Sunday, September 13, 2015

A Proposed New Constitution Article 2, Insuring Greater Democracy

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Article 2- Insuring Greater Democracy

1. The Electoral College is abolished. The President shall be directly elected, with the winner being the candidate receiving the most votes.”

There probably is no part of the original constitution more disliked than the Electoral College, more regarded as archaic, useless, arbitrary, and pointless. Yet it persists, for it is politically useful to elites as a way to nullify and undermine broader populist democracy.

As described in the Introduction, the college was intended by the founders to be a veto against the public. If they elected the “wrong” man, the electors were to ignore the voters and choose the “right” man, one who would serve the wishes of elites. The other restrictions already in place to keep out populists made this unnecessary. Only rarely did electors vote contrary to what the voters of a state wanted. Even that was fixed in the 1970s by laws in some states requiring electors to vote the same as a state's popular vote.

So why does it continue? The college, like the US Senate, gives far more power to small population and mostly rural states. A lightly populated state like Wyoming gets three electoral votes, when based on its population it should get a fraction of one. Since rural voters tend to be more conservative, conservatives get an exaggerated sense of how conservative the nation is, and are overrepresented in the college. The big concentrations of electoral votes in a few states also makes it useful for political elites and the highly paid consultants they use to target those states.

The college has an anti democratic effect in other ways too. If you don't live in a swing state, you are mostly ignored by major parties' campaigns. That depresses voter turnout. If the other party will win in your state by over ten percentage points, why bother showing up at all? As much as 45% of the voters of a state are told their vote does not count. So the majorities in one state by one party are further exaggerated.

Congressmen and other officials running for office from the smaller party in the state are also far more likely to lose when they could have won. A Democrat running in largely Democratic Austin in the largely Republican state of Texas, or a Republican running in largely Republican Orange County in largely Democratic California, could lose where they might have won.

Another distortion is that small groups in big Electoral College states have far more influence than they should. How much have US relations with Cuba been dictated by a small group of Cuban-Americans in South Florida?

This college is an incredibly unpopular institution and its fall is guaranteed by any future constitutional convention. In its place is the simple solution wanted by nearly everyone and practiced by almost every democracy in the world. The president will be the candidate who receives the most votes.

2. The Supreme Court shall never, by any decision including indirectly, decide who shall be President.”

Elections like 1876 and 2000 must never be repeated again. In both cases, a corrupt party blatantly stole the election and suppressed minority votes during the election, and even more after. In both cases, the Electoral College negated the popular vote. In both cases, five justices of the court sanctioned and actively intervened to maintain the results of these corrupt elections.

This clause removes the courts from elections, leaving the matter entirely to the executive branch. Clause 5 of this article, further down, guarantees election boards shall always be nonpartisan, and shall never decide to favor one party or ideology, and shall never exclude minority votes as happened all across the south in 1876 and in five states in 2000.

3. The Vice President shall be nominated separately by each party and elected separately from the President, and also serves as the Secretary of State.”

The Vice Presidential candidacy is more a punchline than anything else. It has given us such awful and almost universally despised politicians as Aaron Burr, John Calhoun, Andrew Johnson, William Marshall (who actually refused to become president when Woodrow Wilson was in a coma), Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, Dick Cheney, and Sarah Palin.

Of 47 VPs, the only ones to be highly regarded by both historians and the public while VP were just two, Truman and Mondale. Truman headed a campaign to halt waste in wartime industries and Mondale was the first activist VP. A failure rate of over 95% for over 200 years is incredibly high even by the worst of government standards. As VP John Garner said, being VP is “not worth a warm bucket of piss.” He did not say spit, that was cleaned up by later writers.

The office needs to be changed. The VP is chosen by a single person when they should be chosen by the voters, first in the party primaries and then in the general election. The office needs to be more than an empty formality, a person who spends most of their time at funerals or on make-work commissions to look busy.

Make the VP also the Secretary of State. That is where one would acquire the skills most needed to step into the office of the presidency should something happen to the president. Require the parties nominate their VPs separately, and let the voters choose them separately. Then there would no more Andrew Johnsons, disasters who became president, originally chosen just to help the party ticket.

4. The Senate shall be 100 adult citizens chosen at random each year, representative of the adult American public by age, gender, race and ethnicity, religion or lack of, and income or social class.”

The Senate is a millionaire's club. This is no exaggeration. It has always been a vocation sought after by wealthy retired men almost as a hobby after a life in business or law. This must end. Let the Senate represent the American public directly, be chosen at random from the public itself to act as a check against any and all elite led efforts or laws.

Look at the makeup of the Senate today in 2015.

93 whites, 4 Latinos, 2 Blacks, 1 Asian.

Average age of 62. 80 men, 20 women. Average income of over $1 million.

52 Protestants, 27 Catholics, 11 Jews, 7 Mormons, 1 Buddhist.

Now look at the makeup of the Senate under this proposed plan:

62 whites, 17 Latinos, 13 Blacks, 5 Asians, 2 American Indians, 1 Arab.

51 women, 49 men. Average age of 54. Average income of $35,000.

