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Rx: A Gridlock Remedy

by: Ellis Goldberg

Sun Dec 16, 2012 at 22:51:44 PM PST


America deserves better than a gridlocked congress                         Rx: More democracy
Some Americans are denied representation in the Congress          Rx: More democracy
All Americans lack equal representation in the Congress                  Rx: More democracy
Too few eligible Americans vote                                                               Rx: More democracy
Suggestions for reducing; Legislative Gridlock, Divisiveness & Representational Disparities while increasing Citizen Participation
Ellis Goldberg :: Rx: A Gridlock Remedy
The US constitution written centuries ago needs a major overhaul to be fully functional in the 21st century.  When it was written geographic proximity was sufficient commonality for common representation of 33,000 person congressional districts, today the average is 713,000 persons per district. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U...  Today individuals have a unique set of personal political imperatives; each voter has a different set of reasons, each weighted by judgment, for making political decisions.  Having representatives in the legislature based on geographic districts makes for a poor set of choices for today's voters. If voters choose from a large assortment of at-large legislative candidates each voter could vote for a candidate who best represented and champions their individual political priorities.  Each candidate might be a champion with a specific set of priorities and will be attractive to voters with similar priorities.  More and better candidate choices improve democracy.

Why is more democracy needed?
Gridlock:  Congress is divided into two camps that will not agree on several issues.  It is a stalemate-standoff where neither camp really acts in the best interests of the country but instead acts in ways that will get them re-elected.  It looks like it is about to get worse - see  article at  Huffington Post.

Divisiveness: Millions of campaign dollars create advertising and promote divisive ideas, implying the opposition will do horrible things.  Divisive ideas harden the political base making if ever more difficult to find common ground.  When individuals having disparity views on specific issues meet personally they frequently find many things they can agree on.

Representational Disparities:  All Americans are not represented equally in congress, this is basically undemocratic.  Americans living outside the 50 states do not have a voting representative in congress.  Some congressional districts have as few as 568,000 population per congressional district and others districts as many as 900,000 with an average of 713,000.  In the 2012 election Republicans won a majority of the seats in the house although they received fewer votes than the Democrats.  The Washington Post reports "Democrats got 54,301,095 votes while Republicans got 53,822,442. That's a close election - 48.8%-48.5% -but it's still a popular vote win for the Democrats."  Although voters favored Democrats by over half a million votes Republicans control the house, which is undemocratic.

Low Citizen Participation: Participation is low because candidates do not have sufficient appeal to the voters they are courting.  A geographic district with 700,000 residents frequently does not have local candidates that motivate a large number of voters to really support and campaign for them.  Many never see a candidate worth registering to vote for.  Of those registered many do not vote for the same reason, or lack of reason.  Increasing the choices to include the best champions the nation has to offer will motivate registration, voting and campaigning for candidates voters really feel strongly about, making America more democratic.

Prescription: Requiring constitutional amendment
1. Revoke corporate citizenship rights - reverse the Citizens United v FEC decision.  Make corporate participation in the political process an individual criminal offense.  See Wikipedia .

2. Allow legislation that limits political campaign contributions and requires true transparency. Overturn the money is free speech decision Buckley v. Valeo.  See Wikipedia

3. In the presidential elections the voters in the swing states have the power to swing the election; while the rest feel their votes don't matter.  The Electoral College must be abolished and replaced with majority elections.  All registered US citizen can vote no matter where they live.  Today voters in PR, Washington DC, Guam and other US territory have no electoral votes, they don't count.

4. THIS IS NEW!
Regarding electing congress:  In June of even number years a national congressional primary will be held.  Candidates that collect 5000 signatures from eligible voters will appear on the ballot.  All US citizens who register can vote for any of the qualifying candidates.  The 1000 candidates receiving the most votes in June proceed to the general election in November when any registered voter can vote for any of the 1000 candidates.  The 435 candidates with the most votes become the new congress.  When casting legislative votes in congress; the member will cast the number of votes equal to the number of voters who voted for the member minus those who voted against them.

Items 1, 2 & 3 occur before 4.  
A phase in plan that is not traumatic to the political process will be required.  Since this plan requires constitutional change it will take some time for it to be understood and reviewed by the public before it can be implemented.

Changes to the current Constitution - Parts of the Constitution that would require change:
Article 1 Section 2
No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the Age of twenty five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.
Article 1  Section. 4.
The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of choosing Senators.

From Amendment 14, Section 2.
Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.

Currently voters vote for a candidate and against another.  To fill the need to vote against a candidate there are several prescription possibilities:
• Every voter gets both a yes and no vote.  The no votes are deducted from the yes votes.  
• Every voter gets one vote which may be either a yes or no vote.  The no votes are deducted from the yes votes.
• Every voter just gets a yes vote.

How does the prescription address the symptoms?

This prescription addresses the issues of political parties with single digit registration percentages being able to muster enough votes to send someone to congress to represent their party's agenda & priorities.

US citizens in Washington DC, Puerto Rico, Guam and other US territories who are not currently represented in congress under the current constitution would have voting representation.  All Americans will have voting representation in the congress. Rhode Island has 525,394 residents for its one house seat while Montana has 967,440.00 residents for its' seat, the national average is 712,973 residents per house seat.  .  Source Datamaster.  All Americans will have equal representation if the prescription is filled and implemented.

