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USA Election Reforms

Popular Vote for President
Rotating Regional Primaries
Presidential Debates
Public Campaign Financing
Proportional Representation
Progressive Strategy

The 2000 federal elections in the United States have revealed that its electoral system is antiquated and much less just and democratic than it should and could be. Many issues need to be examined from the electoral college to campaign finance reforms that have been delayed by politicians benefiting from the corrupted system. This article recommends several reforms that would require constitutional amendments and enabling federal legislation. Some are more radical and difficult to achieve but would be definite improvements toward a more progressive and democratic political system. I have also written about how we could develop a democratic federal world constitutional form of government in order to bring peace, justice, and democracy to the entire human race. (See THE FUTURE AND HOW.) Unfortunately little progress has been made toward that, because the United States as the sole remaining super-power does not have a politics progressive enough to facilitate its leadership in that direction. Thus I offer these progressive ideas so that by making revolutionary but nonviolent changes in this country, we will then be able to help lead the world to a just and peaceful democratic government.

Popular Vote for President

The most obvious change is to begin by abolishing the electoral college system, which was designed by the slave states in 1787 to protect their vile institution by giving small states greater power per person than large states, or they would not join the new union. This is obviously unjust, and with the increase of population in some states such as California, New York, and others it has become even more unjust. An amendment to the United States Constitution could abolish the electoral college and replace it with the popular vote. In this computer age antiquated voting machines may also be discarded as obsolete relics. Computers could facilitate an instant run-off election that would modify the lack of democracy in the winner-take-all system by allowing everyone to vote for the first, second, and third choices. If no candidate gets a majority of the first choices, then the second choices of those people who did not vote for the leading two candidates would be counted. If the second choice was not for one of those two leading candidates, then the third choice would be counted.

Rotating Regional Primaries

Another inequity that is becoming ridiculous is the tradition of having certain small states, namely Iowa and New Hampshire, the first to vote in the presidential primary process. The advantage of a state having an early primary in order to have more say in deciding who the party's candidates will be has resulted in many states moving up their primary elections. This is chaotic and unseemly. The idea of scheduling rotating regional primary elections has already been debated by many legislators, and I propose the following system:

The fifty states may be grouped into five regions with ten states each. The Northeast Region would include Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. The Southeast Region would include Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Louisiana. The Midwest Region would include West Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri. The Plains Region would include Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. The West Region would include Montana, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii.

Another injustice could be remedied by making United States territories enfranchised parts of the nation. Washington DC could become part of Maryland. Puerto Rico could become part of Florida. Guam, the Marshall Islands, and other U. S. territories in the Pacific could become part of Hawaii. This would enable them to elect voting members to the House of Representatives and legislators to their state governments. I believe this is preferable to adding more small states, because for voter equity the United States Senate also needs to be reformed. (See below.)
Five primary elections would be held in even numbered years, say on the second Wednesday of February, March, April, May, and June. In honor of their historic admittance into the union in the first year the order would be Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, Plains, and West. Then two years later the Northeast primary would move to June, and each other region would move up one month, and so on every two years. This would allow candidates to campaign in regions each month instead of criss-crossing the nation, wasting jet fuel. The campaign season would be evenly spread out over five months, and the advantage of being early would be fairly rotated. Debates could be held in regional media markets.

Presidential Debates

Perhaps the greatest injustice of the 2000 Presidential campaign was the exclusion of Green party candidate Ralph Nader from all of the presidential debates, which were organized by the dominant two parties. A neutral plan needs to be made that will allow other parties to participate in at least some of the debates. I recommend that in the first presidential debate every candidate who has a theoretical chance of winning (on the ballot in enough states to gain a majority) should be allowed to participate. Then an e-mail poll can be taken in which every registered voter is allowed to vote for those candidates (as many as they want) they think should be included in the next debate. In the second debate those candidates getting 5% or more people voting they want to hear more of their views should again be included. In the third debate the number could be raised to 10%, and in the fourth debate it could be 15% and so on for as many debates as the candidates want to have. This would allow minority views to be heard and enable them to challenge the views that tend to dominate the media. As the final election becomes nearer, the main candidates could be heard.
The debates should be broadcast by those networks that are available in at least 99% of homes with television reception. As a condition of their licensing each network would be required to broadcast one debate, and they would also be permitted and welcomed to broadcast the other debates if they wish. This would be part of "leveling the playing field" in the campaign process in order to lessen the corrupt influence of financial contributions.

Public Campaign Financing

Most people probably agree that the greatest need in politics is for campaign finance reform. Politicians waste most of their time raising money and are thus corrupted. The incumbents have a tremendous advantage in the bidding war such that in 1998 98.3% of incumbents running for the U. S. House of Representatives won re-election. Yet First Amendment rights of political expression need to be protected. Thus I believe a compromise is possible that would provide public funding in elections that would help voters to become educated on the candidates while at the same time individuals and groups would be allowed to spend money in order to try to persuade voters. First, publicly financed debates in all public elections broadcast by the media would enable voters to hear the views of candidates. In addition every candidate for public office should be allowed to submit a brochure 11 inches by 17 inches (four pages using both sides) that would be mailed at government expense to all registered voters in their election district. This would also help educate viewers about the candidates in a fair way. These means would help to blunt the effect of being bombarded by paid commercial advertisements that still would be allowed in order to protect free expression. In addition government could provide matching funds for limited contributions that are more democatic and less corrupting. The world wide web also helps to provide information on the candidates and issues.

