Saturday, August 17, 2013

It is Time for Citizens to Take Control of Our Democracy

North Carolina doesn't want you to vote if you live in a college dormitory in that state. They don't want you to vote if you don't have a special state identification card. There is a provision in state law that polling places can serve a maximum of 1500 voters, but in Boone, where college students nearly caused the parish to go for Barak Obama, you must now travel out of your way to the one polling place left, which serves over 9,000 voters. With only 45 parking spaces the parking lot will need to fill and empty every 6 or 7 minutes to accommodate everyone.  Of course, accommodating all the voters is the last thing this Republican controlled local voting board has in mind.

Throughout the South and in other conservative stronghold around the country the story is pretty much the same.  Since the United States Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act an ideologically obstinate Republican Party, which is in demographic  decline, is responding to growing pluralism and power sharing by rejecting democratic majority rule in favor of vote manipulation and dirty tricks.  In one voting precinct in Texas, changes to the distribution of voting machines would have predominately African-American polling places handle ten times the number of voters as predominately White polling places.  In every Republican controlled state the voting districts have been redrawn to make it nearly impossible for them to lose their incumbency.  And all these changes are not random developments but elements of a nationwide plot to project conservative power and suppress opposing or alternative social views.

Admitting  that there is a problem with our democratic process is difficult enough. Fixing it will be even harder. Elections are the province of state governments, each with unique constitutions, chapter laws and administrative policies. In a previous post [ ] I reported on the results of a survey I conducted of the constitutional voting rights articulated in every state constitution. The results were disturbing.  Most of the rights we think we have are not supported in the language of most state constitutions and no state constitution has adequately defined voting rights.

Voting is, of course, the cornerstone of democracy.  It is the means by which political power is aggregated and distributed within a democratic society. Each vote is a transfer of power collected by the chosen candidate.  The integrity of the voting process is therefore critical to a democratic society. It is too precious to entrust in partisan hands. The administration of the election process should be pre-partisan, outside of total government control.  It should be directly under citizen control.

Our present system of election relies on election administrators appointed by the party in power.  In most states that means the State Secretary of State. Keeping in mind that most states don't have constitutionally secure voting rights, the legislatures have significant control over election procedures and the Secretary of States have great leeway over how these laws are implemented. Among the strange consequences this has cause is the turning over of elections to private voting companies. Most or our votes are cast and counted by private companies using electronic machines run on proprietary software. The voting companies are accountable to no one. We citizens didn't ask for this and there was no discussion about this prior to hiring these private firms to collect and count our votes.  Since these companies have taken over the election process we have had some of the most unusual and controversial elections in modern times.  I have written extensively on this subject in the past (see below).

How should we protect our voting rights? By electing non-partisan, independent citizen boards to run our elections.  All voting policies and procedures should be approved through public referendum developed by these citizen Boards of Election.  Citizens on these boards should have no party affiliations and should not hold any public office.  These citizen boards should be responsible  for everything from drawing congressional districts, maintaining voter registrations preparing ballots, assigning polling places, etc. right down to training poll workers and monitoring elections. Any significant changes in voting policy should have to be put to a public vote.  If private companies are to be hired to count our votes, it is the voters who should decide whether or not to use them.  In my view, there should be nothing involving the franchise that isn't itself subject to direct citizen approval.

The candidate who collects the most votes wins the consent to govern. In the bargain, the candidate in a representative democracy is expected to represent everyone, even those opposed to him or her.  In exchange, all the people consent to be governed by majority rule even if there candidate didn't win. Representatives should do what is right for the greatest good even if it isn't what is popular at the moment or aligned with the interests of those who supported the candidate.  Of course, this is the ideal, not the practice.  But today, the basic bargain that makes a Republic work has broken down. Elected representatives are narrowly pursuing the interests of their political donors and party constituents almost exclusively. The Republican minority in the Senate no longer accepts majority rule, using filibusters to forcing super-majorities on nearly every vote. With this same disregard they are making it harder for citizens who don't agree with them to vote in public elections. Governments and powerful interests have broken faith with democracy.  It's time for ordinary citizens to take back control over the democratic voting process.

The sorry state of voting rights in America, a 50 state comparison
How voter ID laws might block you from voting
Republicans have a 5% election fraud handicap built into the voting system
Many state are unprepared for a fair and free election
Outsourcing or privatized voting process overseas
Voting rights denied to a record number of “felons”
Ireland Scraps Electronic Voting Machines for Good
Secret flawed voting software discovered and exposed
Does voter suppression have a new target in Florida (Latino’s)
To know your Voting Rights you must know your state constitution
Can a convicted, or formerly convicted felon vote? Lots of confusion
Colorado sues for voting privacy, but do we have that right
A private company has the first peek at election results
Voter suppression in America to get a hearing at the United Nations
Caucus voting flubs highlight election system flaws
South Carolina out sources vote count to Spain
A voters “Bill of Rights”

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