With the mid-terms behind us and the obvious truth that the Senate is going to continue being dominated by voices that don’t align with the people they represent I’ve been thinking a lot about hacking the election in ways to make them work for the American people. I don’t mean changing votes, at least not in an illegal way. I mean creating a laws that change how we conduct our elections.
How to Hack the American Election System
I have some ideas for how to hack the American election system to make it work for the average citizen and to make it harder for powerful groups to influence our elections. Ideally we should have a system wherein the citizens within the districts and states are the most important influence on their representatives. This is far from the case today. There is so much special interest money that there isn’t room for conservative Democrats or liberal Republicans.
None of our representatives can have their own ideas that differ much from the party’s platform. For the Republicans there was a purse of so called RINOs years ago and the Democrats have been only slightly less irrational allowing for the likes of Joe Manchin and Connor Lamb to remain in the party and to serve their more conservative state/district while still voting with the party on a lot of issues.
Platforms are highly influenced by special interests as are the candidates. This means that the will of those being represented by individuals, especially for Representatives in the House, is often the last thing on a representative’s agenda unless it overlaps with a special interest.
Our problems with these powerful special interests are so bad that there are media figures willing to work day and night to convince citizens that they should support the agendas of these groups even if it’s counter to their own interest and it’s sadly working.
A lot has been written elsewhere about this issue including how House members now represents a huge number of voters thanks to their numbers not increasing for the last 100 years as our population has exploded.
I won’t get into all of that. Instead here are some ideas. not all of them are mine but taken together I think we could build a stronger republic that all citizens can know they play a vital part in.
Election Day Holiday
This is not my own idea but I fully support an election day holiday. I know it’s not a solution for everyone but giving more people the day off and giving kids the chance to see their parents participate would encourage them to do the same. It would also place a higher importance on the act of voting. Holidays are reserved for things we think are sacred. Voting should be one of those things. Voting should be seen as sacred.
Automatic Voter Registration
Automatic voter registration just makes sense. We automatically register people for civil service despite not having had a draft in nearly half a century. We track our citizens for all sorts of things and in all sorts of ways. The government doesn’t require a state issued photo ID to accept your tax payment on April 15th. The only arguments against automatic voter registration and for things like poll purges is to disenfranchise voters and to suppress segments of the population from voting.
Universal Early Voting
Universal early voting would give busy people more time to get to the polls and would increase participation. This might not be easy to pull off as it does require the states spend more time and money but the fact that we can only vote on one day in many places and that absentee ballots in many of those places require proof that you’ll be unable to vote that day and often requires extra postage to mail is anti-democratic.
Other than issues of cost there are no good arguments to oppose universal early voting. Allowing those votes to be tabulated early means faster results on election day, allowing those voters to participate when they can means fewer long lines, and it allows time for problems to be worked out without voters needing to use provisional ballots.
Extend Voting Rights to the Incarcerated
We imprison more people per capita in the US than anywhere else in the world so it’s time we extend voting rights to the incarcerated. In many states even after being released there are restrictions placed upon your voting rights. Given that our criminal justice system has long had issues of racially motivated sentencing it’s time that we not only fully restore the voting rights of former inmates but it’s time that we reexamine the notion of removing their right to vote while incarcerated.
Being incarcerated should mean you lose a lot of your freedom but we’ve got a serious issue with school to prison pipelines, with for-profit prisons, and even publicly owned prisons that have lots of outside contractors. All of these private groups benefit from prisons being full but society doesn’t.
There will be those who might worry about inmates voting for their self-interest or them throwing their support behind sheriffs and district attorneys who are softer on crime. That’s not a concern I want to dismiss. In fact I’d argue that this is exactly what we want. Citizens who understand the system who having the right extended to them to have some small say in how the system works. It’s not as if they’re going to greatly influence these elections. Their numbers are still much smaller and the influence of the for-profit prison industry will certainly still have a lot of power. This would be one small step to making sure that prison isn’t being used just to unjustly influence elections.
Localized Financial Support
My big idea is localized financial support, which I won’t call original only because I can’t have been the first person to have thought of it but I will say that I’m unaware of any attempts to make this idea big and popular though I’ve not done a ton of searching to be honest.
If we really want to see representatives that represent their constituents then we need to laws that localize financial support within the bounds of the race. As we saw in 2016 with the Russians and other setting up fake social media accounts and websites foreign interference in our elections can and does influence outcomes. We have laws against foreign contributions but we allow special interests in Kansas and Nevada to dictate who is elected in Pennsylvania and Ohio.
It’s these contributions from outside of districts that has helped reduce our US House races to empty stand-ins for their party’s platform who are largely just there because they’re good at collecting more of that money and can string a few sentences together on the floor of the House.
If the only people influencing an election had to be located within the bounds of that district or state, like they are required to be within the borders of the Unites States to influence US elections we’d make it far more difficult on these groups and we’d force them to spend money locally on more than just TV advertising.
As I envision it an organization wishing to influence an election would need to have “residency” in that district. For practical purposes, a corporation should need to have a significant financial interest in that district, or their spending should not be able to exceed a percentage of the financial interest they have in an area.
Let’s take Walmart as an example because they are an organization with significant stakes in every district but those stakes vary greatly. In areas where their sales and the net worth of their buildings are smaller they’d be more restricted in their ability to spend politically. So if they wished to spend more on politicians they’d need to spend more in terms of their investment in the area.
No matter where you fall on the political bell curve, no matter which wealthy political donor you despise, supporting this idea would mean that their influences would be held more in check.
It’s not perfect, there would still be a lot of money influencing races and we still need to overturn Citizens United, get the dark money regulated, and solve a whole host of other issues but I believe if we want representation that is responsive to the people that vote for (and against) them we need to limit the influence of money to within the bounds of the race.