ChrisWeigant.com

Fixing Voting

[ Posted Thursday, November 15th, 2012 – 17:43 PST ]

Democrats in both the House and Senate have wasted no time in introducing bills to improve the process of voting in America, after some in Florida were forced by long lines to wait until 1:30 in the morning to vote. While these both are admirable in the goals they aim to achieve, I've got a crazier idea as to how to fix the problem than dangling federal grants in front of the states, in an effort to persuade them to modernize their voting laws and procedures -- change the presidential primary schedule so that the states with the highest percentage of voter participation in the previous election go first.

Instead of passing a law which would, in essence, bribe the states (in the same fashion as "Race To The Top" in education) to get their act together when it comes to voting, give them a positive goal to shoot for and let them figure out on their own how to turn their citizens out to vote better.

Here's how my idea would work. The hard part (the crazy part) is that Congress would have to pass a law dictating to the states when they would be allowed to hold their primaries -- which has never been done. The primaries would be "nationalized" to a certain degree. Right there, that's enough to sink my plan, I realize. But hey, it's Thursday, so I'm going to continue this flight of fancy to the end (just to fill up column space, as it were).

So, ignoring the problems of getting the scheme passed into law, the primary calendar as we know it now would be completely reorganized. We'd divide it into five segments, the first taking place in February or earlier. No exceptions for Iowa and New Hampshire, either. The only states who would be allowed to schedule their primaries earlier than March would be the ten who achieved the highest rate of voter participation in the previous presidential election. Perhaps the first four or five could be singled out and put into line (the way Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina currently are singled out). Top state in previous voter participation rate votes first. The second ten states would get to vote in March, the third in April, down the line until the lowest ten voter-participation states voted in June.

Not only would this impose some much-needed rationality and pacing to the primary season, it would also serve as an incentive for states to do better. Currently, they have no incentive to do so. Now, it might be argued that this wouldn't work, because some states are just bound to have populations who don't want to vote, while others are more proud of their citizenly duties. But a state will never know if it just has a lazy electorate or not until they institute reforms which make it easier for people to vote.

One of the top states for voter turnout is, unsurprisingly, a state which makes it easier to vote than just about any other -- Oregon, where all voting is done by mail-in ballot. Everybody "absentee" votes, to put it in terms other states use. Oh, sure, you can drop your ballot off on Election Day in person (if you're a traditionalist), but you still get your ballot in the mail early enough to fill it out and just mail it back, to save time. Once Oregon has the first-in-the-nation primary for a few election cycles, other states will examine the Oregon method and adopt it for their own.

There's no guarantee it'd be Oregon who went first, however. Perhaps it would be one of the other states in the top ranks of voter turnout. Rather than letting Iowa go first, how about letting South Dakota or Minnesota or Wisconsin go first next time around? Instead of New Hampshire, perhaps Alaska or Maine?

Being at the front of the line -- or even near the front of the line -- would bestow not just bragging rights for the states, but actual economic benefit. Talk to a hotel owner or newspaper publisher in New Hampshire or Iowa about what their premium spot means every four years. You can bet that hotel owners and media magnates in other states would vie for those dollars.

Similarly, being at the end of the line would be a shameful spot for any state. Not only would they never see the campaign organizations, their vote would most likely not even matter in the primary race (not every year is Hillary-versus-Barack).

Perhaps if America faced the primary season every four years with a crystal clear layout of which states participate in our democracy more than others, it would give enough motivation to whichever political party holds the state government to improve their access and ease of registering and voting. If states competed to see which one could come up with the best plan for voter turnout, the overall situation would be bound to improve over time.

I realize this is more of a thought experiment than a piece of legislation which has a chance to pass. I do fully support the efforts of Senator Chris Coons and Representative George Miller (Miller's bill has the best acro-name, I have to admit: "Streamlining and Improving Methods at Polling Locations and Early Voting Act" or the "SIMPLE Voting Act"). At this point, anything that could improve the situation in places like Florida has my support, because it's obvious that things have to change for the better somehow.

People fought and died for my right to vote. People fought for every single group of citizens who now enjoys the franchise -- often at different times and against different prejudices. If you don't count the Bill of Rights, out of the seventeen amendments to the Constitution, a full seven of them deal with voting and three more deal with elections -- far more than any other subject. That's how important voting is to Americans. Here in the twenty-first century, with all of the technology now at our disposal, voting should be as easy as possible. It isn't. And, one way or another, it needs fixing -- sooner rather than later.

