Election Process Changes

As we embark on yet another election cycle with little having changed in our election systems, I have several thoughts about what I hope for at some point. These potential changes are going to be part of how I evaluate candidates. Does a candidate talk about the need for changes? Are there specifics in the speeches or just grand rhetoric? Is there any detailing of intentions on the candidate’s website?

I’ve broken down some ideas into three categories where changes are needed. In the interest of brevity, I’ve decided to use an outline format for the rest of this post.

Structural Changes

  • remove Gerrymandering in federal, state & county districts
  • change process of redistricting after each census – non-partisan, independent panel of judges – elected by peers, not appointed by governor or legislature
  • legislation to require identification of all donors to all parties, PACs, etc.
  • popular vote of president and vice president – at the very least, requiring each state’s electors to vote for the candidate that won that state’s popular vote
  • ranked voting, open primaries (all candidates from all parties together)
    • run-off of top two if 51% not achieved in primary by top candidate
  • state-wide election of all Federal legislative positions – not just Senate, also House
    • effectively electing several House members to represent each state

Process Changes

  • all eligible are registered to vote automatically – as result of any state registration – drivers’ license, auto tags, hunting license, etc., birth certificate with validation date on 18th birthday; removed from voter roll when death certificate is issued
  • any use of electronic voting machines would require a verification system beyond original voting machine/device
  • election period month long, not just one day – first step, election day national holiday, with mandatory paid time off to vote for employees in essential jobs that day
  • electronic voting (online) option, eventually when security can be assured
  • mandatory minimum number of polling places to serve the population adequately (reducing the number has been a voter suppression tactic by Republicans)

Party Approach Changes

  • party members/candidates listen more than speak in early phases of campaign to gain genuine perspective of the electorate
  • until automatic registration is initiated, create a registration drive to reach all eligible to vote
  • national primary instead of individual states or regions
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Initiative Party in Sweden

One of the most intriguing movements toward a different kind of political party is the Initiative in Sweden. I first learned of it via an article in the New Yorker by Masha Gessen in December 2017. Below is the link to the article online followed by a quote that gives the gist of the Initiative.

https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/the-invention-of-a-new-kind-of-political-party-in-sweden

The Initiative’s most important innovation is launching a party without a program but with two lists. One is a list of six values that the Party espouses: courage, openness, compassion, optimism, co-creation, and actionability. The other is a list of three crises that the Party must address: the crisis of faith in democracy, the environmental crisis, and the crisis of mental health.

So far, I have not been able to find any online presence of the Initiative to see what progress has been made in the year since. I will keep on the lookout.

In the article, there are references to an older, similar party in Denmark. Here is the only online reference I could find about it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Alternative_%28Denmark%29

I am encouraged by the approach of the Sweden Initiative, and can easily endorse the six values they espouse. The three crises they deem central to their efforts may well be the most important in the United States as well.

It will be interesting to see if any of the candidates in the 2020 primaries are aware of this approach.

With Honor Super PAC

One of the interesting developments coming out of the 2016 elections was the emergence of a cross-partisan political movement made up of veterans called With Honor.

Their focus is a pledge to put principles before politics. At the end of this post is that pledge (also found on their web site here).

I was interested to see how they did in recruiting candidates in both parties and especially how they fared in the election of 2018. From what I have seen, then had many candidates take the pledge and modest success in the election.

There is much positive in their pledge and I can endorse it, but I have a few mixed thoughts about their efforts. First, I wish they would have used ‘partisanship’ instead of ‘politics’ in the opening paragraph. For me, politics is not a negative word. It simply describes what we do in working together as a public. Second, I understand the need to limit the focus somewhat, but I would like to see the group opened up to anyone who makes and keeps the pledge, not just veterans. We need this kind of open welcoming more than another clique developing.

It is now clearer to me than it was when I first encountered this group in late 2016 that it is actually a super PAC. As of this writing, I have not taken the time to study who the major donors are, but that would be an interesting project to pursue sometime.

