Sunday, September 23, 2007

Changing the U.S. voting and political system radically

In a post below, I talked a bit about wanting to change the U.S. electoral system. In response to one of the comments, I added some information there, and I’m going to talk more here about what I’d like to see changed.

First, as I mentioned there, I encourage everyone here who is interested in political science issues to read David Lazare’s “The Frozen Republic.” It is the best book I know advocating a parliamentary government for the U.S.

The first reason I cite is based on the analogy of the U.K. and other modern parliamentary democracies. You have an election, and the new government, if there is a change of parties, takes over the next day. If a coalition is needed, it takes over as soon as coalition details are in place. Opposition parties already have “shadow” cabinet secretaries, etc.

In a nuclear-armed, and computer-driven age, the U.S Constitution (the body, not the various civil liberties and rights) is antiquated in many ways. This is the most egregious way. It’s simply unacceptable for the world’s most-powerful (both militarily, and for a bit longer, at least — watch that Chinese shadow — economically) nation to have a transition of 10 weeks between governments, with another two-three weeks after that before a cabinet is in place.

The second way it’s antiquated is illustrated by the 2006 election. First, a change of Congress like this would have booted Bush out of power.

Related to that, especially if (per my discussion on voting changes, below), we had third parties holding seats (let’s say, Greens and maybe a Libertarian or two) and the Democrats’ margin was narrow, the Democratic party would have to actually deliver on getting out of Iraq. If not, deaths, resignations, by-elections (to use that wonderful British term), etc., would undercut Democrats’ power to govern without coalition.

Beyond going to a parliamentary system, I’m also ready to change specifics of those representatives.

First, in addition to the 435 single-member district Representatives (which we might change to call them “state-proportioned Representatives), let’s elect another, say, 165 off a national list, on a proportional basis. I’m directly using the German Bundestag, with a 400/200 split, as my starting point. Having a national list (with a lower cutoff percentage for third parties to qualify than in Germany) would give third parties a better chance of getting a couple of seats, at least.

Second, to eliminate the perpetual campaign, and tracking the norm in other states, Representatives would serve four-year terms. But, to make government even more responsive, we would stagger this to have half the House elected every two years. Or, to give a “mid-term” feel, we could have single-member districts on one four-year cycle and the national list on another.

Third, though I would not make the Senate as weak as the British House of Lords, since this is a parliamentary government, I would weaken it somewhat, a la the German Bundesrat, the Japanese Diet’s upper house, etc. And, to further reflect regionalism, versus single-state federalism, I would consider the idea of having some Senators elected on a regional basis; also, to lessen the small-state inequity of the Senate, regional Senators would be apportioned to different regions (South, Mid-Atlantic, New England, etc.) on a population basis.

States would also be allowed to have their Representatives elected by a method other than first-past-the-post single-member districts. The particular method for this would be of their choice.

Here are Wiki links for single transferable vote (a method I like more than what Clay proposes, but which would probably require change in federal law), preferential voting in general (which includes both IRV and the STV I like, and voting systems in general, including Clay’s range voting.

I favor the Single Transferable Vote system, myself.

A strong federal Congressional campaign finance law would also be passed, including money for third-party candidates meeting reasonable thresholds.

I would also eliminate the “life or good behavior” tenure in office of federal judges. District judges would serve 12-year terms, reappointable once. Appellate and Supreme Court justices would serve 14- and 16-year terms, respectively, also reappointable once. (Extra appointments could not be carried over from inferior to superior courts.)

Now, I’m not at all sanguine about ANY of this actually happening. But, you can now see how dissatisfied and disaffected I am with the current political process.