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Friday, September 30, 2016

As part of the series “A Rooseveltian Second-Term Agenda,” important steps that can get us back to a truly representative form of government.

This election was ample reminder of the myriad ways we urgently need to fix our democracy. As Justice Brandeis wrote a century ago, “We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” The greatest barrier to achieving the next Rooseveltian agenda proposed in these posts is the deep flaws in our democracy. To move forward on our aspirations, we need to integrate a democracy agenda into all of our battles for a fair economy and sustainable environment. Here is a short list of crucial reforms to revitalize our democracy:

1. Bolster voting rights. President Obama can make good on his impromptu remark that “we should fix that” when he addressed Election Day voting problems in his victory speech by pushing for passage of the Voter Empowerment Act, sponsored by New York senator Kirstin Gillibrand and Georgia representative John Lewis. The act’s two major provisions would automate voter registration whenever people interact with the government and allow for same-day voter registration nationally. Other provisions address barriers to voting such as using mail to purge voters, partisan voter administration, and felony disenfranchisement. Nationwide early voting should be added to this agenda.

2. Change the electoral college. After another election in which the presidential candidates ignored the electorate in 40 states — with fewer people in those states bothering to vote — federal and state representatives from the outcast states should be eager for change. While it would be wonderful if that led two-thirds of Congress to amend the Constitution, an easier and more feasible path is offered by National Popular Vote. NPV is a compact between states representing more than half of the electoral college to cast their votes for the winner of the national popular vote. The movement is halfway to its goal with legislation passed in 12 states that together hold 132 electoral college votes, including California, Illinois, and New Jersey. Republican governor Jan Brewer added her support after this year’s election. Imagine an election in which presidential candidates had to focus on issues and voter turnout in every state! The result would impact not just the presidency, but down-ballot races across the country.

3. Increase public financing. While Super PACs may not have gotten all their money’s worth, the public agenda remains captive to the upper-income contributors and corporations who finance the lion’s share of elections. We won’t get a bumper crop of candidates who represent the interests of ordinary people until we have a campaign finance system that allows candidates to compete successfully by rejecting large contributions in return for small contributions matched by public funds. Getting there is impossible in this Congress, but that shouldn’t stop reformers from constantly raising the flag while looking for opportunities to move forward in states. New York has a real shot of passing a good public financing bill in 2013. And when President Obama has the opportunity to appoint new Supreme Court justices, reformers should make both Citizens United and the 1976 Buckley v. Vallejo decision that equates money with speech major issues in the confirmation hearings.

4. Fix the filibuster. It’s bad enough having a fundamentally undemocratic body like the U.S. Senate as a co-equal legislative body, but that institution’s rules also thwart the constitutional provision that Senate decisions on legislation are to be made by majority vote. Democrats should not settle for making senators actually filibuster; they should put in place the proposal by Iowa senator Tom Harkin, which would reduce the votes needed to stop a filibuster from 60 to 51 over the course of debate.

5. Institute non-partisan redistricting. Partisan redistricting increasingly makes the congressional body designed by the Constitution to provide equal representation fall far short of that goal. While Democrats narrowly won the popular vote for members of the House this year, partisan drawing of congressional lines will result in Republicans having at least 30 more representatives. The path to change here is arduous: state by state. But a Supreme Court committed to the Constitution’s vision of the lower body as a people’s house could take a fresh look at permissible gerrymandering.

Cast by themselves, democracy reforms too often cause the public’s eyes to glaze over, not seeing the connection between process and the pressing issues in their daily lives. Champions of creating a vital democracy can turn that around by connecting people’s topmost concerns — good jobs, a secure retirement, affordable quality education, and, increasingly, climate disruption — to creating a government that works for all of us, not just the wealthy and CEO campaign contributors.

Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a Senior Advisor to USAction, and the author of Fighting for Our Health. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now. during the legislative battle to pass reform.

Cross-posted from The Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog

The Roosevelt Institute is a nonprofit organization devoted to carrying forward the legacy and values of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.

  • All very worthy endeavors deserving of attention, but at this point the focus must be on the economy and job creation. The well being of the American people and the future of our country is much more important than tweaking our election process which, admittedly, is far from perfect.

    • Jim Lou

      I agree.

      The only way that there is going to be any difference is to have admendment to the Constitution, which will take many years of effort and there is no guarantee of success.

