The radical changes to the Constitution I have spelled out in the document called The Constitution of The Federated Communities of America is certainly not the only way we can progress toward a more democratic society. In fact, I would guess that many people would probably think that the system laid out in that version asks too much of the average citizen. Many people may not want to be quite so involved in the run-of-the-mill operations of government. Rather, they may like the “representative” system because it’s like hiring someone else to do all the detail work, like hiring an accountant to do your taxes or an attorney to handle your divorce. So
we hire Representatives, Senators (both state and federal), city councilors, mayors, governors, school boards, etc. to do these things for us.
However, we must move away from the current system which is rife with corruption, and we currently have no direct way of preventing or dealing with that. We also have no control over our elected officials, except in electing them or not, and as the evidence tells us, who gets elected has more to do with factors like incumbency, party affiliation, and money spent during a campaign than it does with job performance or other qualifications. And all too often, what our elected officials do while in office is contrary to what we would have them do, as is the case now, when a vast majority of Americans want to see an end to the Iraq War, but our elected officials are either supporting a “troop surge” or contemplating a “non-binding resolution” rather than taking action to stop the war. Basically, our representative system has almost no accountability to the people, and in that way, it is very unlike hiring someone to perform certain tasks, and more like we are being ruled by an elite class of politicians who are in turn ruled by the corporations and ultra-wealthy persons who keep them in office, largely through campaign funding, but also through controlling access: keeping certain news items off the front pages, off the TV news, out of the rhetoric of the major party candidates, and keeping third party candidates off the radar screen and out of debates.
So, perhaps we need to look for ways to create more accountability, which is often talked about, but rarely acted upon. Obviously, any measures we’d like to see which do not conform to The Constitution would require Constitutional Amendments, but some other steps may be able to be brought in as a statutory reform, and made part of the Constitution later, if it works well.
So, how can we create this accountability? First, we need fair elections. Right now, we have a public that will usually not vote for a “third party” or independent candidate because they see them as unelectable. This makes the two major parties fight over the center without addressing issues that may actually matter to more people. It also makes the candidates of the two major parties largely unaccountable because they are usually assured of either first or second place, and as a whole, they’ll take those odds over a fairer race with more candidates. The current system favors both the Republicans and the Democrats, so they both aim to keep it as it is.
Also, our current system allows elections to be more about money than about issues or other qualifications. Money buys advertising space. Money buys trips across the country. Money pays campaign strategists, speech writers, image consultants, etc. Money wins elections. Getting money into the campaign coffers comes from pandering to persons and corporations with money, and from the amount of coverage one can get in the media. Our media is overwhelmingly corporate.
So, what measures can be taken to level the playing field for independents and third parties? There are several ideas that are commonly tossed around, but so far, have not been taken seriously by lawmakers. Of course, again, we come back to the current lawmakers being almost exclusively from the Republican or Democratic parties, already connected to large campaign donors, already receiving media exposure…so why would they legislate something that will open the doors to more competition? Of course, they will only do so if pushed by the American people to do so. So, any measure designed to create real democracy, to make office holders more accountable, or to make elections fairer will be an uphill struggle.
But back to the topic of specific measures that could “level the playing field,” some of the ideas I have heard include:
1. Publicly funded elections, eliminating all private campaign contributions
2. Mandatory free and equal advertising time and equal media coverage for all legally established candidates
3. Instant Runoff Voting for single-seat offices and Proportional Representation for multiple-seat offices
4. Having a mandatory minimum number of debates per campaign and including all legal candidates in all debates
Since 2000, there has also been much discussion about the fairness, accuracy, and susceptibility to fraud in the actual mechanics of voting systems, including voter registration, access, and electronic voting machines. Many people have been turned away from the polls due to registration or eligibility issues, often unfounded. Others have been discouraged by long lines in some precincts, while others have little or no wait. And many people have shown a distrust of computerized vote counting, and with good reason, as computerized vote tallies cannot be meaningfully recounted unless there is a “paper trail” which can be hand-counted.
Some of the remedies for these issues I have heard include:
1. same-day voter registration
2. longer voting periods (two or more days rather than one)
3. requiring roughly equivalent proportions of voting machines to voters for all precincts (this may already be law, and simply not followed in some areas)
4. mandatory hand counting of paper ballots, overseen by independent and international observers, as well as representatives of all parties/candidates
If we could get all these measures instituted, we would have fairer elections, but we need to go a step further in creating true accountability for our governmental officials. We need a practical avenue for recall of any elected official. Right now, some places in
the US do have this capability, while others do not. In California a few years ago, a recall election removed Gray Davis from the governor’s seat, and replaced him with Arnold Schwarzenegger, who still holds that office. However, we should ask, what was required to achieve that recall? and who funded it? How practical would it be to recall someone without the support of either of the two “major” parties? Although that possibility exists in California, where else could that have occurred? “At present 15 State constitutions allow the voters to recall State legislators and other elective officials. In all but three of the 15 States, the petition process necessary to bring about a recall election is discouragingly difficult, verging on impossibility.”
At the national level, there are no provisions whatsoever for the removal of a member of Congress from office by the people. The only method for removing a President or Vice-President is through impeachment by the House of Representatives followed by conviction by the Senate, and these proceedings must only be for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” leaving no room to remove a President or VP from office for misrepresenting the people or simply not doing the job. And there is no avenue for the people to directly remove a person from these offices. We need practical ways to remove any elected official from office to assure complete accountability in all positions of elected government.