Restoring Democracy

Richard D. Elliott, UMBC:

This primary season has showcased the best and worst of American politics. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have both electrified the political scene by bringing disaffected voters back into the political arena. Granted, Sanders’ progressive revolution and Trump’s authoritarian populism are far cries from one another, but they have shown that establishment politics has excluded wide swaths of the American people. However, the primaries have been deemed unfair by many individuals on both the left and the right.

The United States is currently 120th out of 169 countries in voter turnout[1], between Benin and the Dominican Republic, with approximately 66.5% of voters participating. There are currently 14 countries with over 90% turnout and there’s no reason the United States shouldn’t be the 15th. Australia, which is first with 94% voter turnout, has compulsory voting. If you don’t register and vote in Australia, you receive a fine that is roughly equivalent to $20[2]. In fact, 4 of the top 14 states in voter turnout have compulsory voting. I personally agree with the concept of mandatory voting as it is a civic duty, but many Americans would feel like being forced to vote is a violation of their freedom to not speak[3]. With the current voter suppression already occurring, it would be virtually impossible for the right-wing to even debate compulsory voting, let alone support it.

Unfortunately, there is no guaranteed fix to improve voter turnout. Even more important, there is no proven link that voter turnout means better politicians. But, I personally regard voting as a civic duty on par with taxes and jury duty and below I list some ways that the DNC could help to improve voter turnout and make our democracy better. I’ll call this list “The Keep Democracy Democratic” Strategy.

  • All primaries should be open to independents

43% of American voters are registered as Independents, compared to 30% being registered as Democrats and 26% registered as Republicans[4]. Independents voters can only fully participate in 19 of the 56 Democratic contests[5] and 16 of the 56 Republican contests[6], which cuts out a large percent of the American electorate. I disagree with this for multiple reasons. Firstly, the Democratic Party should be running to win. By allowing independents into the electoral process, the DNC can get a better gauge of who could win a general election. This would also encourage politicians to appeal to wider swaths of people with more popular ideas.

  • Remove the superdelegate system

Superdelegates were created by then-governor of North Carolina Jim Hunt to give more of a say in the DNC’s process to party leaders and elected officials after the 1968 Democratic National Committee moved considerably more of a role to the voters[7]. Superdelegates represented approximately 15% of all the votes at the 2016 Democratic National Convention[8]. Not only is this thoroughly undemocratic, but it also ensures that establishment candidates maintain an edge on “outsiders”. Sure, superdelegates can change their vote based on the results of the convention and have, for instance, during the 2008 Democratic National Convention to support Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton. But, superdelegate votes are generally counted in the number of delegates that a candidate has in media, so it makes an insider candidate appear much closer to the nomination than they actually are.

  • Automatic voter registration at age 16

There are currently only 4 states with automatic voter registration: Oregon, Vermont, West Virginia, and California[9]. By doing this, voter turnout will increase as no one will ever go to the polls and face the problem of not being registered.

  • Election Day as a national holiday

By making Election Day a holiday, both for the primary and general election, everyone would have a greater opportunity to vote. Some have suggested merging Veteran’s Day with Election Day and calling it Veteran’s Democracy Day[10]: I support this idea.

  • End to Voter ID laws

Until the mid-20th century, the poll tax, ludicrously difficult literacy tests, and the threat of physical violence kept African-Americans from voting in the South[11]. The 21st century version is voter ID laws, which have a disproportionate impact on the poor and minorities[12]. At present, most states require a form of ID to vote[13]. The Democrats must fight against this draconian policy as voter fraud has been noted to be such[14] an[15] insignificant[16] issue[17]. In fact, the HBO television show “The Newsroom” has called voter ID laws “a solution without a problem”[18]. It has almost always been proposed and enacted by Republicans and voter ID laws have become more popular since the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was gutted by the Supreme Court[19] . Interestingly, most Americans appear to support voter ID laws[20] but I regard them as an insidious way to reduce voter turnout among likely Democratic voters.

  • End to gerrymandering

Gerrymandering is a political strategy used both by Democrats and Republicans, but primarily by Republicans[21], that redraws districts. In doing this, the party in power can ensure that a few districts are guaranteed wins for the opposition and leaving the other districts to be much more competitive for themselves[22]. As suggested by Jon Turbush of The Week, I believe that districts should be made by independent commissions rather than the political party that happens to be in power at the time of the national census[23].

