by Stephen J. Dubner, Freakonomics Radio, 27-Jul-16 (http://bit.ly/2ap57ou)
From the website:
We Americans may love our democracy — at least in theory — but at the moment our feelings toward the Federal government lie somewhere between disdain and hatred. Which electoral and political ideas should be killed off to make way for a saner system?
Ever since Newt Gingrich instilled his “win at all costs” approach to the Republican party, Washington has become increasingly dysfunctional. Seems like we need to do something–and fast–before we make some horrific mistake and kill ourselves off, or at least turn the U.S. into another Italy. If you were to dedicate yourself to making one change to our system, what would it be? Well, here’s the ideas I found most interesting in this radio show:
From Olympia Snowe, former Republican Senator from Maine, so appalled by the partisanship in Congress that she quit — to try to reform the system from the outside.
- get rid of gerrymandering through independent, nonpartisan districting
- limit the power of political action committees
- require a five-day workweek in Congress, so senators and reps would have more opportunity to interact socially with each other, and see themselves as less of enemies
- kill off the closed primary, i.e., let voters who aren’t registered with a party vote in either party’s primary
“Closed primaries exclude the centrist, moderate candidates on either side of the political aisle.” Only hardline activists vote in closed primaries and demand candidates who are aligned to their views, precluding representatives open to compromise.
From Howard Dean, former Governor of Vermont, Chair of the Democratic National Committee, and a candidate for the Democratic nomination in the 2004 U.S. Presidential Election.
- Rank the candidates, rather than just voting for one.
- If no candidate receives a majority, your second-choice then gets counted.
- The winner will be the person who is best respected and best liked overall.
- “San Francisco put in ranked-choice voting a few years ago, and they had the most polite mayor’s campaign that you ever saw.” (And hopefully, the courtesy allowed the candidates to address the issues rather than pursuing personal attacks. — RH)
- Candidates that most people like are usually the ones that are the most reasonable.
From Eric Posner, a professor of law at the University of Chicago:
- Eliminate the idea of one person, one vote. Give everyone, say a hundred credits, that they can allocate among different candidates in different races.
- In fact, charge people the square of the number of votes that you cast for a particular person, which is why this idea is called “quadratic voting.”
- This helps rectivy democracy’s vulnerability to the tyranny of the majority, where people who don’t really care about a particular outcome or a particular candidate can still outvote a large minority of people who passionately care.
- We want people who care passionately about an outcome to have more influence on it.
- They could still be outvoted if the majority is huge, but quadratic voting allows the system to make constructive use of the intensity of minority’s preferences.
From Rob Richie of the electoral-reform group called FairVote:
- Get rid of winner-take-all elections to elect congress, state legislatures, and city councils.
- Winner-take-all leaves most people stuck in a lopsided, one-party districts.
- Go from having only one person per area, to bigger areas with more than one person.
- For example, take Massachusetts from nine one-winner districts to three three-member districts.
- In each district, it would take about a third of the vote to win a seat.
- As consequence, general elections will matter, not just primaries.
- Furthermore, the process typically puts into power people that represent the left, center, and right of every district.
From Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, frequent guest on NPR news programs, and co-author of It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism.
- Implement the system of mandatory attendance at the polls that Australia has been using for 80 years.
- You don’t have to vote, but you do have to show up at the polls or you’re subject to a small fine.
- Politicians realize that everyone’s base will turn up at the polls, so their focus turns to the persuadable voters in the middle.
- As a consequence, they don’t talk in extreme terms that are designed to scare their base to death. They don’t work on wedge issues, “things like abortion or transgender bathroom issues.”
- Instead, they talk about the issues that matter to a broad range of voters, not the party extremists.
From Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.
- Eliminate the live, cheering, jeering audience at presidential debates.
- The audience response in the auditorium to the debate content affects the audience at home, and as a result can bias not only what people learn, but their evaluation of the candidates.
From Bruce Ackerman, Yale law professor, co-author of Voting With Dollars:
- The citizens of Seattle have come up with an important approach to campaign finance reform: the city provides each registered voter with a democracy voucher to spend to support their favored candidate for municipal office. One person, one vote, one voucher.
- To take this idea national, provide every registered voter a special credit-card account containing 50 “democracy dollars” during presidential years and lesser amounts during off-year elections, funded by tax revenue.
- These voters could send their democracy dollars to a government website that would credit the money to their favored candidates and political organizations.
- This program is perfectly constitutional under current Supreme Court doctrine, so no need to wait for a constitutional amendment.