_____

Veterans have pledged an oath to support and defend the Constitution. A new generation of men and women are answering the call to serve again and are taking The Pledge to put principles before politics.

THE PLEDGE

  1. Integrity

I will always speak the truth and prioritize the public interest above my self-interest.

  • I will return or give to charity contributions from sources that I find out taint my integrity.
  • I will use the power of my office only for the service of my constituents and my country.
  1. Civility

I will respect my colleagues, focus on solving problems and work to bring civility to politics.

  • I will publicly reject, and seek to remove, any advertisements in support of my campaign that lie about or baselessly attack the character of my opponent.
  • I will attend and participate in a cross-partisan veterans caucus.
  1. Courage

I will defend the rights of all Americans and have the courage to collaborate across the aisle and find common ground.

  • I will meet with someone from an opposing party one-on-one at least once a month.
  • I will join with colleagues on both sides of the aisle on at least one piece of major legislation each year, and co-sponsor additional pieces.

 

Two Party System

I am rapidly coming to the conclusion the two-party system in American politics is no longer as functional as it used to be, and we need to develop some alternatives that will more fairly take into account the diversity of our population.

Signs have been available for us to see for a while now, but the most recent election cycle pretty much confirmed the growing dysfunction of both parties.

Some clear warning signs:

Societal changes

Mobility of the population has weakened ties to a single community, even to extended families

Expansion of hyper-individuality as the preferred polity

Diminished confidence in public and private institutions as a result of individualism – individuals not getting everything they personally want from them vs. what common good they provide even if I personally do not directly benefit

Communication methods have radically changed in just the last three decades – from land lines, to adding answering machines and fax machines, to electronic voice mail, to clunky car phones, to smaller cell phones, to smart phones, etc.

Decline of printed newspapers and weekly news magazines due to alternatives via the internet. Rise of niche publications.

Decline of TV news and rise of opinion/ideology “news” TV. Rise of conservative political talk radio.

Legal changes, such as Citizens United and follow-up challenges to controlling election spending, have shifted the power to the wealthy even more than it was before.

Advent of and rapid ubiquitous use of social media have changed how we can filter news and information, tailoring it to our own preferences, biases, and fears.

Increased societal obsession with celebrity.

Rise of social science research-based sales and promotional techniques that play on human tendencies.

Ways in which parties are failing:

Money is connected to certain factions that win seats in legislatures and executive offices more than general party welfare

Attention by office holders and party leaders given to donors and PACs vs. needs of constituents or general population

Party insiders vs. voting constituents

Diversity within parties no longer coalitions of tolerance, but splintering and demonizing all who do not agree, even (especially?) within the party

Aging leadership many of whom like the prestige, but not the work it takes to get things done well (disorganization reigns)

Over reliance on older methods of organizing and party development (e.g. reliance on land-line phone calling)

Failing to effectively develop and use the latest technology and communication methods for party development

In future posts I will try to outline what I think might be options for political organization that are viable in the 21st century.

Election Processes

One of the most fertile areas for ideas to write about is in a category I’m calling “election processes”. Perhaps because I feel this is a topic that needs great attention these days, I have found a significant number of ideas and initiatives in the works that are worth learning more about.

One approach that has been implemented in several places is ranked-choice voting. I really like the idea that voters can express their choices on which candidates are best by ranking them instead of just picking one to vote for.

In California, more than once, this has resulted in two Democrats running against each other in the general election after the ranked-choice voting in the open primary. This makes the general election essentially a run-off between the top two vote-getters in the primary.

In Maine recently, a Republican candidate refused to accept that he lost the election because he believes ranked-choice voting is unconstitutional. He lost in federal court and again just a few days ago at the district court level, when a three-judge panel denied his appeal. Those rulings appear to establish ranked-choice voting as constitutional.

Ranked-choice is one issue I hope to raise with presidential candidates this coming election season. If they are opposed to it, I will not vote for them.

