The tragedy of this election is that the richest and most powerful country on earth could not come up with better choices for leadership.” So wrote a Connecticut reader to Newsweek.
No kidding. The U.S. voting process, however, is not designed to produce stellar candidates, but candidates safe for corporate business as usual. Long before voters get to the polls, they have been deprived of any real choice.
But according to the people who run it, our system is the best in the world. And they don’t hesitate to try to impose it on “less enlightened” countries.
The November presidential contest, however, blew a big hole in the myth that our way of doing things reflects democracy at its peak. Perhaps, despite the arrogance of our ruling class, we have something to learn from the rest of the world, where multiparty elections, proportional representation, and instant runoff voting are common.
Reforms like these aren’t the final answer. As long as our total social and economic structure serves big business, our political structure will, too. But these changes would make our elections more representative and democratic – and a hell of a lot more interesting. Here are seven proposals:
1. Curb corporate control through public financing of campaigns.
How fair is it when the representatives of only two parties, both of them loyal to Wall Street, hold 99.9 percent of elected offices? We need to abolish corporate funding for the few and instead institute public financing for all candidates who can demonstrate a minimum of public support.
2. Get rid of laws that restrict ballot access for minor parties.
The thresholds for getting ballot status for minor parties need to be lowered, and the myriad of other laws that conspire to preserve the Democrat and Republican lock on the ballot need to be swept away. One example:
Some states require that people register a party affiliation in order to vote in primaries. This restricts independents and those who want to vote for minor parties that don’t have ballot status in two ways: unaffiliated people cannot vote at all, and those who do choose a party get ballots that include candidates only from that party. Voters should be able to vote for any candidate in any primary race, regardless of affiliation.
See page five for news of the Freedom Socialist Party’s own ballot access case.
3. Replace winner-take-all with proportional representation.
Proportional representation divides up legislative seats among parties based on the proportion of the total vote they each get. Minor parties who get a significant fraction of the vote but don’t come out on top gain some representation.
4. Establish instant runoff voting.
In an election for president organized this way, voters would rank each candidate – as they already do in Australia, Ireland, and Great Britain. If people’s first-choice votes for any candidate total more than 50 percent, the election is finished. If not, though, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and another round is counted. In this round, the votes of people whose first choice was eliminated count as votes for their second choice. And so it goes, until a candidate achieves a majority. Instant runoff voting means that even if your favorite candidate doesn’t win, your ballot still matters.
5. Upgrade and standardize processes and equipment nationally.
No more second-class treatment for voters, many of them of color, in the poorer areas!
6. End the disenfranchisement of prisoners and ex-prisoners.
In 13 states, people who have been convicted of felonies permanently lose the vote. In Florida in 2000, more than 400,000 ex-felons, about half of them Black, could not vote. There is no good reason to disenfranchise people who have served time, especially given the racist nature of U.S. criminal justice.
7. Lose the Electoral College.
The Electoral College is an 18th-century invention put in place to give the Southern slave states proportionately more weight in the selection of the president. It worked; the presidency was occupied by slaveholders from Virginia for all but four of the first 36 years of this country’s existence. Although the college has been modified since then, it still prevents the population from directly electing the president.
Let’s not cling to the elitist baggage left to us by the founding fathers. Instead, let’s emulate the best of their revolutionary spirit, and shake things up!