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Fixing Our Broken Electoral Process

Updated on September 13, 2016

Introduction

Our electoral process has been perverted by various elements including lobbyists, Corporations, Foreign interests to the extent that the people's voice has been muted and ignored. This exists in Washington DC and in local State Houses and it encompasses both political parties Democrats and Republicans. I have given this problem a lot of thought and believe there are some things we can do to fix this. I'm not saying it would be easy but if enough people are behind this, and demand this from their elected officials, it can be done. The old adage "we get the government we deserve" is true. We are the only people that can bring this about.

-April 2015

How to Fix It?

The ideas presented here may not be original but taken together, I believe it is sufficient to make a difference. I try to keep the concepts as simple and clear as possible. My philosophy is to select the fewest items that will have the most dramatic effects. Some ideas are just plain common sense. The best solutions often turns out to be the simplest. There are 7 parts to my proposal. They involve our elected officials, the finance of elections, the voting public, Voter ID, the roll of media, the election cycle and finally the ballot box. Our form of government is a Republic. In order for this to work the way it was envisioned, we need to have honest and fair elections.

One - The Elected Officials

The number one thing that will change the dynamics of Washington DC is having a term limit on Congress. We already have it for the President - 2 terms of 4 years each by way of the 22nd Amendment. I propose 2 terms for Senate and 3 terms for Congressmen. This one change will prevent career politician from taking over Washington DC and put some restraint on their fund raising activities. Serving in Congress should be a privilege not a lifelong career. It should be looked at as a sacrifice of one's time for the greater good. The motivation to run for public office should be to effect change. If an elected official is given the foreknowledge that their time of power is limited, they are more likely to spend their time wisely. Of course there is no guarantee but at least it limits the time an elected official can make his or her case.

A second idea that will change how our elected officials behave and conduct their business is to institute a test for every candidate. They must pass a test of basic knowledge of our Constitution. Something all our citizens should have been taught in primary schools. When an elected official is sworn into office, they swear to an oath of office - "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic..." Yet, some of our current officials seems to pay lip service to that oath and either they don't know what the Constitution is about or they deliberately act against it. In either case, it does not bode confidence in our system if our officials don't know what they are supposed to do. Most all other professions require some kind of proficiency exam. It is time for our candidates to do the same.


Two - Election Finances

Always follow the money was one of the lesson learned from the Watergate scandal. In the current political arena, you need money to get elected to any office. The question or debate becomes where is the money coming from? Currently, there is too much influence coming from large Corporations and lobbies and PAC and even foreign governments. In a way, I can't fault the politicians today for pandering to these groups. The system is setup such that if you want to get elected, you need to raise lots of money. How can we change that so that politicians will not be influenced by money only?

One of the insidious consequences of this is the term "crony Capitalism." The free market and Capitalism is the best economic system to bring about prosperity for many. However, when crony capitalism becomes part of the equation, it defeats and weakens the system. A prime example of this is the 2008 financial crisis. It is the first time the term "too big to fail" came into our vocabulary. What is too big to fail? In a free market system, there should never be a company that is too big to fail. The very consequence of failing is what keep businesses on their toes and thrive to improve. If you remove that risk, you have undermine the free market system. This result, as we have experienced, lead to very bad things for the American people. It protected the very people who caused the crisis and punished the people who have little recourse. That is wrong.

There are two things that will fix this or at least reduce the effects of influence buying. One, we need to know who is donating to what candidates and how much? This is one of the objective of opensecrets.org. Candidates should be required to disclose all their donations. Second, and this is a key component, no entity should be allowed to donate to both candidates running for the same office. It is common sense that if you want to remove influence buying, you restrict the person making the donation in such a way as to make his actions meaningful.

Three - The Informed Voter

This one is something everyone of us can do starting today. No laws needs to be created or changed. We, as citizens, has only very limited opportunity to effect change in our government. It happens every 2 years and that is the right to vote. Not just show up at the polls on Tuesday, but to study the issues, research the candidates, check who is donating to the candidates, listen to the candidates debating and making an informed decision on election day. There are many resources on the web to help. It is our duty to vote just as it is our duty to serve on a jury when called upon. Think about it, our court system is setup to have trial by jury by our peers. If no one is willing to serve on a jury, the system breaks down. The same goes with elections. Our electoral system will fail if people don't vote.