51 Protestants, 22 Catholics, 16 atheists, agnostics, or unaffiliated, 2 Jews, 2 Orthodox Christians, 1 Mormon, 1 Buddhist, 1 Hindu, 1 Muslim, and 3 who won't say what their faith, or lack of it, is.

Clearly our current system leaves out the voices of most women and ethnic and religious minorities. Atheists and the unaffiliated especially are completely silenced, unable to be elected because of the hostility of those bigoted against them. But the most striking silencing of all is of working class people. Even the upper middle class rarely get elected.

A completely random process for choosing senators from the adult general public can easily be designed by statisticians. Having a senate chosen at random from the public guarantees the public shall always be represented. It turns the public into itself the fourth branch of government and a check on the power of the other three branches.

No doubt the more elitist and downright snobby will sneer at the thought of a waitress or truck driver in the halls of congress. No doubt many of those same people will pat themselves on the back, and never consider that to your typical member of the political or economic elite, the readers looking down on a waitress themselves would be sneered at by elites.

Those who sneer at the hard working and less educated are contemptible, unlike the ones they look down on. Not having a degree does not make one stupid, and equally important, it does not take away from wanting to do what is right, and having basic common sense. The recent documentary Schooling the World makes a very strong case for how education can often be used to make a person less ethical, more materialistic, and less tied to their community. The famed Lies My Teacher Told Me points out that, believe it or not, more education makes one more likely to support wars, not less. Education can be used to liberate, as Paolo Freire famously formulated. But it can also be used to pacify and make the public submissive. Education must teach critical thinking, or it produces unthinking robots.

Having wealth in many ways makes a person less capable. They are sheltered from day to day struggles. They don't know what it is to have to choose which bill to pay, to go without, or to see one's children go without. It is elitist to sneer at those on public assistance as “lazy” when truly the laziest people are those who let their wealth do their work for them. It is also ignorant of the facts to not know the wealthy receive far more public assistance than the poor, or willfully blind to refuse to admit so.

A nation should never try for change solely from above, imposed on those below. Those below must have a veto. A senate made up of 100 John and Jane Does rather than Rockefellers provides that.

5. Redistricting shall only be decided by nonpartisan committee, and gerrymandering to favor one party or dilute minority voting power is forbidden.”

Redistricting is today done by the most highly partisan people possible. State legislatures decide voting districts, and they generally do so openly to favor their own party as much as possible. For over a generation after the civil rights era, it was also quite common for districts to be set up to weaken or exclude minority voting power.

A good example of partisan redistricting is Austin. Politically, Austin's voters are quite similar in their outlook to San Francisco's. The Republican state legislature gerrymandered Austin out of its own congressman, dividing it up into parts of six more conservative districts. By one gerrymandering effort alone, nearly a million Americans are not represented in the House.

But perhaps the most notorious examples of partisan electioneering have happened in Florida and Ohio. Florida's Secretary of State Katherine Harris purged eligible voters, mostly Black, and halted a recount to help her own party. Ohio's Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, himself Black, disenfranchised a number of minority voters, and then refused to cooperate with investigations into his actions. Neither person, nor indeed any politician, has any business as an authority to decide who can vote.

Less known, but just as unjust, is how partisan election rules keep out third parties. When John Anderson ran as an independent candidate for president in 1980, eventually getitng 8% of the vote, his campaign spent much of their time and limited funds overcoming the many barriers to getting on the ballot in each state. Anderson at one point had over a quarter of voters supporting him. State barriers trying to exclude him were not the only reason he did not do nearly as well as he could have. But they had a crippling effect on his campaign.

Voting, and insuring that everyone eligible can vote as easily as possible, should not be up to partisans with a stake in keeping out voters of other parties. It should be as nonpartisan and uncontroversial as health or fire departments.

6. Congressional representatives' terms are changed to four years, elected in the same elections as the President.”

Most of the public does not show up to vote for midterm elections. These votes, and the people chosen by them, are illegitimate because most of the public is not represented. That must change.

Blaming the voters themselves is pointless. Voters often show up depending on how much they have been conditioned to show up, and the media does not do so for midterm elections. The media pays far more attention to the presidency than all other offices combined, but there is no law that will change that. Instead that attention must be harnessed so that a majority will always turn out to elect their congressmen.

The terms of the two houses are almost reversed by this proposed system. Today senators are wealthy elites with a longer term than a president, and they represent mostly small population states. Congressmen serve only two years, and while still well off, have slightly higher numbers of the upper middle class than senators. This new system makes the new House the upper house, with longer terms and still likely more well off economically than the Senate.

The new Senate will be mostly working class and mid and lower middle class. While there will still be some from the upper middle class, it is unlikely to have more than a single member of wealthy elites. There likely will even be several members of the Senate each year who were unemployed at the time of being chosen, and a fair number of retirees and housewives. With a new Senate every year, it will represent the mood, beliefs, and priorities of middle America better than any past congress ever has, or could. With nonpartisan redistricting, the House will look much more like America as well.

That is as it should be. This will be the most direct form of democracy seen since town, village, or tribal meetings, a populist one that can and will block elite actions that harm others or the nation.

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