      The economy should be our main concern at the present time.

    • You are not going to fix the economy and have jobs (with good pay) creation, without changing the system that has been created over the last thirty years.

  • nobsartist

    This is a simple problem to solve. Have the Federal Government run ALL elections and eliminate gerrymandering to force ALL voting districts to have only 4 sides and no more than 25,000 people per district.

    Also, make it a Federal crime with prison for any elected official that tampers with elections thru the use of robo-calls or miss leading advertisements that communicate changes in poll locations or voting dates.


    • Recoloniser

      This makes sense, certainly for Federal elections. Federal elections should take place according to Federal laws and rules and be run and overseen by Federal authorities.

    • Lovefacts

      I love all your ideas and believe they would be constitutional if applied only to federal elections and redistricting.

      I’d add two weeks of early voting—7 days/week/7am to 7 pm prior to our final day. A single day of voting is fine when you have a population of 150M, but not when it’s 320M+. Also, all machines should be optical scanners so there’s a paper ballot available for recount.


      • nobsartist

        thats right Fern. lets force a tax plan that allows people that make up to 500% of the minimum wage to pay NO taxes.

        • What is the minimum wage now, $7.50 per hour? so 5 times that would be $37.50 per hour. Yeah Einstein, make a business pay an unskilled hamburger flipper the same as someone that spent years of schooling. I am sure that will have people try & start businesses, or even bother going to school when they can make high wages with no skills.

          • nobsartist

            Thanks for the comment idiot. That is not what I said. Obviously you will never be able to own a business because it helps to be able to READ.

  • Recoloniser

    If you decouple the Electoral Votes from a state from the actual election result in that state, doesn’t that create a risk that the electors will vote for their preferential candidate?

    Suppose a couple of dozen electors from the swing states decide that they’d rather have Romney after all. There’s not a whole lot that could be done about it, I suppose.

    As for the problem of an administration having to work with a Congressional majority from the other side, it might be worthwhile to study how the French deal with that. They have exactly the same issue there (it’s called “cohabitation”), but they seem to have avoided gridlock so far.

    • Sand_Cat

      Perhaps I misread, but I thought they would be required by law to vote for the popular vote winner.

  • Simple to fix but will congress fix these isues? Or are we going to have another four years of no.

    • Ed

      Well, the GOP plan is 4 more years of NO!, or actually HELL NO!

  • ococoob

    PLEASE, PLEASE PLEASE! Get rid of the filibuster!!

    • Or at least make the Senator actually do something like talk during the fillibuster. Right now a Senator can just threaten to fillibuster to stop a vote or procedure.

      • sigrid28

        To really do in this abuse, make the public watch a particularly stupid filibuster IN REAL TIME in prime time. Pre-empting the Super Bowl might be a good plan.

        • Sand_Cat

          Let’s combine our ideas: all the senators on the filibustering side have to sit in the chamber listening to their colleagues instead of watching the Super Bowl!

      • Sand_Cat

        WHy one? Make them all sit there, the whole time. If any one leaves the vote can proceed.

  • ococoob

    The filibuster. Excerpt from “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks” pg. 197:

    “Challenge the legitimacy of Senate filibusters and holds. The framers of the Constitution had no such devices in mind. A vocal backlash against obstrutionism by the minority will do much to overcome gridlock and permit those in government to work more effectively and responsively. Filibusters and holds are not just arcane rules; they undermine the legislative proess and make government LESS effective.”

    Examples of abuse of filibusters: judicial nominee, cabinet appts., districk court judicial nominees, which a great deal are still UNFILLED to this day since Obama won in 2008!

  • None of this works without Open Primaries, the only way the corrupt duopoly will be broken. As a registered Independent it is galling to me that I pay for primary elections that I am not allowed to vote in (KY).

  • Control gerrymandering with GSS software that would geo-fit normally shaped districts with equal numbers of voters.

  • The National Memo is always a sobering read as it represents the height of the Medias insane obsession from the left to get the people to embrace a corrupt system to replace this Constitutional Republic with a totalitarian democracy. There is absolutely nothing Obama can do to make them or their readers second guess their messiah. No amount of crime or cronyism is seen. And with a supporting Congress through IN-actions the result is we are more rapidly by the day moving “Forward” into a dark era. The Main Stream Media and there followers are certainly the most effective tools of oppression for this Government allowing the global elite oligarchs to rob our remaining wealth, and not only keep control, but get more of it everyday.

