The midterm elections pointed to both the problem and the solution.
Stacey Abrams may have angered some when she conceded the Georgia Governor’s race. Rather than withdrawing gracefully and wishing the legitimate victor well, she had harsh words for a system that allows the person running for office to also run the election.
In what world does it make sense to have the same person on the ballot also be responsible for getting people to vote and counting the ballots once cast. In the United States it does, that’s where.
We are seriously in danger of becoming a banana republic at this point. Brian Kemp’s behavior in the Georgia Governor’s race is nothing short of scandalous. Using his position as Secretary of State — the very office responsible for running the election — he used every tool at his disposal to disenfranchise those most likely to vote for his opponent. In as close an election as this one was, it is easy to imagine that his tactics might have made the difference.
I give Stacey Abrams credit for pointing out how wrong these abuses of power were. I also give her credit for recognizing that she has run out of legal options. She is a credit to her state and to our country — unlike Brian Kemp — and she would have made a great Governor. Perhaps she will run again. I hope so.
Until the system is fixed, though, we will see such abuses again. Right now, the Florida recount is being overseen by Governor Rick Scott — the very person who is running for U.S. Senator. His winning the race or not depends upon the outcome of this recount occurring under his jurisdiction. Can you say conflict of interest?
Politicians are unlikely to support real reform. Elbridge Gerry, the father of gerrymandering, was a Democratic-Republican from Massachusetts. The Democrats, having won Congress in the 1974 and 1976 elections right after Watergate, used the tools of their office to protect their incumbency just as Republicans have more recently. While I would argue that modern Republicans have been especially egregious in their practices (think Merrick Garland), the practice of using the system to your advantage is not restricted to one party.
Fortunately, there is a solution that worked in this last election. Colorado, Michigan, Ohio and Missouri (and perhaps Utah, where voting is still unresolved) all passed ballot referenda changing the way we draw legislative districts. In those states, no longer will politicians get to draw their own districts. In most of them, a bipartisan commission will be in charge of redistricting, at least reducing the potential for conflicts of interest. Similarly, Florida passed a law restoring voting rights to felons. These additional voters, most of them people of color, could dramatically change the election results in this state that is perennially subject to close races.
Based upon these results, Republicans, Democrats and Independents will vote for election reform. Utah in particular is an extremely Republican state. But for the ballot measures to pass with such strong majorities in the other states — all of them swing states — would have required the votes of many Republicans. The politicians might not vote to reform the system, but the voters will.
For those of us who care about progressive politics, or just making sure that everyone who is entitled to gets the chance to vote, we have a clear strategy. In swing states and Republican states, as well as Democratic ones, we need to propose and pass ballot measures making it easier to vote. Here are some possible measures:
- Restoring the vote to felons, as Florida and Virginia recently did. I have always been amazed that we make it so people who have paid their debt to society are not allowed to become full citizens again.
- Universal voter registration. Despite all the noise coming from Republicans, voter fraud is nearly non-existent. Apparently, Americans just take this responsibility too seriously. Many states make it so that people get registered to vote as soon as they get their driver’s license or other state ID. Similarly, given today’s technology, there is no reason to stop people from registering to vote until right before election day.
- Eliminate gerrymandering. The practice of having politicians draw their own legislative districts has to end. This is a process that essentially allows politicians to pick their voters, rather than vice-versa, which is how it should be. The five states I mentioned above have led the way.
- Make it more convenient to vote. There is an easy way to eliminate the long lines on election day: simply mail a ballot to every voter. The voter can then return the ballot by mail — much as we already do with absentee ballots — or can use a code on the ballot to vote online. With block-chain technology, we can ensure that security is not compromised. this process has the added benefit of making it easier and more accurate to tabulate all the votes.
If there is to be anything positive to come out of the Trump era, it is the realization that our democracy is fragile, and that everyone needs to participate. With the advantages technology can bring us, and with the availability of referenda in most states, we can help bring about the changes that will strengthen our democracy for the long term.
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