Four - Prevent Voter Fraud

An election only has meaning if it is an honest election. For example, North Korea has elections and the winner usually win by 99% of the vote. Or some elections where there is only one name on the ballot. To keep an election honest, we need several things. The first is a voter ID. Every other nation has some form of ID to prevent fraud. In Iraq, they use purple paint on the finger to make sure no one votes more than once. That is just one small part. Election is a privilege. It is open to all citizens that are of good standing. If you commit a crime, you loose that privilege. A second requirement is that it should be done on the same day in person if possible. There are some exceptions for people that travel or the armed services serving overseas and some people who are unable to make it to the poll due to illness or disability.

In our modern world, we are increasingly moving towards electronic voting machines. This comes with some benefits but also with some very serious risk. The potential for massive voter fraud is a serious business. Just as electronic slot machines can be manipulated by programmers, electronic voting machines can be compromised.

Five - Election Cycle

The current election cycle is too long. It is unfair for the current elected officials that right after winning one election, the next election cycle begins. The whole concept of a lame duck is created because the extended cycle. It makes it very hard for business to be conducted when electioneering is always in the back of the mind. To fix this, I propose to limit the election cycle to 9 months for presidential elections and 4 months for congressional elections. That should be sufficient time for all candidates to make their case to the American people especially in the new technological world of internet, social media, 24 hours cable news and talk radio.

A second idea when it comes to presidential contests is making all primary elections happen simultaneously. This will prevent some early states such as Iowa and New Hampshire to determine the candidates for the whole country. A simple concept that makes common sense.

Six - The Media

The Media plays an important roll not only in elections but in politics and government. That was written into our Constitution. The first Amendment includes freedom of speech and the press by design so that the press can act as a watchdog over the people in power. We need an independent press who will keep their personal bias in check. In recent years, the press has injected itself into politics and elections by their selective reporting and spin. They are suppose to report and let we the voters decide. As citizens and consumers, we can pick and choose who we get our news from. This will hopefully keep the media responsive to us the consumer.

How does one determine if a news organization is trustworthy? This will take some effort and time. We can monitor a news organization on what they choose to report or not report. We can also check other sources to see if what they report is accurate. Over time, a pattern will emerge.

Seven - The Ballot Box

Finally, the last item is the actual voting event. Recently, some districts have implemented electronic voting systems to improve the voting experience. However, I must warn, as the famous quote " to err is human but to really foul things up requires a computer." The voting system must be able to withstand rigorous testing and audits. There is nothing like a paper ballot that can be examined manually.

Another problem with voting day is the extensive use of exit polling by media. As indicated by some recent elections, the polling data can be miss represented and have led to wrong conclusions. I propose a rule to eliminate taking exit polls. It serves little purpose. Let the people vote in peace.

Finally, I believe the act of voting should be taking place simultaneously across the 48 continental states. That means polling places will be open at the same time across all 4 time zones. For example, 10 am to 10 pm in EST, 9 am to 9 pm in CST, 8 am to 8 pm in MST and 7 am to 7 pm in PST. It may be a little inconvenient for the voters but the net positive effect is such that people in one region will not be affected by results from another region. This is tied to the exit polling issue. Why should people in CA be robbed of their chance to vote when the projected results is such that his vote would have no effect on the final outcome?


Summary

Our electoral process is flawed. There are many things that can be done to fix it. I have outlined a few simple ideas that are just common sense. Some idea such as term limits require a Constitution Amendment. I believe these are necessary to change Washington DC. The recent hit TV show "House of Cards" makes great entertainment, however, I hope it does not reflect what our government body is all about. If this is true, God help us!

We need to elect leaders that are trustworthy and who will say what he/she means and mean what he/she says. This is one of the most important quality of a leader. In addition, he or she should have the moral character to do the "right" thing especially when confronted with tough choices. A decision maker who is as wise as king Solomon. I am not asking for a saint but is it too much to ask for an honest official that will take responsibility for his/her actions?

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