Proportional Representation

As with the electoral college, the 1787 compromise between the small states and large states, in which slavery was an issue, also resulted in the Senate, which is very undemocratic. Although this is a more radical plan, I believe that the US Senate could be reformed in such a way as to allow minority parties some representation in the US's previously winner-take-all system. Instead of having two senators from each state, which is grossly unfair to the people in large states, the senate would still have one hundred members, but they would be elected by party in national elections. Obviously the United States Constitution would have to be amended. In my proposal all the senators would be elected to four-year terms in even-numbered years that are not divisible by four, i.e. in the election years when the presidency is not elected. Through the process of the rotating regional primaries each party would elect a slate of candidates in order of their votes. In the final election each voter would vote for a party to represent them in the Senate. The number of senators elected from each party from the top of their lists as determined by the primary elections would be equal to the percentage of votes that party receives. For example, if one party receives 47.4% of the vote, they would have elected the first 47 candidates on their list. If another party received 42.1% of the vote, they would have elected the first 42 candidates on their list. If another party received 7.8% of the vote, they would have elected the first 7 candidates on their list for certain. Then the fractions would be allotted in order of magnitude until the number 100 was reached. So the party receiving 7.8% would have an eighth candidate elected. A party receiving 0.6% would have one candidate elected. The party receiving 47.4% would have a 48th candidate elected. The 100th member might come from a party that received 0.3% of the vote, or if the 42.1% had been 42.5%, then that party would have had a 43rd candidate elected.

This system would give minority parties at least a small voice in the Senate, instead of being shut out in both houses year after year. Often coalitions would have to form in order to obtain majorities, and this would allow the progressive agenda of minorities to have some chance of gaining compromises with the major parties in order to gain their support for the traditional agenda.
Clearly many reforms, especially this one, would have difficulty getting instituted because the process for amending the constitution strongly and unfairly favors the small states. Constitutional amendments to become law must be ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures or by conventions in three-fourths of the states. This means that thirteen states can block a constitutional amendment. Since six states have only one representative in the House, and seven states have only two, that means that those thirteen small states could block any attempt to abolish the unfair advantage of the small states. Since it is currently very difficult to get politicians in the United States to vote for the greater good of all instead of their own self interest, what other strategies and options are available?

If the small states refused to approve such progressive changes of the U. S. Constitution, the larger states such as California and New York could secede from the United States and become independent nations. Obviously the only history of secession in the United States is the sorry story of the slave states forming the Confederacy that led to a terrible civil war; but that was clearly a case of their taking the low moral ground of slavery. Keep in mind also the United States began as a secession from the British empire. In this case the large states would be taking the high moral ground, and the process could be completely nonviolent. In fact, this would be an opportunity for such states to withdraw from the outrageous military spending of the United States in the post-cold-war era. Such states could voluntarily contribute annually to pay their share of the United States' national debt until it was eliminated. Such states would no longer have separate state and federal governments, and the savings in taxes for their citizens would be quite large. Serious attempts by such states might persuade the small states to agree to a constitutional convention and progressive reforms that are more just for all the people.

Progressive Strategy

Because of the acrimonious conflict that developed as a result of the 2000 election between the Democratic and Green parties, I want to add suggestions in regard to strategy for progressive politics in our current system, which is not likely to adopt the reforms I have recommended for sometime unless their is a massive movement. Clearly the media and the establishment has used the winner-take-all electoral process to marginalize any attempts to form a third or fourth party in this country. Because the presidential election was close in 2000, an insidious conflict developed between the Democratic and Green parties when in reality they should be allies in many issues against the reactionary policies of the Republicans. Unfortunately until systemic changes are made (and how will they be made under this system?), this conflict is likely to continue in many elections to come with the likely unfortunate result that Republicans would garner a greater share of governance than they deserve. Thus progressive people must think long and hard about practical alternatives to this dilemma.

I am a member of the Green party and have voted for Ralph Nader in the last four elections (primaries and final). Yet it seems to me there is a practical solution to this problem, however unsavory it may seem to some. Instead of running progressive candidates through the Green party, progressives could run in Democratic primaries as what I call Green Democrats against the corporate Democrats. In a winner-take-all system one has a much better chance of winning a primary election among the more liberal half of the electorate than a general election. By concentrating progressive politics on this focus we could influence the Democratic to listen to us without turning against them and helping the Republicans. Will Rogers said, "I am not a member of any organized political party; I'm a Democrat." One can believe anything one wants and still register as a Democrat and vote in Democratic primaries. In other words, I am suggesting that progressive concentrate their efforts on making inroads in the Democratic party during the primaries, and working on other issues such as election reforms during the final elections if the candidates are unsuitable. By making the Democratic party both more progressive and the majority party again, reforms can be made that will enable it to gain more power over the Republicans. In doing this the progressives within it will also be gaining more power, and at some point they could split off and form a third party that might be roughly equal in power to the Democrats and the weakened Republicans. Then truly progressive reforms could be won by the newly re-formed Green party.

Copyright © 2000 by Sanderson Beck

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