- Entry for July 22, 2007
Dissatisfaction with the American system of elections is pervasive. Which previous reforms have brought us to this crisis? Is reform possible, and, if so, which reforms are really needed?
Americans, by tradition, are wedded to plurality, winner-take-all elections. Alternatives are available, but their adoption does not seem likely any time soon.
Here I focus on possible reforms within the context of the American democratic tradition and the distortion of that tradition by Progressive era reforms in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These reforms culminated in the campaign finance reform legislation mania of the 1970s and still wreaking havoc.
The first issue to address is the progressive concept of the secret or anonymous ballot. I support the secret/anonymous ballot as an essential element in securing voter privacy. What I criticize is the misuse of the secret ballot to centralize control of elections. This centralized control entrenched two parties into a coalition to control all electoral access and thwart accountability to the voters. This strategy of centralization of the two party coalition led directly to further entrenchment by prohibitions on funding political campaigns outside of their regulatory monopoly.
The whole progressive scheme has been an agenda to channel with carefully engineered dikes and levies all political activity into two parallel channels. This mindset is consistently indoctrinated into the minds of the public by political elites.
It would not have endured for a century without the active support of those who have profited most. Political faces come and go and are expendable, the process seems immortal. But it isn't. To challenge this 'system' is one of the most dangerous of political heresies. It is more dangerous than advocating the assassination of a political leader; such people are easily and readily replaced. Challenging the sanctity of the electoral system undermines all traditional claims for governing authority. Challenging the electoral system is but one step removed from the advocacy of either anarchy or primitive dictatorship. If democracy has become a fraud, then it is merely a trapping for dictatorship. Democracy cannot be a cover for anarchy.
The secret/anonymous ballot does not require centralized control of the administration of elections. A ballot cast anonymously by an individual is a discrete event. Such balloting has been done for centuries in various ways. The secret ballot does not require massive regulatory administration which serves to limit free voter choice by restricting which citizens can be candidates for representation and which cannot. The clear aim for the last century has been voting by everyone on carefully controlled options.
Restrictions on candidacy are restrictions on voters. The first reform needed is to remove all non-constitutional restrictions on candidacy. The only constitutional restrictions are citizenship and age, and for the Presidency native birth. There are no other constitutional restrictions. Therefore, all restrictions like petitioning for permission are illegitimate. Universal suffrage means universal eligibility for candidacy. This concept is so simple that it is revolutionary by comparison with current practice. Many civil libertarians have difficulty of grasping the obvious logic. So much time is spent negotiating "reasonable" restrictions.
The difficulty with this "reasonable" approach is that the negotiations must be carried on within the terms of the Progressive centralization mindset. The jurists who serve as guardians of this mindset are typically beholden to the two-party coalition. They cannot be independent and impartial except at great personal cost.
The solution to this bottle-neck is direct public challenge by voters themselves. For example, in some states it is possible for voters to remove judges from the bench by voting for "non-retention". The judges must be placed in a position of being on the side of voter's choice or party entrenchment. Either way there must be political consequences for their decisions.
It is not illegitimate for voters to seek to mitigate the centralized control of the ballot by seeking easier ballot access for candidates as independents or new parties. If one wishes to bear the unjust costs of such tactics, one can do so. I think such efforts are less fruitful and inherently discriminatory than a direct challenge by a principle of equal justice of all voters and candidates. Given the opportunity to vote for reduction in restrictions to candidate access to the ballot I will do so, of course. But it does not undermine my opposition to such restrictions anymore than accepting a tax refund undermines my opposition to the tax system.
More reforms, such as honest vote counting, will be discussed in the future.