    • sigrid28

      You poor thing, without a decent dictionary. Try to get to know some of the people you fear, people of other races or ethnicities or religions–or women. Even though we don’t think alike, and you think you intensely dislike me, please let me try to help you feel a little better.

      For a week–just for a week–only watch PBS, Congressional C-Span, and CNN (which is Fox Lite at this time, so you do not need to go into Fox News withdrawal). Don’t listen to the radio, whatever you do! Via On Demand, on the History Channel, you can see biographies of people in U.S. history who really were “elite oligarchs.” Spend a few bucks to see the new Abraham Lincoln movie (not the one where he’s a vampire). Rent “Apollo 13”: it will help you feel more optimistic even while facing what you call “a dark era”; after all, NASA brought this failed mission back from the dark side of the moon. The entire NASA crew and staff may have been praying like crazy, but they were all scientists not Creationists. Maybe you can start to feel better about scientific facts.

      If you do not have a film rental service, like NetFlix or On Demand, see if you can take “Apollo 13” out of the public library (unless you do not approve of this kind of governmental assistance). While you are there, take out the HBO series “John Adams,” which will help you get a feel for what he and George Washington and Thomas Jefferson really meant when they proposed a “Constitutional Republic.” The six-part series is long, but so is the list of ways to help you and your fellow Republicans take another look at our country and, perhaps, reassess ways you can avert the future you now despair of.

      • Sand_Cat

        Really, you’re very nice, but you’re wasting your time.

  • On one hand i hear that it’s a good ideal , on the other hand i hear that the economy needs all of our attention . Why can’t we do both at the same time ? The senate has 100 members you can get a group of 14 , 7 from each side working on one problem and another group of 14 working on the other problem . that’s 28 senators working on 2 different problems , are you telling me this can’t be done ??? Same with the house they have 435 members are you telling me out of 435 members they can’t find 28 members 14 from each side to work on both problems ???

  • dalnb

    The first and foremost step we need to take is return America to the people by taking away the influence of the wealthy and politicians who put party above nation! We all loose when ANY politician puts hard-headed no compromise obstructionism above the needs of the best interest of America!

    Our tax codes need to set a limit on how much ANY individual can donate to ANY individual o organized group as a tax deduction .

    The Whiye House, the Senate and Congress needs to learn to do their business in Washington not on public television and radio. It seems in the last four to five years we have seen and heard more radical political rants, complaining and bickering on television and radio than we have witnessed on the floors in Washington. Too many elected representatives are spending more time in front of TV cameras than they are on the floor and in debates. GAME PLAN= write a radical speech, go public with it, then take a week or two off!

    We then need to insist on elected officials doing the job they were elected to do; and that is not to stand in the way of fixing America! We have never elected and we should not be paying ANY elected official to create failure! Congress worls three days a week, three weeks a month and gets nothing done. They retuned from a month off, work their 3 day week and then get Thanksgiving off. That sets them up for an annual $61,000.00 federal retirmement after only 16 months on the job – then we womder where our money goes!

  • bcarreiro

    abolish the republican party ….theres the end of debating, delegating and overcreating. we the people are one with an agenda to be fair and balanced along with a dose of vitamin honesty. mr obama reverse the psychology and give them a dose of their own medicine.

  • onedonewong

    Are some things need fixing you bet. But the author misses the mark on every point.
    As our founders knew full well when those who don’t have skin in the game can pass laws that tax others and they reap the rewards the Republic won’t stand.
    Even Europe knows that their socialism isn’t sustainable.
    Voter ID should be mandated nation wide…everyone who wants to vote needs to prove they are eligable. To receive a govt benefit starting in Feb you MUST have a bank account and the only way you can open 1 is with a picture ID.
    Hopefully the Supreme Court this term invalidates 2 acts that are clearly unconstitutional 1 that certain states need approval from justice before they can redistrict or change voting requirements, the 2nd id set asides better know as black quotas that have compromised congressional districts.
    Public financing is a none starter since no one supports it in the 1st place. The $3 check off on a tax return doesn’t generate enough revenue to pay for 1 candidate in a presidential election..
    As for the filibuster the dems in the 199o’s and early 2000 called it the “nuclear option” now that they are in power they like it sorry its still the nuclear option