October 4, 2006

Electoral Reform

Electoral Reform

This series grew out of an initial show on the 2004 elections in Ohio. That hour made us realize how little we really knew about the nitty-gritty details of how our democracy works — or doesn’t. With the 2006 midterm elections looming, it seemed a good time to start exploring.

You can subscribe to a podcast of every Elections show here:

Steal This Election, 6/20/06

The Ohio vote in 2004. There were problems galore in the state that tipped the presidential election: long polling lines, eligibility challenges, and the return of the hanging chad. But who’s to say an election was stolen? Two years later, more people are asking.

America’s Dirty Elections, 6/21/06

It was Florida in 2000, and Ohio in ’04. Aren’t we waiting for an election-day meltdown in 06 or 08 in the machinery of our proudest export: democracy. And yet there are ways to get our own electoral house in order.

Of Hand Counts and Voting Machines, 7/10/06

The electronic voting riddle: with politicized companies making the machines, and computer scientists hacking them, could we be looking at the cure for the hanging chad or the beginning of the end of free, fair and accountable elections?

Redistricting: The Art and Science of Gerrymandering, 9/5/06

Redistricting, or the art and science of gerrymandering. In our continuing series on America’s electoral process: how democratic are political districts, and do they make it impossible to find the political will for reform?

Voter Fraud: Real Menace or Rove Meme?, 4/12/07

Fears of voter fraud have led to the firings of federal prosecutors and voter ID laws. But a recently released report tells a different story: What if the real story about voter fraud is that it doesn’t exist?

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  • Old Nick

    Katherine, I hope this is okay. It deals with elections and election reform. And, as yet, no one has used this thread for anything else.

    This is a reply to plnelson in the Iraq, October 2006 thread.

    The Constitution’s creators feared the demagogic possibilities of political parties. Hence the selection from the states of individual representatives. (Besides, I’m doubtful whether the idea of proportional representation had yet been born.)

    But the actual outcome of the representation-by-individuals system was to nudge candidates into the supporting arms of two camps, reflecting the two poles of the political debates of the day.

    This polarity has evolved over the many decades into a continuum defined by a (generically) ‘republican’ pole (focused on the primacy of individualism over governmental authority), and a (generically) ‘democratic’ pole (focused more on fighting for socio-economic equality, and seeing the government as the only logical and legitimate tool for implementation of the appropriate policies).

    The Constitution doesn’t mandate the Two Party state; yet the Two Party State is an accidental but logical creation of the Constitution.

    My supporting evidence is 200+ years of nearly unchallenged Two Party politics. The stakes in the battle between the two poles are too high, election after election, to allow third parties any realistic traction.

    The solution is proportional representation.

    Proportional representation would splinter both overly bloated, try-to-please-everyone, and ultimately disaffecting parties into leaner, meaner, policy-innovation machines. Policy dependent machines too, because the best articulated policies would attract the most voter affiliation.

    Subsequently, the need to form coalition governments would mean that no one party could get too comfortable in power. The inter-party competitiveness within modern coalition governments provides seamlessly the ‘checks and balances’ the authors of the American Constitution created all too effectively by their antiquated, heavy-handed separation of powers system. (Proportional representation would include the selection of the executive from the legislature – which makes the executive much more immediately accountable to the People.)

    In a sense, we already have ‘coalition politics’. In the American system, the ‘coalitions’ are built during the primaries, but this system ultimately pleases no one. The parties go into the Congressional elections with as many platforms as there are candidates.

    I’d take a lesson from Europe, and form the coalitions after the Congressional elections.

    (The Senate is a whole ’nother animal, and I can offer a provocative solution…but this post is long enough already.)

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  • From Economic Apartheid to Political Revolution

    Joel S. Hirschhorn

    Americans have always accepted a certain level of economic inequality as the inevitable consequence of an open capitalist society where some people through their own efforts do better than others. The presumption is that there is fairness in the marketplace and economic system. What a quaint, outdated belief.

    Do most Americans really believe that the game is not rigged by rich powerful elites to preferentially benefit them? As certain as the law of gravity, the game IS rigged, and more than ever.

    We have a plutocratic corporate state that now has taken economic inequality to new levels – in fact to what now is a sick and shameful condition of economic apartheid. To a society that increasingly separates Americans into two classes: the wealthy Upper Class and the Lower Class. The Upper Class has protected and gated mansions, private vacation spots and spas, special access shopping venues, private schools, lavish entertainment options, luxurious hospital accommodations, and private jets and stretch limos. The Upper Class does everything possible to PHYSICALLY separate itself from the poor, repugnant and uncouth members of the Lower Class. This physical separation is the hallmark of economic apartheid. The only contact the wealthy have and want with Lower Class people is when the latter serve, protect and pamper them. And of course they expect the hugely larger Lower Class to keep spending and borrowing their way into economic despair and to keep sustaining the two-party mafia. Voting for Democrats and Republicans is as meaningful as voting for American Idol contestants. Nothing more than a self-destructive distraction.

    In Las Vegas the truly rich have their private gambling rooms and clubs, and occupy special access suites. In sports stadiums they luxuriate in their glass boxes high above the masses. In the Pacific and Caribbean they have their private island hideaways. On the oceans they travel in self-indulgent yachts. They eat in private rooms in the most expensive restaurants. The biggest entertainment stars come to them in their private social functions. And, yes, they have all the access they want to high government officials in both major parties because they provide them with all the campaign money they need. And hidden from public view they – and only they – have incredible opportunities to invest their riches to easily receive 30 percent annual gains with little taxation. As they get ever richer they find it increasingly difficult to spend all their wealth – but they handle the chore with alacrity.

