Proposals such as a constitutional amendment to overturn strike me as insufficiently ambitious.
Our political process is broken. It isn't broken by corporations (although excessive corporate influence is not good for the health of the Republic). It isn't broken by political parties. Such things may corrupt the political process, but the process was already flawed.
There are a litany of complaints about the process: the crazy presidential primary schedule, voter registration laws, gerrymandered redistricting, the Senate filibuster. I propose tying these all together with a constitutional amendment that would create, or empower Congress to create, a federal election agency more powerful than the current Federal Election Commission.
Canada has a government organization called Elections Canada. From its website, its mandate is:
Elections Canada is an independent, non-partisan agency that reports directly to Parliament. We must be prepared at all times to conduct a federal general election, by-election or referendum, administer the political financing provisions of the Canada Elections Act, monitor compliance and enforce electoral legislation. Elections Canada is also mandated to conduct voter education and information programs, and provide support to the independent boundaries commissions in charge of adjusting the boundaries of federal electoral districts following each decennial census. Finally, Elections Canada may carry out studies on alternative voting methods and, with the approval of parliamentarians, test electronic voting processes for future use during electoral events.
I would give this proposed agency with several tasks to promote and protect democracy.
- The federal election agency shall create and maintain a national voter register. Almost everyone should be registered to vote. Ideally, I would eventually like to see a government-funded national ID and voter registration card.
- The federal election agency shall have power over the presidential primary calendar. The states will not agree among themselves to commit to a logical schedule, so long as there is an advantage to moving up. The schedule needs to be enforced from above.
- Congressional redistricting must be confirmed by the federal election agency or else done by the agency itself. End partisan gerrymandering.
- The federal election agency shall have the power to regulate campaigning and electioneering. This includes the ability to limit or ban corporate "speech" as it pertains to elections and campaigns, overturning the Citizens United decision.
- The federal election agency shall work to standardize election practices across the country.
- The federal election agency shall study alternative voting methods and technology in a continuing attempt to improve upon democracy.
- The federal election agency shall educate voters and make them more aware of their rights.
There could be more powers given to this new agency. I'm not sure how it would be created, if its leadership should be appointed or somehow elected. I believe the best idea is not to micro-manage but to enumerate the roles of this agency and leave it up to Congress as to how best to implement it.
This is but one of several process-oriented constitutional amendments I would propose. I believe we should have a slate of ten such amendments, ten being a symbolic number with historical resonance. The presidential popular vote replacing the Electoral College would be the anchor, the high-profile item that gets the others considered. In the past, I've suggested electing the Attorney General and Treasury Secretary, as many states do, so that the power of the executive branch is not concentrated in one elected official. I have also proposed using what I dubbed "IRV minus one", the use of instant run-off voting in a primary to select the final two candidates for a head-to-head election. One could add requiring elections to to fill vacant Senate seats instead of gubernatorial appointments or giving the District of Columbia undeniable representation in the House and Senate.
If you want to see some sort of process reform, I think now is a good time to push for it. Occupy Wall Street is a movement that I believe is dissatisfied not just with the results of our political process, but with the process itself. A lot of the country is sympathetic because it feels the same way. There's an energy there that can be worked with. I might even say that we won't get much in the way of good policy until we fix the process.