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Promoting Public Discussion: ‘We have to fix that’

Posted: Tuesday, Feb 5th, 2013

“We have to fix that,” President Obama said about long voting lines on election day. Indeed we do. Having to wait seven hours to vote is shameful, as are other obstacles facing voters under the guise of preventing virtually nonexistent fraud.

Here are some steps that should be taken: mandate early voting and “vote by mail” in all states; change election “day” to the full weekend; make officers in charge of elections in each state non-partisan. There are many other things needing fixing if we want a true, functioning democracy.

Here are a few. Abolish the Electoral College and replace it with the popular vote. Why should the “battleground” states be the exclusive focus of the campaigns?

Turn redistricting over to non-partisan commissions, as California has, to eliminate gerrymandering — it badly distorts the representation in the state legislatures and House of Representatives and locks in incumbents.

Here is an example: Suppose parties A and B have equal numbers of voters in a state with 20 Representatives. Party A gerrymanders districts so B-leaning districts have an 80:20 advantage and A-leaning districts have a 60:40 advantage. Both advantages are large enough that the minority in each district rarely wins. With a bit of algebra, you will find that rather than a 10-10 split, Party A wins 15 seats and party B only 5. This is a principle reason why the Republicans retained control of the House in spite of getting fewer House votes overall.

Amend the Constitution so the First Amendment applies to individuals, not entities, and allows meaningful campaign financing laws. The mind-numbing endless repetition of negative ads drowns out meaningful discussion of issues.

Change Senate rules to allow filibusters to delay, but not indefinitely block, votes. Why should a minority of the Senate (or even a single Senator) be able to prevent a bill or an appointment from being voted on?

Reform the presidential debates so they are real debates, not sound bite exercises. Let them use notes and graphics — do Presidents make important decisions without using notes.

Greatly increase voter participation. This can only be done by making government more democratic, accountable and effective so that all citizens feel it is worth their while to register and vote.

Some of these reforms can be done by Congress, some by state legislatures. Some may require amending the Constitution. None of them are likely to occur without informed citizens demanding them.

Dr. Ray Weymann, a retired astronomer, moved to Atascadero in 2003. His interests include public science education, math tutoring for students and civic engagement.

For the complete article see the 11-30-2012 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 11-30-2012 paper.

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