  • Institution of a national popular vote for President

At present, the President is elected by the Electoral College. Voters from each state vote for the candidate that they support and, if their candidate wins the state, they generally receive all the vote from that state’s Electoral College. The number of electors is determined by the amount of Congress members that state has. 7 states and the District of Columbia each have 3 delegates whereas California has 55 and Texas has 38[24]. I believe there are many problems with the Electoral College.

For instance, it makes the vote of Wyomingites or Vermonters literally matter more than the vote of a Californian or a New Yorker[25]. With the current political climate in America, it’s unlikely that a Democrat would campaign in Alabama or Texas or that a Republican would campaign in California or New York. This means that voters from swing states are pandered to heavily while many other Americans are left behind during campaign season. The voters in the swing states of the 2016 election did not necessarily face the same issues as other Americans. Finally, the Electoral College means that voters in safe states, whether a member of the majority party or the minority party, may feel like their vote is useless.

I personally support the “one person, one vote” idea and think that making everyone more equal by having the same amount of sway, at least at the ballot box, as others is a positive. Not only will this effectively enfranchise many disaffected voters, but it will also allow for more political parties to form and have a say in our national politics, which could be a net good. Most importantly, this means that the candidate who receives the most tickets will certainly win. At least four times in our nation’s history, a candidate who lost the popular vote still won the election[26] and I believe that is an affront to democracy. Never again should a candidate receive 3,000,000 more votes than their opponent and lose the general election.

  • Online voting?

Voting should, as a principle, be as easy as logging onto your computer. In practice, it may be a bit stickier. The primary argument for online voting is that it makes it easier and more convenient for people to vote. It could certainly be implemented for the primaries that are outside of the U.S. mainland to reduce the cost of mailing ballots. However, it may be more bad than good. Setting up the infrastructure to facilitate online voting would be quite costly, but I argue that it would be an investment that would pay out in the long term. Online voting would be difficult for those with low technological proficiency, such as the elderly. There would be more of a risk regarding fraud and security issues than with traditional voting. Finally, and most importantly, online voting would not do away with traditional voting because not everyone has Internet access[27].

 

[1] http://www.idea.int/publications/vt/upload/Voter%20turnout.pdf

[2] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-23810381

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compulsory_voting

[4] http://www.gallup.com/poll/180440/new-record-political-independents.aspx

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democratic_Party_presidential_primaries,_2016

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republican_Party_presidential_primaries,_2016#Process

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superdelegate

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Democratic_Party_superdelegates,_2016

[9] https://www.brennancenter.org/analysis/automatic-voter-registration

[10] http://www.cnn.com/2012/11/12/opinion/ctl-election-holiday/

[11] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poll_tax#United_States

[12] “Voter Identification Laws and the Suppression of Minority Votes”

[13] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voter_ID_laws_in_the_United_States#Heavy_politicization

[14] https://www.brennancenter.org/sites/default/files/legacy/The%20Truth%20About%20Voter%20Fraud.pdf

[15] http://www.usnews.com/debate-club/is-voter-fraud-a-real-problem/voter-fraud-claims-are-smoke-without-fire

[16] http://www.usnews.com/debate-club/is-voter-fraud-a-real-problem/states-like-florida-disenfranchise-americans-in-name-of-fraud

[17] http://www.scholarsstrategynetwork.org/brief/misleading-myth-voter-fraud-american-elections

[18] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-susan-corso/aaron-sorkin-the-newsroom_b_1848978.html

[19] https://www.propublica.org/article/everything-youve-ever-wanted-to-know-about-voter-id-laws

[20] http://www.politifact.com/wisconsin/statements/2015/jun/29/scott-walker/scott-walker-says-most-americans-support-voter-id-/

[21] http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2013/01/who-gerrymanders-more-democrats-or-republicans

[22] http://politicsandpolicy.org/article/gerrymandering-proving-all-politics-local

[23] http://theweek.com/articles/459249/how-fix-gerrymandering-stop-future-shutdowns

[24] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electoral_College_(United_States)#Chronological_table

[25] https://shadowproof.com/2012/10/31/the-top-seven-ways-the-electoral-college-is-unfair-stupid-and-dangerous/

[26] https://www.minnpost.com/eric-black-ink/2012/10/10-reasons-why-electoral-college-problem

[27] http://www.aec.gov.au/_content/What/enrolment/faq_%20os.htm

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