220 million Americans are eligible to vote, 180 million are registered to vote and 120 million voted in 2012.  Of those who did vote; about half did not get their choice.  Those who voted for the winner frequently got what they thought of as the lesser of the evils anyway.  Many don't vote because they are not sufficiently motivated by the choices of candidates they have on there ballots.  With 1000 choices they are more likely to find a candidate who fits the unique personal political imperatives and preferences of the individual voter.  More of those eligible to vote will find reason to register and vote with a better selection of candidates.  More campaigners will find candidates they feel are worth campaigning for, who are champions for the issues they feel strongly about.

Grassroots campaigning will be very effective since all voters may vote for any candidate.  Big money campaigning will big less effective since it addresses mass audiences.  Currently, big money campaigns focus on a few swing states and a few swing districts; making them effective.  Grassroots campaigners can try to convince individual voters who are the friends, family, co-workers and neighbors of the campaigners to vote for a specific candidate.  Grassroots campaigns increase democracy while big money campaigns are work against democracy.  Representatives elected by grassroots campaigns enjoy wide spread constituent support.

The elected representative will be using constituent votes every time the representative votes in congress.  That gives each vote a greater impact.  The voter is gratified knowing that his or her vote added to their representative political clout.  Most voters would have voted for someone who was elected, making them feel enfranchised rather than disenfranchised.  Currently, about half the voters who bother to vote, back a losing candidate.

Gridlock is a product of poor choices, money and manipulation.  With voters given what they see as poor choices with the current constitutional arrangement, they don't vote or they can be convinced to vote for the lesser of the evils.  They are vulnerable to manipulation by expensive advertising.  They are subjected to negative attacks by candidate's campaigns on each other because of the one on one nature of the congressional campaigns.  With 1000 candidates for 435 offices, one candidate does not have a specific adversary, no one to attack.  In the future, candidates might be forced to run on there own attributes, specific issues and positions.  During the campaigns champions for and against specific positions on an issue may debate.  

Champions for issues will emerge with the weight of the issue's supporters' votes.  The champion mix in congress will know exactly why their constituency voted for them.  In order to champion a specific agenda the champion will have to form alliances and end gridlock.  New coalitions will emerge for each issue rather than the voting/vetoing block that gridlocks today's congress.  Issue champions might be free of party orthodoxy.  Currently debates turn into sniping attacks that are focused on embarrassing the other candidate rather than shedding light on issues.  Debates between opposing champions will be more substantive than they are today.

How will the prescription reduce gridlock?
The 80/20 rule will probably hold; 20% of the representatives will get 80% of the votes.  87 congressional representatives would have a sufficient numbers of votes to have voting relevance although all 435 would be allowed to participate on committees and take part in the debate of issues.  The top 87 or fewer would have sufficient votes to pass legislation; making it easier to create operative coalitions than with the current 435 geographically chosen representatives requiring 218 to agree.  The top few vote getters would have the most discretion over legislation and since they would be champions for specific issues they know who they represent and how those voters want them to vote.  The issues of greatest importance to voters will get the most congressional attention, as it should be in a democracy.

Today's congress member purports to represent both those who voted for them and those who did not.  That becomes difficult when the interests of one constituent run contrary to another's.  When champions go to congress they will represent those who voted for them and will be judged by those who might vote for them again.  Today congressional candidates frequently flip flop in an attempt to please all district constituents, it makes them seem dishonest, turning off voters.  Champions won't flip flop to please disparate constituents.  

If a district resident has a problem today they may go to the local congressional office for help.  A constituent may ask their congressional representative for help on a specific issue.  If the representative does not hold the issue as a high enough priority as the constituent, they may do nothing or if they are opposed to the constituents' position, they will certainly do nothing to help.  If a champion representative was approached for help on the issue that they champion they would try hard to be of help.  The champion is more likely to be an expert and have staff that is expert on the champion's issues.  Today if a voter found a champion for their issue but the voter does not live in the representative's district they will find it very difficult to make contact with the representative.

In order to move closer to a perfect union; constitutional change will be required, it has never come easy.  In the age of electronic media, democracy can come in ways never dreamed of centuries ago.  We live in the age of complex priorities, we need legislators that reflect those priorities and not balancing act candidates designed to garner the most votes in a geographic district.  New technologies make political information available at a level that could not be conceived centuries ago, that information and technology allows voters to make the wise choices that best fit individual political priorities.

What will it take to change the constitution?
From Article 5
The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of it's equal Suffrage in the Senate.
A new federal agency will be needed to administer nationwide elections.  The agency is needed not only to to run a national election but also because state voter administration has been corrupted and an agency with career public servants can be better relied on for an honest count.  

This proposal will take awhile before it can possibly be enacted; if there is no discussion started it may never happen.  Today there is no meaningful discussion about ending gridlock, only empty promises to try to play nice by the politicians.  There is no consideration of structural change.

What can you do?  This proposal is in infancy, it needs critiquing, polishing and framing.  There may be overlooked benefits and disincentives that might be pointed out.  Please leave a comment.

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