Electoral college redesign proposal

Designed to ensure that urban centers didn’t have an unequal voice in the election of the president of the United States and that the president was elected by states not people, the Electoral College bears some re-examination in light of contemporary society.

Under the United States Constitution, the office of president was not intended to represent the people, but rather be a representative of the republic itself. The voice of the people is established in the House of Representatives and to a lesser degree the U.S. Senate. To that end, the electoral college was created as a compromise as part of Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution. Additionally, the states were left to their own devices as to the manner in which electors for president were chosen.

To be clear, when we vote for president, we are not voting for the person, but are in actuality voting for the electors who will then cast their vote for the person. In the same way that we vote for senators and representatives who cast their vote on our behalves regarding laws, budget, etc.

The problem with this method is that as the country has gotten larger, as the issues have become more complex,  the president has been looked at as a caretaker of the nation’s intentions and potential and the bi-party political system that is embedded in our process isn’t allowing for the wide spectrum of needs. Because of this, there is — and has been — a loud cry for a popular vote to elect president.

That might seem like the right answer, but in that case, control of the office would go to the largest population centers which systemically have different needs than the rest of the country. In this election, data shows that the majority of people in rural America do not feel that Clinton is the right person for the job. A popular vote would essentially eliminate their voices. It’s not democracy if it’s oppression by the majority (Madison, Federalist Papers No. 10).

Here’s what I am thinking about:

  1. Make all primaries open and non-party specific. Change them all to direct election rather than caucuses. Don’t let the political parties control primaries, let the primaries stem from the number of candidates. Allow the primaries to the opportunity to winnow the entire field, not just the candidates from major parties.
  2. Allow all winners of primaries to take part in national debates for president. Again, remove the influence of political parties. Let everyone debate so that the public is better informed.
  3. Make electoral votes in each state proportional (like Maine does, for instance).This ensures that dissenting voices are heard and that the electoral votes more accurately represent the people without giving complete control to large population centers. Each state would maintain the number of electoral votes (number of senators plus the number of representatives). The percent a candidate gets is the percent of the electoral votes they receive.
  4. If no majority of the electoral votes is received by any candidate, the process would work as today.

As I’ve thought this through, I believe that we would see the following results:

  1. We would have a greater participation in the primary process.
  2. Party politics would have less of an effect on selection of candidates, thus also improving voter turnout.
  3. Third-party candidates would be given the voices they deserve in a democracy.
  4. We maintain the balance between rural and urban needs that the electoral college maintains, while also making individual votes matter more.
  5. We begin to erode the idea of “blue” and “red” states and binary thinking in general and our government becomes more representative of the actual population rather than political parties.

As a designer and systems philosopher, while I understand the need for a re-vamped electoral process, I think we cannot afford to just delete something we don’t like. We need to understand why it doesn’t work and for whom, how it can be made better, and move forward with an attitude of experimentation in order to truly fix it.

Lastly, I cannot stress enough the need for voter turnout to increase especially in the non-presidential cycle. The Constitution grants that the House and Senate are the direct voices of the people. They are our tools for keeping an unpopular president in check. While I believe that the electoral college can and should be redesigned, it won’t make things better if we don’t participate where it matters.

What do you think?

from “Progress Report for a Goodthinking UniSocAm”

I found this fragment buried in a government website a few weeks ago and wanted to share it. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t supposed to be public, as I haven’t seen it since. I don’t know the author or to whom it’s addressed, but it’s obviously fairly recent and seems to be part of a larger document or book. Please read it and spread it around. It’s important we don’t allow this kind of thinking to continue. In the meantime, I will see if I can find more.

– sd

There are five primary beliefs that must be imparted upon any citizenry in order to ensure the party’s long life. They are as follows:

  1. Participation in a republic is voluntary
  2. Responsibility for the republic rests solely on the shoulders of the elected
  3. Public is private
  4. Protection is control
  5. War is peace

During the early and middle stages of conversion to a single system of political and social thought, we must put all of our efforts into the five beliefs above. As the years go by and we find that the citizenry truly believes in the five points above, we can turn our efforts to other efforts (outlined in chapter 5 below).

At this point in time, we are very close to a complete adoption of the above beliefs by the majority of the voting public. The rest of this report will outline how we’ve accomplished what many people have said is impossible.

