamic gets reversed, when aggressors find themselves in the unhappy role of victims. First, five policemen were assassinated in Dallas, as payback for police violence in general. Now three more have been killed in Baton Rouge, apparently to retaliate for the murder of another unarmed black man, Alton Sterling, by local police.

Cops are getting shot. So the media is finally paying attention.

Airing the issue is long overdue, but as usual it’s playing out in hackneyed catchphrases that are unlikely to lead to meaningful improvement.

What we need, liberal wise men of the media tell us, is more community policing. Cops and the community need to get to know each other. Cops should get out of the squad car, walk around, talk to the locals before they shoot them.

Conservatives have a different answer: they think people, especially black people, need to have more appreciation for the extremely hard job the police are asked to do. Except that being a cop isn’t really that hard or that dangerous. You are far more likely to die on the job if you are a logger, a pilot, a steelworker, a garbageman, a construction labor, a farmer, or president of the United States. The reason so many people join the police is that it’s actually a sweet gig: pretty well paid (especially with overtime), and you get to retire after 20 years.

Fixing people’s terrible relationship with the police who are paid to protect and serve them will require radical rather than incremental change.

(Notice that I said “people,” not “minorities.” The racial dynamic between police and minority neighborhoods that they patrol like occupied enemy territory in a war zone captures the headlines, but not the reality of a country in which many people, not just blacks, view the police with a mixture of fear and contempt. 41% of whites, for example, don’t have a high degree of confidence in the police or view them as being honest.)

Three major structural changes would go a long way towards fixing the problem.

First, the police should stop carrying guns.

In many countries, including countries where citizens have the right to bear arms, the police generally don’t carry a weapon on duty. Places like Norway, Iceland, Japan, New Zealand, Britain, and Ireland haven’t disintegrated into anarchy as a result. Nor have many policemen lost their lives. There are, of course, many reasons why disarming the police works, but there’s one that jumps to mind right away: when you get pulled over by a cop here, you know that the only way you’re going to get away clean is by shooting the police officer. Traffic stops often turn deadly. Taking guns away from the police reduces the stakes in confrontations between law enforcement and suspects. It makes everyone, including the police, safer.

If someone is robbing a bank, there’s the option of picking up some guns at the police station and waiting outside. That’s what they do in Britain.

Second, cops shouldn’t be writing tickets.

As school children, we learned that Officer Friendly is here to help us in the event that we run into trouble. In other words, the police are our guardians. But how do you reconcile that image with getting pulled over for a minor traffic infraction like a broken taillight?

If the police were really here to help us, if they were here to protect us, the policeman who tells you about your broken taillight wouldn’t write you a ticket. He certainly wouldn’t use that traffic stop as an excuse to search your vehicle for drugs or other contraband, much less steal it through “asset forfeiture.” He would tell you about the problem so that you could fix it. Period.

For the vast majority of Americans, the typical interaction with law-enforcement – indeed, their typical interaction with their government – is a police officer issuing them a parking or a traffic ticket. The role of government shakedown thug/municipal revenue enhancement is incompatible with the role of a guardian. A guardian wants you to drive safely. He doesn’t sit cleverly behind a tree at the bottom of a steep hill, where the last speed limit sign was hard to see, in order to extract a few hundred bucks from your wallet. Ask a kid who wants to be a police officer one day whether she wants to catch bad guys or write tickets. You know the answer.

At bare minimum, municipalities should create separate agencies for parking and traffic enforcement. It would be better, of course, if traffic safety had nothing to do with fines. Raise taxes on the rich if you want to replace the billions of dollars collected annually from tickets.

Third, we need a federal agency to appoint independent federal prosecutors to replace the current system of local district attorneys.

When the police are charged with wrongdoing against civilians, the odds are that they will get away with it. In fact, the odds are that they will never face an indictment. In 2015, 85% of police shootings were handled by DAs who work closely with the officer’s own department.
Which isn’t surprising considering the fact that the DA who decides whether or not charges get filed has to have a high conviction rate in order to get reelected or reappointed, which requires him or her to have a friendly relationship with law-enforcement. It’s a ridiculously brazen conflict of interest that ought to have been done away with a long time ago.

(Ted Rall is the author of “Bernie,” a biography written with the cooperation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. His next book, the graphic biography “Trump,” comes out July 26th and is now available for pre-order.)