A couple of days ago I posted a clip from Dave Rubin where he suggested that supporting Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson in polls in order to get him the 15% support required to feature in the presidential debates might help to force the two major parties to reform. Whether or not that would work is questionable, but I thought it wouldn’t do any harm. In the comments I was rightly criticized for my defeatism in saying that I thought it was unlikely that things would change in the US, so this post is an attempt to offer a starting point for reform.
I’ve also been criticized for continually extolling the virtues of the New Zealand electoral system. My opinion of our system is fairly widely held – it’s not just me being a proud Kiwi. However, we didn’t get out current system by accident. As recently as the 1980s we too had an unfair system. The political party that received the most votes didn’t necessarily get to form a government, and parties that got as much as fifteen percent of the votes didn’t get a single seat in parliament. Different groups campaigned on alternatives, and much of the establishment wanted to retain the old system. A referendum was held and a majority chose to change. Since then there has been another referendum to see if we still prefer the new one or want to go back to the old one (we chose to stick with the new one) and there has been a commission that recommended some changes that would improve the new one. The point is that in this, as in many other areas, successive governments with the support of, or pressure from, the people, we made a change.
I was also criticized for not mentioning Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate. It’s a fair criticism. However, Stein not only promotes the ridiculousness of homeopathy, she sympathizes with anti-vaxxers. She’s a doctor for goodness sake! I find her pandering to leftist elitist extremists appalling. Therefore she’s not a candidate I could ever consider voting for.
Anyway, back to the post from two days ago. Personally, I’m not sure I could bring myself to vote for a Libertarian even as a tactic, as I said then. Although they’re more socially liberal than the Republican party, they embrace trickle-down economics. I also find their foreign policy naïve and Gary Johnson himself lacking the foreign policy knowledge to be the leader of the free world. His stance on climate change is also weak. His website states that people are “probably” contributing to climate change, and that the environment should be protected, but he’s against any active policy to do that such as a carbon tax. He thinks the free market will sort it out.
The idea of freedom from government regulation is not all it’s cracked up to be either. I’ve heard Fox New‘s John Stossel, for example, witter on at length about the number of regulations required to be met in order to open a restaurant. He says people should just be able to open a business and they will succeed or fail based on how good they are. But just imagine the reality of that. Staff being underpaid and required to work long hours without breaks, hygiene regulations not being met, and food not being bought from reputable suppliers, stored safely, or cooked correctly. Saying the business will fail because customers will soon stop using it is all very well, but in the meantime it is likely that, at the very least, multiple customers will suffer illness and maybe even die because of the lack of food safety regulations.
So here are some suggestions for reforming the US political system:
Move Election Day to the Weekend
Average voter turnout 1945-2001 in the USA of 66.5% is 120th out of 169 countries. That is appalling in a First World country. There are many countries around the world, including Australia (1st – 94.5%), Singapore (2nd – 93.5%), and New Zealand (19th – 90.8%) where elections are held on Saturdays. Many more, including almost all of South America and large parts of Europe, hold them on Sundays. In The Philippines and some others, election day is a public holiday.
Voting in Australia and Singapore and Australia is compulsory, but not in New Zealand. It is easier for most people to get to the elections on the weekend, especially if they need to wait in line.
Move Election Day to late-September or mid-October
The weather is warmer which makes it easier for people to vote, especially those who lack transport, warm clothes, are elderly, or disabled. The transfer of power could then take place on 1 December, getting it all out of the way before Christmas.
Put all Elections on a Four-Year Cycle
From the outside, the United States appears to be perpetually in election mode. There are elections every two years and when that’s happening little or nothing can get done. Politicians are constantly worried about getting themselves or their colleagues re-elected. They feel they cannot be seen to be working with those from the other party and therefore cooperation and compromise have become dirty words. The work of government doesn’t get done. It is surprising to almost every other democratic country, for example, that the US government doesn’t present an annual budget. It is also impossible in most other countries for the government to be shut down the way it is the United States and the fact that happens is frankly shocking. I think politicians would be able to work together better if elections were not constantly hanging over them.
Repeal the Citizens United vs Federal Election Commission Decision
Big money has too much control in US elections. Following the 2014 elections the Brennan Center for Justice did an analysis of money spent in the senate races.
As reported by US News, they found:
… outside spending more than doubled since 2010, to $486 million. Outside groups provided 47 percent of total spending … in 10 competitive races in [2014’s] midterms.
“The premise that the Supreme Court was relying on, that these groups would be truly independent of the candidates themselves, is very questionable,” says Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, one of three Democrats on the six-member Federal Election Commission. …
The court effectively has said a donation of $1,000 does not, legally speaking, indicate a stronger association with a candidate than a donation of $10. So even when a candidate is aware of a huge donation to his or her single-candidate PAC, it’s not considered a problem.
“Plainly, if you worry about the corrupting influence of somebody making a million-dollar contribution directly to the candidate, the notion that the candidate can’t be corrupted by a million-dollar contribution that they know about to a super PAC that’s advocating solely on their behalf – it just doesn’t make sense to a lot of people,” [Weintraub] says.
As the rules are currently written, these PACs are able to circumvent restrictions preventing them from directly coordinating with campaigns, even though they’re often run by members of candidates’ inner circles. Sometimes those efforts are literally laughable … as campaigns and PACs hide their unofficial coordination in plain sight, such as through public announcements of their plans for television ad buys or through out-of-the-way Twitter accounts. …
As a result, a small group of wealthy donors has gained even more influence on elections, and are able to maintain that influence once candidates take office.
Of the $1 billion spent in federal elections by super PACs since 2010, nearly 60 percent of the money came from just 195 individuals and their spouses, according to the Brennan Center report. Thanks to Citizens United, supporters can make the maximum $5,200 donation directly to a candidate, then make unlimited contributions to single-candidate super PACs.
The huge amount of money coming from a small number of donors should be a concern to everyone. It flies on the face of the principle of “one person, one vote.”
Like many other countries, electorate boundaries in New Zealand are decided by an independent Electoral Commission. Politicians have no input whatsoever. As the New Zealand Electoral Commission states:
The Electoral Act 1993 imposes strict electoral population limits binding on the Commission. These provide an overall constraint to ensure that there are approximately equal numbers of people in each electorate so that they have equality of representation in Parliament. All electorates must contain electoral populations varying not more than ±5% from the following quotas which are calculated in accordance with the Act.
They also have to make allowance for such things as “existing electoral boundaries, community of interest, facilities of communications, topographical features, and any projected variation in the general electoral population of those districts during the life.”
This system provides electorates defined fairly. In the United States the electorate boundaries are decided by who is in power in a state. Both parties adjust electorate boundaries in their own favour. The shape of some electorates beggars belief as their boundaries wander across the state like a dog sniffing out a trail. Gerrymandering must stop.
Independent Information for Electors
In New Zealand when there is a referendum on the ballot, the Electoral Commission is required to provide independent, non-partisan information for voters to help them make a decision on how to vote. This also enables them to assess whether the advertising they are seeing and hearing from campaigns is accurate and fair.
I’m sure there are lots of things I haven’t thought of – I’d love to read your ideas in the comments. I’d also be interested to know whether you think these things would help, and how hard or easy they’d be to introduce if so.
Elections are the most important part of our democracy, and I strongly believe everyone should vote even if they only spoil their ballot in some way. In my opinion, if you don’t vote you have no right to complain about the government you get.
If you enjoyed reading this, please consider donating a dollar or two to help keep the site going. Thank you.