I’ve been thinking about the elections lately. I followed the 2012 election intensely as I tried to decide who (indeed, if) to vote for. I also ended up volunteering at a local precinct, where I did the oh-so-glamorous work of directing voters to the right table to claim their ballots, for those who had left their voter ID card at home. I’ve also been more than a lit ticked off by laws that to my mind seem aimed at restricting voter turnout.
My involvement isn’t exceptional. I mean, I know lots of other friends that are more keyed in than I am, both with this election and with grass-roots activism in general. But I was pretty aware of this election for me. So I thought I’d offer some thoughts about how the election could be run in a more meaningful, less headache-inducing way.
1. Make it feel meaningful. I’m no fool, and I know that there’s very little chance that my vote will sway the election. A national election where a hundred votes like mine made any difference would be razor-thin. But it’s important that people feel like their vote matters – not so much for the sake of the election, but because this leads to more political engagement beyond the election.
My solution: Some people have proposed doing away with the electoral college. This may be a good idea (though I’ve also seen some pundits concerned about logistical problems, namely recounts). A bigger roadblock: I don’t see how you could set that up short of a Constitutional amendment. A better approach might be to make all states give out electoral votes proportionally. Right now, whichever candidate gets the most votes in New York, he’ll earn all twenty-nine of New York’s electoral votes. A much better system would be to look at the proportion of voters who voted for each candidates and award out a fraction of the state’s electoral votes, rounded to the nearest whole votes.
For instance, if (heaven forfend) Obama had only won 52% of the New York vote while Romney had scored 48%, Obama would earn fifteen of our votes and Romney would get fourteen. If on the other hand it was a 75%/25% split, Obama would get twenty-two votes while Romney would only get seven. The point is that even in swing states, the candidate wants to win as many of the votes as possible.
2. Streamline voting. In some states people had to wait six hours or more to vote. This is shameful for a country so famous as the model for modern democracy It also discourages voters in those areas from voting. If a Republican governor is running the show and the lines are all in areas that tend to vote Democratic, how confident can we be of the results?
My solution: We need to make no-fault absentee ballots the standard coast to coast. In most states you can request a mail-in ballot if you’re away from your home county on election day, or if there’s a medical reason you can’t do the normal polling scene. But in Ohio, where I voted in 2008, you could vote absentee for any reason. They sent you a ballot, a metal tool to punch out the chads, and an envelope to mail it in – and you could either send it in postmarked by the election date, or I think you could drop it off at any election precicnct but without having to go through all the lines You could even have a friend drop it off because you’d already signed saying the vote was your own before sealing the envelope. This worked well, particularly for people with tight schedules.
Related issue: ID cards. It’s onerous to force voters to get ID they use only to vote, particularly as government clerks aren’t the easiest offices to get to or navigate. (I say this as someone who is working on a Ph.D. and will be back for her third attempt at obtaining a state ID card, once she’s ordered a replacement social security card – the website does not make clear you need that document, I swear!) If people are so concerned about in-person voting fraud, then I have a simple solution: the federal government offers free voting ID cards available by mail – just provide a SSN, basic info, and photo, and if the info matches federal records they will send you a card. These wouldn’t be mandatory and people who prefer are free to use their state IDs or alternate IDs as allowed. But no one should have to take time off work to wrangle with the DMV to get a photo ID for this one purpose.
No one should ever – EVER – have to deal with the DMV if it doesn’t involve a motorized vehicle. Because those people are evil. But I actually felt this way before this week.
3. Funding. Right now we have two parties that are remarkably similar (or silent?) about issues that affect people not likely to donate. This leads to a whole slew of problems, not least of which being that the poor don’t think politics matters to their lives.
My solution: Over at FB Dave Kovaks noted that the election cost about $50 per citizen and suggested a $50 tax per election cycle, along with a complete ban on private campaign contributions. We got into a bit of a disagreement over how to divvy it up (Dave thought an even split between everyone who’s on the ballot in all fifty states was the way to go; I suggested you divide it up proportional to the number of voters registered with that party (so the more libertarians or Greens you had registered, the more money you’d get the next go around.) While I disagree strongly with him that an even split is best, I think the basic idea has merit.
I’m open to varying the tax by income, so the poor pay a lower tax and the rich pay a higher one. I also would be okay with a kind of hybrid system – say, you can stipulate that half your tax go to a party/PAC of your choosing and half goes into a pot that gets split up equally or some such thing. We’d need to work out the details. The big thing is that your opinions wouldn’t get special weight because you had money to give.
Related problem: Lots of special interest groups donate to multiple candidates in the same race – so that whichever way things turn out they’re covered. At some point it stops being free speech and starts being bribery. So I propose the Marta clause: if private donations are allowed, you can’t donate to more than one candidate in a certain race.
4. Truthiness. This election we had a lot of problems with candidates just claiming things were true, over and over again even after they’d been proved false. There are doubtless a lot of voters out there who think Obama really said if you have a successful business, you didn’t build that – not because they’re stupid, but because it gets repeated often enough that it starts to sound like the truth.
My solution: We recognize a nonpartisan fact-checker that can decide if a candidate’s claims are either misleading or objectively false. (I would suggest a group of people from different political persuasions, none of them affiliated with any campaign.) If they believe a certain claim is wrong or misleading you have to stop reporting it as fact. If you continue reporting it after a reasonable time-frame, you have to pay a fine. If you’ve talked about it on-air for a substantial amount of time you also have to report that the claim turned out to be false and explain why.
My basic approach: journalists can’t use the public airwaves to spread information they know (or should know) isn’t true.
Related suggestion: in the age of Wikipedia, there should be a way to collect and present the facts on a certain candidate’s position on any given issue. We should have a website where we can go and pull up abortion and have sections on Obama + Romney + whomever, with links to public statements and bills/executive orders relevant to this topic they’ve voted on and/or signed. This information is out there but we let the candidates organize it and present it on their websites. It would be much better to have objective facts prepared by third parties.
Oh, and one last thing. Shorter primaries, or at least primaries not covered in the national media. Because, sheesh.
Those are my solutions for a lot of the problems I saw with the 2012 election. Do you guys think these would work? Any suggestions of your own?