Yeah. You heard me. Fix it. I’m not saying it’s all bad. I’m not even saying that for the time it was written in it was bad, although I think that has to be up for debate. But we have to stop looking at the constitution like it’s this divinely inspired document that no mortal should think of altering. We’ve changed it before, even well after founding fathers were in their graves, sometimes for the better (amendments 13 [the part where they abolish slavery], 14, 15, and 19 come to mind), sometimes for the worse (amendments 18, and the part of 13 where they still allow slavery or involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime which resulted in the Prison-Industrial Complex)
1.) Overhaul the Election Process:
The problem: This is not a new idea. The fact that former President George W. Bush lost the popular vote to Al Gore and was still elected president was maddening, but the fact that President Donald Trump lost the popular vote by almost 2.9 million votes or 2.1% and was still elected president is downright unacceptable. According to Time Magazine, one of the main reasons the electoral college was conceived was that the founding fathers believed “ordinary Americans across a vast continent would lack sufficient information to choose directly and intelligently among leading presidential candidates” (Akhil Reed Amar, Time Magazine 2016). That may have been a problem in the 18th and 19th century, but in the 21st century, all that is is completely undemocratic. There are obviously still concerns about how informed the public is given that we now very likely have too much information at our hands, but any time you set up a democratic system, part of the trust that you have to have is that the majority will make the sound decision. That’s not always the case, but if you want to have anything resembling a democracy, you can’t take that power out of the hands of the people. It’s been said that this fear was founded in the idea that a demagogue would rise to power based on populism… well… I hate to break it to you but the electoral college doesn’t seem to be able to stop that from happening.
But it’s not just in presidential elections that the election system is woefully outdated. The formation of political parties has given rise to political gerrymandering in both federal congressional districts and in state congressional districts. Former President Obama called for an end to this practice in his 2016 State of the Union address saying that “we have to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around” (Christopher Ingraham, The Washington Post 2016). That same article goes on to show the differences between what the congressional districts look like now, and what they might look like absent of gerrymandering. Now, you might be thinking, “If Obama had such a problem with it, why didn’t he do something about it when he had a democratic senate and house?” Which is exactly the point. First of all, it’s going to be very hard to fix, because the party in power is never going to want to give up that power. But that’s the very reason it has to be fixed. It shouldn’t be an issue that the minority party complains about and the majority party succumbs to, we need to make it something that’s impossible to do to level the playing field no matter who is in power. Because you’re right, while Democrats may be complaining about the Republicans’ brazen gerrymandering, they have certainly done their fair share of it in the past. This not only impacts who we are able to vote for to represent our area, it impacts the actual number of representatives a certain party can get into the house, which can have a gigantic effect on government.
Then there’s the issue of money in campaigns where it seems like you only have a chance if you have corporate backers and are running for a major party regardless of what office you’re running for. A Supreme Court decision made that more prevalent, but it’s been an issue for a lot longer than that.
The Fixes: For Presidential elections, the obvious move is to go to a strict popular vote with no electoral college. I believe this would help give us a more democratic election, but what I think is potentially even more important is to change the way we cast ballots. Instead of choosing the one person we think is best qualified, I believe we should go to an Instant Runoff Voting system which allows you to choose not only your first choice, but your second, third, fourth, fifth, etc. for as many votes as you want to alot. The tally is then counted in a points system where, say there are 6 candidates, receiving a 1st place vote gives a candidate five points, down to receiving zero points for a sixth place vote. This would make third party candidates more viable, as people wouldn’t have to worry about “wasting their vote” and could vote for who they truly believed was the most qualified with their first place vote, then make a safer choice at second place, while giving a last place vote to the person they absolutely do not want to see running the country. There are a variety of ways this could be done. Maybe you give people 5 votes even if there are 30 candidates, or maybe the amount of votes is dependent on the amount of candidates. Either way, it creates a much more democratic election process.
