Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Political Observation: Voting

Forgive me. I'd like to make a political comment.

If we (citizens and government of the United States of America) want to maintain or even improve democracy in our nation, I humbly submit some suggestions. Two ideas off the top of my head for simple, easy, low-overhead, low-infrastructure ways to increase democracy in our government are: Instant Run-Off Voting (IRV) and universalizing polling places.

Instant Run-off Voting is not a new idea. It simply allows voters to rank their choices - if your first-pick of candidate doesn't get enough votes to contend, then your vote goes to your second choice. If your second choice is knocked out of the running, then your vote counts toward your third pick. And so on. This allows (encourages) people to vote their principles first, and virtually eliminates the "spoiler" effect. A "spoiler" is someone like Ross Perot in '92 or Ralph Nader in 2000, who supposedly draws enough votes away from one or another of the two major party candidates to win the race for the other major party. IRV allows people to vote for the person they would genuinely rather have in office, without looming over them the threat that their least desired candidate might be elected because of it. The system as it is now clearly benefits the two entrenched parties who both use "spoiler" language to discourage disloyalty. Both the Dems and Rebs want to discourage consideration of IRV because it is easier for them to remain in power without it. IRV would open the door to all kinds of "third-party" or "independent" candidates, and the public would be exposed to a genuine variety of viewpoints, and the major parties themselves would be held more accountable to their constituencies' expectations. Simply put, Instant Run-off Voting is a necessity if we are to make any strides toward genuine democracy in this country.

Also helpful, and requiring virtually no change to infrastructure, would be to eliminate the restrictions on polling places. Simply don't assign people to polling places. Have voter records accessible electronically. Allow any voter in the state or county to go to any polling station - close to their work, close to their hairdresser, close to their school, close to where they'll be having lunch. Allow them to walk in, check their card, and have the ballot they need printed for them right there, and drop it off as they leave. No more contested ballots based on who shows up at what polling station. No more hours-long lines in poor neighborhoods. Just let people vote wherever they are. This would benefit the poor and working families, who are less likely to work near their home, and therefore have their poling station be inconveniently located for their workday.

Come to think of it, make voting day a holiday. Don't think people will come vote on their day off? Make it legally compulsory. Make it illegal not to vote. If all they want to do is show up and sign their name (essentially not voting at all), that's fine. But if they don't vote, there's a fine or something. If we want people to vote, there has to be a combination of carrot and stick. The present system works to actually discourage people from voting, because the entrenched powers want people to not vote. It is easier to have one's way if the people don't care what happens to them.

So there. Some ideas to get the conversation going (or keep it going). As Christians, it seems a faith issue to empower the disempowered, to make sure the meek have a voice. Our so-called "democracy" at present doesn't do that very well (if at all). Our faith conviction ought to compel us to consider alternatives.

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2 Comments:

  • Why apologize for posting a political opinion on your own blog? I think it's great!

    I agree with IRV and allowing a choice of polling places.

    I don't agree with making voting mandatory. After all, democracy also means the right not to participate. It would prevent people from voting for Mickey Mouse or something goofy like that.

    I do agree that the powers that be don't want people to vote or be involved. I also think nothing is going to change for our country until we (1) publically finance all campaigns for political office; (2) have IRV ballots; and (3) abolish the electoral college and let the popular vote decide the winner (instead of "game" of collecting state victories that lead to the magic number of 370).

    By Blogger Sansego, at 1:35 PM  

  • We could just get rid of polling places, and let everyone vote from home (such as what Oregon did several years back), though universal polling place would be a decent runner up to that. With he vote by mail system, people have the opportunity to sit and think with the ballot there in front of them for days if they wish,which has some pluses to it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:49 AM  

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