New Media

In recent years the rise of online only media has been an interesting phenomenon to watch. Print media are still trying to solve the massive problem of loss of advertising revenue, and it is not clear just how they will survive. It is not practical for most of them to expect subscribers to bear the full cost of production. Some have gone to a hybrid model of both print and online versions, generally having some kind of firewall to limit the numbers of online stories one can read per month without subscribing.

For online media, advertising is not proving to be quite the panacea they had hoped for, neither has it been healthy for the industry, in my opinion. The need for ‘clicks’ on stories or ads to produce income has led to less than rigorous journalism and ‘click bait’ headlines has now become a common derisive critique of some of their choices.

A growing number of online media outlets have gone to a subscription model, usually providing either additional content exclusively for subscribers, or allowing for ad-free viewing of stories, or some combination of both. At this point, it seems to me this is the most promising approach long-term, although Pro Publica has become quite an important and well-respected publisher through voluntary donor funding in conjunction with partnerships with some traditional print media. I believe their investigative journalism is some of the best being done these days. Awards they have won support the view their work is high quality.

A very recent donor-funded venture worth watching is The Correspondent, a start-up in progress, that is an English-language off-shoot of the original Dutch version. They, just this past week, secured the $2.5 million they said they needed by December 14 in “founding memberships” to begin launch of what they are calling “Non-Breaking News”. This organization will be online only, fully funded exclusively by memberships and will allow no advertising.

I was tipped off to this by Jay Rosen, a Journalism faculty member at New York University. After reading his endorsement and going to The Correspondent website to read their stated principles, we chose to make a modest investment in this venture. It will be very interesting to see how this develops, including who they hire as editors, writer, managers, designers, etc.

(By the way, Jay Rosen is one of the most interesting people to follow on Twitter when it comes to understanding and critiquing the media.)

Another relatively new organization is All Sides. It’s stated mission is: “Free people from filter bubbles so they can better understand the world — and each other.” It is funded by donations, and not ads.

Also, from their website main page: “Unbiased news does not exist; we provide balanced news and civil discourse.”

They attempt to do this by their patented media bias ratings and then using those ratings to post stories addressing the same issue, incident, or topic. There is usually one story from each of three perspectives: from the left, from the center, from the right.

I have not been following this site for very long, so will withhold judgment until I have a better sense of how it works and whether or not I think it is successful in its grand goals.

I am learning of new approaches and online sites regularly, so hope to report on the best of what I find. Just yesterday I learned of a new site in Paris, France, called WorldCrunch. Apparently, its purpose is to print selected stories from their various partner publications around the world, translating them into English. I’m most interested in their monthly collection of stories from non-American press giving their observations, impressions, and perspectives on the United States.

Media Critique

One thread of my future writings will be about the media and journalism. I hope to note good examples as well as critique some of the current approaches the media use.

I follow hundreds (not an exaggeration) of journalists, pundits, and media personalities on Twitter. Among those I follow, I’ve intentionally included people from all perspectives – some self-identify as liberals, conservatives, libertarians, etc. Often, some of the best ideas or leads for finding writings about the various topics I am interested in come from these sources.

In general, I have become quite critical of the political media. Most reporters, pundits, and editorial boards have fallen into the trap of obsession with POTUS 45. Whatever he says, does, or Tweets (especially!) gets far more attention and media coverage than it deserves. His continuous, demonstrable lies are not worthy of repetition.

For the most part, journalists are struggling with how the norms have changed. The old approaches, such as the objective perspective, also known as “the view from nowhere” or “just report the events” and “he said/she said” are no longer useful. Failure to identify lies as lies, preferring to call them “inaccuracies” or “misstatements”, erodes the public confidence in the media. And, public confidence in media is quite low these days.

Even in all the turmoil, there are a few rays of hope for better, but the industry not being in a healthy financial state is making it even more difficult to experiment with new models of journalism.

Future posts in this thread will point to some new approaches as well as some of the people advocating for significant changes to how the media operate.