-- Chris Weigant

 

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20 Comments on “Fixing Voting”

  1. [1] 
    LeaningBlue wrote:

    This is a bit off the topic of this post, but it is voting related, so:

    You just can't make the Right media happy. If it's not gifts and ObamaPhones (for everybody but ME, evidently) that got him elected, now it's pointing out that 8 of the 10 highest median income counties carried Obama by wide margins. So it's po' folks and rich liberals. OH! The INDIGNITY!

    Wait a minute... Let's do some cipherin' here. If 47% are slackers and people with new phones who always vote Democrat, and, for round numbers, 100 million people vote, then all they need is 3 million more to have a majority. And in just New York, NJ, San Fransisco, and LA, you have about 10 million who fit the Rich Liberal profile. Hmm.

    If I were speaking to a bunch of FatCats who I want to write me checks, I'm not sure I'd use a number that tells them I'm beat.

  2. [2] 
    db wrote:

    You've hit the problem completely. Voting is very much a State matter. Given that the Republicans believe there's a vested interest in making sure that as much of the 47% of the takers/victims can't vote by means of reduced early voting hours, generally illegal Voter ID laws, and precipitant purging of voter rolls; the idea has very little chance of success.

    Now the good news.

    Primaries are not a function of the Government. They are functions of the Political Parties. Some States don't even have primaries. Only delegates to the National Conventions are elected. So the path may not be as tough as I imagine.

    But certain States (NH) have laws that require the Political Parties in their States to hold Primaries at a certain time i.e. first. You may recall that this requirement almost pushed the NH Primary into Christmas in 2011.

  3. [3] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    Instead of passing a law which would, in essence, bribe the states (in the same fashion as "Race To The Top" in education) to get their act together when it comes to voting, give them a positive goal to shoot for and let them figure out on their own how to turn their citizens out to vote better.

    regardless of whether or not it's funded, state legislators will find ways to turn a federal incentive program to the personal advantage of themselves and their campaign contributors, not the collective good of their constituents. when there's a directive from above, like clockwork more taxpayer dollars go to schemes that increase the campaign chests and re-election chances of incumbents. without checks on campaign finance, i practically guarantee that this would backfire.

  4. [4] 
    michty6 wrote:

    Uhm I've got a better idea: why don't you get rid of Primaries altogether and STOP SPENDING SO MUCH TIME AND MONEY ON YOUR DAMN ELECTIONS!

    I thought there was supposed to be some sort of deficit in America??

    Oh I forgot. Rational things like raising taxes, cutting the largest discretionary spending costs (the military) and cutting unnecessary, crazy spending on things like elections are off the table. It's the MOOCHERS you have to worry about!

    LB,
    Don't be silly - you are trying to apply numbers logic and facts to Republican arguments! That's insane! The problem with your analysis is that there isn't enough rhetoric or pointing out how evil Obama is, meaning it isn't proper right-wing thinking...

    NY,
    regardless of whether or not it's funded, state legislators will find ways to turn a federal incentive program to the personal advantage of themselves and their campaign contributors, not the collective good of their constituents

    Bingo.

    I think the flaw in your idea CW (and the Bills being floated that give $ incentives to the States) is that Republican Governors just don't care. They'd much rather rig the election and stop people voting to maintain Republican power than get a few extra $ or (heaven forbid!) act in the best interest of their citizens.

    And mail-in voting should be standard practice across America. But then this would mean more people voting . And that would mean Republicans would either have to change their policies (you know, to represent the will of the masses like in a true democracy - heaven forbid!) or end up losing a lot.

    So it makes much more sense for Republicans to continue to support voter suppression. If you can't have popular policies, screw democracy and try to rig the system so that more of the people who like your policies come out to vote.

  5. [5] 
    TheStig wrote:

    This is a very interesting proposal, although it's too bad the Constitution makes it necessary to resort to bribery to fix, no improve is better, our presidential election process.

    I like your objective, and I'm all for making voting as fair and inclusive as possible, but I worry if mending our presidential elections might not have the unintended result of making our creaky primary/caucus system even worse. The phrase "nine, nine, nine" is still ringing in my ears.

    I don't have any specific objections to your plan, I just think it needs to be Red Teamed a bit. In general, I think the political parties ought to have a lot of discretion in figuring out how they choose their standard bearers. Getting the states involved dilutes the utility of parties, they end up being fund raising machines, to the detriment of their policy making function.

    Fair warning, I also like my concept of choosing presidential candidates with an elimination tournament style series of primaries, (very loosely)modeled after NCAA basketball. Absolutely nothing else in the world should be modeled after the NCAA.

