By Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features
This unprecedented 2016 Presidential campaign has raised doubts and heightened cynicism about this nation’s election process – which itself depresses turnout if people believe their vote does not matter, or who are fed such a negative impression of a candidate that they cannot bring themselves to vote for either one.
Reform of the election process is urgently needed if, in fact, this country is to remain a democracy in more than myth or nostalgic longing. Already, this election has invited worldwide mocking, with the United States being held in the same regard as a Banana Republic, especially with the language of Donald Trump, who threatened to unilaterally assign guilt and jail his opponent, weighed whether he will accept the results (“I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election, if I win.”) thereby undermining the basic pillar of America’s democracy, a peaceful transition of power, and actually pronounced, “Let’s cancel the election and just give it to Trump.”
It’s been part of a tactic – to depress turnout by making people think their vote doesn’t count, and anyway, the election is rigged so why bother. Certainly, smearing an opponent so viciously, as Trump has done, is part of the campaign strategy, as his own officials have boasted, that they are targeting voter suppression of three groups: white liberals, young women and African Americans.
And, indeed, elections can be rigged and elections have been stolen – the elections of 2000 and 2004, which provide textbook cases of how to steal an election, come to mind. (George W. Bush, who actually lost Florida, the Electoral College and the popular vote, is truly the only illegitimate president this country has had.)
Indeed, because of the systemic “rigging” – including gerrymandering and voter suppression programs masqueraded as “protecting the integrity of the ballot” from voter fraud, in 2014, despite a million more votes being cast for Democrats in Congress, Republicans were still able to retain a massive majority – 56% in the House, the largest majority since the 71st Congress of 1929-31. Voter suppression tactics as well as the dark money – anonymous funding from outside sources (thanks again to the SCOTUS Right Wing Majority Citizens United decision) make it easy for wealthy partisans and corporations to literally buy a small population state’s Senators, where media costs are much lower than say California or New York. Because states no matter how small or large each have two Senators, the Republicans have 54 seats (54%) but represent 47% of the population. So even though a majority of Americans vote Democratic, it’s Republicans who have controlled. Hardly a mandate for right-wing policies and obstruction they have heaped on the American people.
It may surprise people to realize the federal government has no authority over elections, which are controlled by states. Indeed, the Constitution does not actually provide a right to vote at all, and the Roberts right wing Majority on the Supreme Court did its damage to remove what oversight the federal government had when it eviscerated the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
There needs to be a new Voting Rights Act that protects the essential principle of one-person, one vote and the federal government, under the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution, should have the ability to establish minimum standards.
What else is needed to reform a weakened election system in these days of technological sophistication, a sprawling and diverse voter population, and the huge stakes to controlling the political reins of power? Here are more ideas:
- An end to partisan-control of drawing district lines; standards that affirm – as the Voting Rights Act did – that districts have to be contiguous and make sense
- And end to partisan control of state elections (like Katherine Harris, Secretary of State in Florida 2000 and also the chair of George W Bush’s campaign who purged voting rolls of 20,000 people and did all she could to insure Gore never got a fair count)
- Requiring notification to every voter before an election confirming their registration, voting place and hours, and if a voter has been removed or purged or changed for any reason, timely notification with a process to challenge
- A standard to allow voters to vote where they were last registered
- To address the very real possibility of hacked black-boxes, require a paper trail and mandatory audits of a certain number of voting places to confirm the veracity
- Minimum national standards for where polling places can be designated, how many voting machines per voting-age population, minimal number of hours open, early voting days, including spreading voting to the weekend before Election Day, and making Election Day a national holiday
- A requirement that if a voter moves and re-registers, that notice be sent back to the prior voting place to be removed
- Clearer, more uniform regulations about where people can vote if they are in college or have moved (for example, allowing people to vote by absentee at the last previous registered place)
- Automatic sending of voter registration materials upon 18th birthday
- Establish criminal penalties for interfering with voting, whether fraudulently telling people the wrong date, time or place to vote, ripping up voter registrations or interfering with voter registration; penalties for states that impede voter registration such as failing to process registrations in a timely way
- Restore reasonable controls on spending – by wealthy donors and corporations – eliminate SuperPacs, pass the DISCLOSE Act, overturn Citizens United
- Ultimately, all states should adopt proportional voting to allocate Electoral College Votes that more accurately reflect the will of the people, rather than winner-take all.
- A new Voting Rights Act that goes beyond racial discrimination but includes any type of systematic discrimination to dilute “one-person, one-vote”
- Constitutional amendment that affirms the right to vote (the constitution doesn’t actually provide it now)
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