First is the task of getting the public to believe that participation in a republic is voluntary. We worked towards this goal first as it is the single weakness of our current government’s constitution. If enough people are convinced of a voluntary participation, then general human apathy will ensure that only a handful of the total population will turn out to vote. By limiting the numbers of voters, we can ensure a larger percentage of our own sympathizers, or sympathizers of issues that are not important to the running of a government. Recent history can give us many examples: religious freedom, abortion, homosexual marriage. None of those issues are truly important to the longevity of our current republic, but by ensuring that the only people participating are those who see them as issues, we have created a distracted and frustrated citizenry that is – in turn – less likely to vote in the next election.

How have we done this? The primary method is by not revealing to the public the weakness of the constitution. While our publicly funded education programs certainly outline the structure of the government, they do very little to educate students on the reasons for the structure or, indeed, the participation from the governed on which that structure depends. That added to a general human apathy, confusion around what the electoral college is, which election cycle is truly important (as an aside, we have been working very closely with the press on this one and have truly convinced citizens that the presidential election is more important than the congressional), and the convoluted unimportant issues mentioned above, we have come very close to bringing the voting pool down to a manageable and steady 30 percent of the populous.

Second on the list is to convince that the tasks of governing and oversight are the sole responsibilities of the elected and appointed officials. This is a key point. Imagine for a minute what might happen if each citizen took it upon himself to keep track of what government was doing. It would undermine our current progress and become very difficult to implement some of the future changes that are being planned. However, by the combination of human apathy mentioned above and a belief that governing is not a citizen’s responsibility, we can foster feelings of frustration and helplessness within the general public. These feelings lead to a continued trend of non-participation which leads to deeper feelings of alienation. When citizens feel alienated and disenfranchised, it makes it easier to suppress them with work, entertainment, the lottery, etc. (more on our work in those areas in chapter 2).

Third is that the public must believe that the behavior of government is private while their own private information is in fact public. The accomplishment of this step has taken many years and is only 60 percent complete at this point; however we anticipate great strides in this area with our current administration. The keys to this are jargon and volunteerism. Let me explain.

By wrapping governmental work within complicated language specific to certain areas of expertise such as law, science, economics, etc. the government can actually convince citizens that there’s nothing within the information for them. Additionally, our current administration’s pledge of openness will convince citizens to look at only what they are told to monitor – www.recovery.gov for instance – and keep them away from the inner workings that could actually tell a complete story. The press, of course, will request deeper access, but these few individuals are easy enough to control (more on this in chapter 3). With the citizenry volunteering to be left out of public processes, it’s very easy to convince them that those processes are actually private. From there, it’s even easier to convince people to volunteer personal information to the government: spending, travel, food preferences, closest friends’ names, political and religious views, etc. We can accomplish this in one of two ways.

The first is to simply say that we require such information to better understand their needs in order to properly govern. We could conceivably use the current US Census for such a purpose if necessary. The second method – which is also beneficial to our business interests and therefore preferred – is to allow the public to willingly send all kinds of information to their favorite companies. Once that’s gone on for a couple of years, we can institute oversight on the companies to ensure a protection of privacy. Of course, in doing so we gain access to unprecedented amounts of data.

In these ways we can ensure that the information our citizens think of as private becomes public, and at the same time generate a disinterest in government processes without passing any laws that could raise suspicious too early.

Fourth, we must convince the public that protection and control are the same activities with the same ends. Already there is evidence that people believe protection can only be gained by giving up control of their lives. This is a good first step. The next step is to demonstrate how without the government controlling their lives they would lose the protection that it offers. This demonstration has already begun, in fact, with the advent of the current financial crises and our work towards indicating blame.

People already believe that the sole reason for the banks’ collapse was lack of government oversight, and that it had nothing to with greed, mismanagement, and a healthy shove from the Fed. Now are nationalizing the problem banks, increasing oversight, and gaining control of those finances. The people – according to stock market movement – have reacted favorable. It’s apparent that society is beginning to equate control with protection.

Outside of the financial arena, we are using fear and paranoia in order to increase people’s desire for protection. This works especially well where many people are gathered together: airport, subway, train station. This, too, seems to be having a positive effect. We’re able to request identification at our leisure, subject anybody to an invasive and unwarranted search, as well as broadcast messages to everyone that encourage them to be suspicious of others’ behavior. All of this with little or no protest. We are very close to accomplishing our goals in this area much sooner than we expected.

The last important item to discuss is a concept popularized by George Orwell’s 1984. Surprisingly, the widespread popularity of this novel has not prepared people against many of the practices it attempts to vilify, among them the concept that war is peace.