  6. [6] 
    michty6 wrote:

    Slightly off topic, but on the subject of voting, turnout in NY, NJ and CA was considerably down from 2008. The first 2 probably isn't a great shock given what hit them beforehand. But these 3 heavily populated Democratic States alone account for most of the drop in national turnout from 2008. If turnout was near 2008 levels, Obama would've actually won by MORE than his 2008 national vote margin. It really was that one-sided an election.

    A good graph on turnout:

    http://www.motherjones.com/files/images/blog_turnout_2012.jpg

  7. [7] 
    LewDan wrote:

    Chris,

    I have to disagree. I can think of nothing better than your proposal to encourage states to even greater efforts in manipulating voter rolls. Purge everyone who doesn't vote, (or doesn't vote "right,")--BAM! Instant 100% participation. First in line in the primaries. The one everyone else has to pander too! Let's automatically make the least scrupulous state the most influential!

    What a recipe for disaster. ...Unintended consequences my friend. Always guard your posterior against them!

  8. [8] 
    LewDan wrote:

    99% of our elections are state and local. There's no way for the Federal government to pressure (or bribe) states into seceding authority over elections without walking away from that whole "states rights" thing.

    Not that we haven't been headed in that direction since—well, forever! And not that it wouldn't be a good idea where elections are concerned.—I'm just say'n... slippery slope, and all that. Let's just be very sure we really want to go there.

  9. [9] 
    LewDan wrote:

    Oops! Acceding authority, not seceding authority. (Too much time reading Republican funny papers.)

    —Lew

  10. [10] 
    LewDan wrote:

    Michty6,

    Now, now...

    Our election costs—to the government, are actually quite stable and reasonable. Just administration costs, mostly, once every two years. All the cash you see being flung around, every day, every year, is private money from all the concerned citizens to poor to chance government taking any more money from us to pay down our bills. (Yeah, I know. You got the lack of rationality part right.)

  11. [11] 
    michty6 wrote:

    Freudian slip there LD - we're on to you!

  12. [12] 
    michty6 wrote:

    LD,
    All the cash you see being flung around, every day, every year, is private money from all the concerned citizens to poor to chance government taking any more money from us to pay down our bills. (Yeah, I know. You got the lack of rationality part right.)

    Hahaha. Very ironic. Even more ironic is that America is so concerned with democracy that it spends many months and millions of dollars canvassing the country just to elect a party leader (who might never lead anything ever) - yet come actual election day, after months of spending billions of dollars, they don't actually have enough vote machines or staff to avoid massive queues and demotivate people to actually vote (not to mention the other forms of suppression and purging...)! $5 billion on electioneering? Sure! Few thousand dollars of vote machines/man power? Nah!

  13. [13] 
    LewDan wrote:

    "This is a very interesting proposal, although it's too bad the Constitution makes it necessary to resort to bribery..."

    TheStig,

    "Blackmail" (in the finest tradition of ancient Scots!) is always the word that leaps to my mind. The Feds take money from the states and then "magnanimously" offer to return it—if the states will do as they're told.

  14. [14] 
    LewDan wrote:

    Michty6,

    Busted!

  15. [15] 
    LewDan wrote:

    Michty6,

    I was an election judge. I put in a 20-hour day, worked 16-hours straight, and was paid a whopping $120! Don't tell me we don't know how to prioritize our election expenditures!

  16. [16] 
    michty6 wrote:

    $120?! That's probaly millisecond of TV ad time. Just think 1,000 of you and you could afford a whole second!

  17. [17] 
    dsws wrote:

    According to the first relevant google hit,

    Most small- to medium-sized business owners find that local advertising fits better with their budgets and marketing goals. A 30-second time slot in a medium-sized market can be purchased for as little as $5 per 1,000 viewers, meaning that you could easily expect to pay less than $100 per commercial slot.
    http://www.gaebler.com/Television-Advertising-Costs.htm

    --

    Accede means to give consent, approval, or adherence; agree; assent. I think the word you were looking for is just "cede".

  18. [18] 
    michty6 wrote:

    I may have been exaggerating slightly and playfully DS ;)

  19. [19] 
    LewDan wrote:

    dws,

    Yeah that had dawned on me too. "Cede" is the proper word.

    michty6,

    I was bragging, not complaining! I had a great time. I think its kinda cool that we not only get to vote on who runs the country but we get to run the elections ourselves, with volunteers.

    Turnout was high, enthusiasm was great; I got to do important work, saw most of my neighbors, helped a few other people while serving my own interests, and I got paid! What's not to love?

  20. [20] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    I think the flaw in your idea CW (and the Bills being floated that give $ incentives to the States) is that Republican Governors just don't care.

    and democratic governors do?

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