Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Make the Democratic Party... Democratic

Instead of waiting and hoping somehow the Republican congress and state governments decide to give us democracy, we could go ahead and start ourselves.

All the things we want, things we just dream about, that are so difficult (or impossible) to do by federal and state law, could easily be implemented within the party - from campaign finance reform to term limits to direct democracy.

The result would be a far stronger party.

There's something funny about elections: They're these grand, extraordinarily complicated affairs that have progressed little since... well, progressed little. Period.

Despite the exponential advances in various technologies, many of our voting machines still utilize technologies that would have been familiar to our great-great-grandmothers. And maybe their great-grandmothers. --

When we finally got around to utilizing more current technology, it's actually represented a regression, leaving us with these bizarre machines that are ridiculously insecure. Somehow, we manage to spend hundreds millions of dollars for a result that's less accurate than paper.

Other advanced democracies just use paper, and all these crazy problems with machine errors and butterfly ballots are immediately solved. (Interestingly, where paper ballots are used, the exit polls are more accurate as well.)

Consider that that: A technology far older than our oldest voting equipment is actually... far superior.

Makes you wonder why Diebold is getting hundreds of millions. Doesn't it?


Yes, they always bang on about how elaborate elections are, how expensive, how complicated.

But it's not so complicated. Unless someone is trying to make it that way.

And machines don't have to be so bizarre and expensive.

State lotteries all across the US essentially hold elections every week, more than once a week, in fact. And they never make a mistake, miscount a vote (a vote in this case being for a string of numbers). They're not phenomenally expensive or the lotteries wouldn't be profitable.

Now, let's look at the democracy wrecking problem in politics - money. A US representative has to raise 10,000 dollars per week to have a hope of re-election. Even long established beloved politicians, multiple term Senators who seem to have been appointed for life, talk about how much they hate the fundraising aspect.

With good reason. Who gives the kind of money they need? It's not people whose civil rights need protecting, whose poverty needs alleviating, who want someone honest and dedicated to the well being of their society. That's not how you raise money. We may want to vote for someone concerned about such things, but we'll never get the chance.

Because in order to become a candidate, you have get past the primaries. And you do that by showing you can raise a lot of money. And you do that by convincing wealthy backers it's in their interest to support you: I'll keep this unnecessary military program going because you make money off supplying parts for it... and so on.

Even then, the Party still chooses. Many states have these non-binding primaries, where the candidate who wins might not get the delegates. Make sense? Well, if you're afraid of democracy, it does.


We all say we want campaign finance reform. But then... how to do it? How to do it without infringing on free speech yada yada yada, on and on?

Well, here's a thought:

Just do it within the party. Don't wait forever hoping somehow the Republicans, the big money party, is going to just kindly legislate away their cheif advantage.

How about this: All primary candidates have a very limited cap. They can advertise for free on the party's websites, and perhaps move up by how ordinary party members rate them. (Some of that money saved on primary battles can go to public access machines at your local party office.)

Instead of these very expensive primaries, save the money.

Save the money for the election that really matters, instead of spending millions fighting each other within the party, scrambling against a pack of your sisters and brothers to kill them all off so you can emerge, bloodied, for further battle. That's insane. It's an insane way to do it.

So ditch the whole thing. Vote the primaries via Internet, with phone in votes for those who don't have access (leave a voice print as signature).

We can accept credit cards over the Internet; we can certainly figure out how vote for a primary.

Instead of one day, we could allow revocable votes up to a deadline. That would make everyone much more involved in the process, and hence much more committed to the results.


But it goes beyond that.

The big problem comes after the candidate is elected, when you really have no idea what she'll do, no matter what she's promised beforehand.

Think about, say, buying a car: We wouldn't just elect someone else, and then they'd chose what kind of car we'd drive - heck, we wouldn't even let them choose the color. Yet, for the far more important issue of running our society, we do just that.

Frank Zappa wanted legally binding campaign promises. Well, we can wait for that law to get passed. Or...

How 'bout a democratic idea for the Democratic party: When a candidate is elected, she guarantees she will actually represent her constituents.

And she'll do this by allowing them to express their wishes via her website (and phone-in).

She can lead by arguing her case, and by trying to persuade all she wants, but if the people of her district disagree with her, she'll vote as they desire. She'll truly be...
representative of her district.

Now, who wouldn't vote for someone who promised that? Even many people who disagreed politically might be willing to vote for that person knowing there'd be real representation in government for them. Because, let's face it, even conservatives aren't being represented - unless they have a lot of money.

But, for the rest us, such a candidate could be the universal choice. She might speak out against the very thing she votes for, or speak for the very things she has to vote against. And sometimes, she might persuade us to go along with her. And sometimes not.

On a few core issues, known beforehand, the candidate would vote a certain way no matter what, but otherwise her job would be to represent.

And if the candidate broke the promise? She's out of the party for good. There might be times she would choose to do that. For example, in the case of war hysteria where we've all been whipped up to attack some country based on lies. She might say, Well, here I have to vote my conscience.

Finally, a suggestion for how to keep them from stealing the next election: Print up a bunch affidavits. After leaving the polling station, voters may choose, on a completely voluntary basis, to come to stand set up nearby and swear they voted a certain way. They're choosing, if they like, to give up the secrecy in order to ensure accuracy.

Do it polling station by polling station, all across the country. That way, if say, two-thousand people swear they used the touch-screen to vote for the Democrat, but only six-hundred votes are recorded, we'll have a pretty sure idea that something went wrong.


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