We have been able to quite successfully convince citizens that only by violently protecting our interests in an area of the world can we assure a peaceful existence in our own country. Of course, this is not a new concept and precedent for such a philosophy can be found throughout documented history. Luckily, however, we have at our disposal governmental approvals of such behavior with the Monroe and Truman Doctrines. This ensures that even if a body of citizenry were to point out the fallacies of such a philosophy, we can simply respond that it is in the nature of our country and begin the process of proving them unpatriotic (chapter 6 for more on this).

Admittedly, we have had undreamed of success in this area over the past 20 years. There was some initial concern among some of our group based on how the constitution set forth the rules of declaring war. This was soon overcome, however, through a steady application of principals one through three and we eventually saw put in place a congress fitting our needs. That body put into law the War Powers Act in 1973 which gives the president the ability to preemptively invade another country. This relegated congress to the role of financiers, and while that could theoretically lead to problems, the successful disenfranchisement of citizens has ensure a steady stream of war-bound funds even to the point – if we may celebrate a bit – of bankrupting the country for generations to come. There is always a risk of relapse, however, so we must continue to devise a method of ensuring a steady stream of money (see chapter 4).

We hope you’ve found this overview of principles and application of same to be enlightening. Remember: through the steady, confident, daring, and unwavering application of the five principles outlined here, we will continue to march towards a future we can all be proud of.

In Defense of the “Oath of an American Citizen”

A number of people with whom I shared the Oath of an American Citizen balked a bit at me using the word “responsibility” in relation to when our government goes awry. Responsibility, their argument went, creates too much of a commitment and renders the pledge too harsh. A better word would be “right”, they said. I want to take the time today to answer those concerns.

The fact is that I chose the word “responsibility” over the word “right” on purpose. A right is something one is allowed to or encouraged to do, but it’s also optional. Free speech and religion, the right to bear arms — these are rights. Nobody is required to exercise them, but they’re there just in case. A responsibility, on the other hand, is something one must do. It is not only allowed, not only encouraged, but necessary. Paying taxes, defending your home or family. My oath is all about responsibility, because having rights isn’t enough. Let me explain why.

There were two attempts at framing a government after the Revolutionary War, and the first was an utter failure. It failed for a number of reasons, but foremost among them was that it didn’t properly connect to the citizenry. While the Articles of Confederation did combine the 13 states as a nation and created an overarching federal structure, the citizens felt no responsibility towards it because the government had no power over their lives, and for their part the citizens had no direct voice in the government. The states had that responsibility. Within 10 years, as citizens ignored the national government, the founders could see anarchy on the horizon, their enemies in Europe waiting with bated breath. Their answer was the Constitution.

This second attempt created a federal structure with three branches, one of which consisted of two parts: one representing the states (the Senate) and one representing the people (the House of Representatives). Additionally, the federal government was given more power than it had before: ratify treaties, to raise an army, handle trade, and levy taxes, among them. The Constitution, in other words, gives the federal government direct say over people’s lives in very specific ways, but also gives people a direct voice in the government without removing states’ rights.

The Republic we are involved in requires full participation from all of its parts in order to be a cohesive whole, and one of those parts is the citizenry — it’s not a “House of Representatives” if they don’t “Represent”. It has survived — a second war with Britain, a civil war, the expansion west and the addition of 37 new states, two world wars — on the assumption that voters will choose representatives who serve their region’s needs, but also will have the presence-of-mind to understand those needs on a national scale. However, when a small percentage of a region’s voters turn out to vote, representation becomes “factioned”. In other words, a specific group becomes represented over a particular region.

And that brings me back to the topic of “responsibility” versus “right”. If it is only our “right” to vote, then we can choose not to exercise it. When that happens, it is inevitable that we will become a faction-controlled Republic, and the evidence is mounting quickly that we are already there. Voter turn-out has declined steadily since 1870 to the point where a “mandate” in 2006 was enacted by just 37% of the eligible, registered voters. We can see the results of this kind of “governing by the few”.

However, if each of us sees voting as our responsibility to the sanctity of our nation, each citizen sees the fate of the country as partly their task, and each citizen spends their requisite amount of time and energy applying themselves to that task, a faction-controlled government is theoretically impossible. Imagine, for instance, a mandate that was really a mandate. Imagine a president elected by more than a 25% “majority” (George W. Bush received 49% of the vote from 67% of the voters in 2004).

So yes, I used “responsibility” instead of “right” and I meant it. It’s not easy being a citizen of this experiment that is the United States of America, but then it was never intended to be. Easy citizenship leads to anarchy, fascism, monarchy. The founders expected their descendants to be intelligent and worthy of the mantle of responsibility thrust upon them by the Constitution. Are we, though?