    What is remarkable about this new society is that there are MILLIONS of these super-rich, physically isolated Americans. They mingle with millions more throughout the world. As globalization has devastated the once proud middle class it has expanded this elitist wealthy class worldwide, even in the poorest nations.

    Economic statistics keep solidly documenting growing economic inequality. But I fear that the most economically oppressed and barely surviving peasants have neither the time nor energy to ponder and fret over these data. Here are some new data that reveal an important historic reality.

    Economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty have recently revealed just how horrendous the inequality gap has become. Way back in 1928, the last full year before the Great Depression began, the families that made up America’s richest top hundredth of 1 percent had incomes that averaged $8.2 million, as measured in dollars inflation-adjusted to 2005 levels. That is one per 10,000 households. In 1928 that amounted to some 5,000 households. These super-rich averaged 891 times more income than families in the bottom 90 percent averaged. By 1955, in the midst of post-World War II prosperity, families in the top hundredth of 1 percent took home only $3.8 million, in inflation-adjusted dollars. They made just 179 times the average bottom 90 percent income. There was much more economic equality because of shared prosperity. Even in 1980, the richest of the rich took home 175 times more than Americans in the bottom 90 percent – still relatively good economic equality. Then things changed.

    Consider the figures for 2005: the top hundredth of 1 percent, about 10,000 households, averaged $25.7 million in income, three times the money in 1928. This amounted to 882 times more than the bottom 90 percent average — an economic inequality gap in 2005 that’s almost identical to the 891-to-1 divide in 1928! Welcome to the modern billionaire world of the rich getting much, much richer, while everyone else stagnates. Of course, the top 1 percent of households are also extremely rich – some 1 million families or 3 million people – relatively to the bottom, majority 90 percent.

    Married couples with children now account for fewer than one-quarter of American households – the lowest in history. It is the Upper Class that now emphasizes marriage with children. Married households with children are twice as likely to be in the top 20 percent of income. Some 13 percent of the increase in the nation’s income inequality since the 1970s results from the marriage of high income earners. Marriage is now for the rich. What does that say about American democracy and culture? That the Upper Class is like an inbred aristocracy. Children of the rich will marry other children of the rich.

    Another critically important change in the real (ugly) America is the bursting of the traditional fantasy-belief that people can educate themselves into wealth. Is getting more Americans educated and trained all we need to do to attack economic inequality? If so, then inequality should fall over periods of time when people become more educated. Right? Americans have become more educated over the last three decades. In 1970, only three out of four Americans aged 25-29 had completed high school. In 2004, nearly nine of ten Americans that age had a high school education. In 1970, only 16 percent of Americans in their late 20s held a four-year college degree. By 2004, that had nearly doubled to 29 percent. Something else has nearly doubled since 1970: the share of national income that goes to America’s richest 1 percent.

    That means that the share going to average Americans has dropped. Lower Class Americans in the bottom 90 percent of the nation’s income distribution took home 67 percent of U.S. income in 1970, but only 53 percent in 2004, despite their greater education and productivity. American reality: We’ve become more unequal at the same time we’ve become more educated. Why? Education doesn’t determine how income and wealth – or macro domestic and global prosperity – are distributed in our unfair system. The Upper Class ensures that increasing fractions of income and wealth go to them.

    Here is more painful statistical truth: In 2004, the most recent year with IRS data just about 25,000 taxpayers took home over $5 million. After exploiting every loophole they paid an average 21.9 percent of their incomes in federal income tax. Back in 1952, at the height of the Korean War, the comparable federal tax bite on America’s richest 25,000 averaged 51.9 percent. About a decade earlier, in the middle of World War II, the 25,000 highest-income taxpayers in the United States paid 68.4 percent of their incomes in federal income tax. How things have changed for the wealthy. A greater fraction of the nation’s prosperity has gone to the Upper Class AND they pay less tax! Economic power produces political power.

    This is worth pondering: When will the economic inequality that has morphed into two-class economic apartheid provide sufficient pain and disgust for a few hundred million Americans to fuel political revolution?

    When will the stranglehold of the Upper Class on the political system that criminally distorts the economic system be busted? When will Lower Class consumers that drive the economy take back their sovereign power? When will they understand they are losing the class war and revolt?

    It will take historically unique action, not electing different Democrats or Republicans. Our Constitution provides the tool – not used for over 200 years because the power elites do not want it used – an Article V convention outside the control of the White House and Congress to consider political and government reforms. Learn more about it at http://www.foavc.org.

    [Learn about the author’s new book at http://www.delusionaldemocracy.com.]

  • TromboneErik

    Public Campaign Financing

    The best evidence of public money being preferred to fund political campaigns is the horrendous failure and astronomical costs of our current, privatized campaign system both at the state and federal level. Public money could not be worse and would not prompt these government giveaways. It is undeniable that billions of taxpayer dollars per year are given by congressmen in tax breaks, subsidies, no-bid contracts, roads and bridges to nowhere, local earmarks and etc, all going to the funders of today’s political campaigns.

    CEOs don’t give money unless there is a return on their investment, and that return is phenomenal at over $300 billion per year. That’s over $3000 per taxpayer per year (the new numbers put it closer to $4000 per taxpayer). Look at http://www.Publicampaign.org, http://www.publicintegrity.org, and our state’s largess at http://www.wisdc.org/grafttax2report.php.

    If public funding didn’t work, why have there been several court challenges to try to block it? The answer is because, as Michael van der Galien points out, the link between the corporations and the parties has been broken, and the corporations don’t like that a bit. Nor do some of the politicians who have lived on the graft. So they have jointly funded lawsuits to void the law.

    Arizona and Maine have both successfully implemented public campaign financing for their Governors and legislators.

    This is from a thread on:

    http://www.unity08.com/node/44