As for gerrymandering, it’s going to take the party in power to stop the process, which is unfortunately a lot to ask. But as for how to do it, am I the only person who thinks that not everything political has to be handled by politicians? We have a wealth of social scientists in this country. We even have a wealth of specific demographers. I say, let a strictly bipartisan committee of senators (meaning equal numbers of all parties unless one party does not have enough members, for example, Independent, in which case there would be one representative from that party potentially being a tie-breaker) nominate a handful of social scientists or demographers every ten years along with the census to create the electoral map. They would be chosen based on their expertise, resume, and relative impartiality. The nominees would then be voted on to be confirmed by the senate, with expertise and impartiality being the most important qualifications. If the senate does not confirm a minimum number of experts, the Supreme Court would step in to confirm the remainder so that the group reaches a minimum number. That is, as far as I can tell, the best way to get politics out of redistricting. Of course you could have computers and algorithms that churn out a map, but I don’t think the American public is that trusting of technology just yet. Not that they’re that trusting of Congress either… The experts would be compensated very well by the government to limit the risk of bribes and make it an appealing job, and they would take a federal oath which would make it a federal crime for them to accept gifts, bribes, or positions of power during their tenure and for 10 years after their tenure, as well as making it a federal crime if it is found out that they withheld information about receiving gifts or bribes within the past 5 years during their nomination and appointment. The State level districts could be drawn in much the same way.
Finally as far as money in politics goes, this is going to be something that takes a long time to end, but I think Bernie Sanders’ campaign showed that it could be ended. First, I think televised or any other type of ads for or against politicians should be banned. There amount of good information that is spread via televised ads or other types of ads is completely negligible when compared to the amount of spin, misinformation, fear tactics, and smear campaigns. If we take away ads altogether, then the playing field is still level, and we have less misinformation and spin going around. I think all elections should have at least one televised and live-streamed debate, much like there is for president, just making it across the board. And I think for federal elections there should a .gov site set up asking basic policy questions to each of the candidates so the public has somewhere concrete to go for basic information. Additionally, I think we have to create a maximum donation amount for candidates per person or corporate entity. Ideally this amount would be relatively small, so millionaires, billionaires, and corporations don’t have a skewed amount of power. This would also mean reversing Supreme Court cases like Citizens United (2010) that allow for the formation of Super Pacs and other such entities.
2.) Two Presidents:
The Problem: This problem and solution are both pretty simple, but they have huge ramifications. The problem as it stands now, is that often we elect a president based on the economy and other domestic issues, but then give that person power over foreign affairs that the people voting may not have agreed as much on, but since there’s only one position, sometimes you have to vote for domestic issues and just hope they don’t screw up foreign affairs too much. Just look at former President Lyndon B. Johnson as an example. Now, his situation was different as he wasn’t initially elected to be president, but he was elected in 1964. When most people think of LBJ, they think of Vietnam, possibly the worst military quagmire the United States has been in in modern history. I still remember watching a short documentary on him in high school and what really stuck with me were the protesters outside the White House chanting “Hey! Hey! LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?” But when you separate him from the legacy of the Vietnam war for a minute, you see a president that accomplished the “largest reform agenda since Roosevelt’s New Deal” (USHistory.org) in his Great Society reforms. He signed into law the Civil Rights Act, which is one of the most important pieces of modern day legislation. On top of that, he oversaw the creation of Medicare, a domestic version of the Peace Corps (VISTA), the Job Corps, the Office of Economic Opportunity, the National Endowment of the Arts and Humanities, and many more pivotal domestic policies. But there’s still Vietnam…
The Solution: Split up the job responsibilities. The office of the President has become much larger than the Founding Fathers ever could have managed. Maybe in George Washington’s time it made sense for one person to handle foreign and domestic affairs, but nowadays it leaves the public often lacking a voice in foreign policy because we value our own self-interest in domestic policy. So, as a fix, we create a “President of Foreign Affairs” and rebrand the presidency as “President of Domestic Affairs.” Obviously they will have to work together on some issues, but doing this allows Americans to have a solid voice in not only how we want our country run, but how we want to relate to the world as well.
3.) Term Limits for Congress:
The Problem: Politicians become entrenched in congress and they become corrupted by it. It simply doesn’t make sense that we have term limits on our president, but not on our congress. In fact, I would speculate that the only reason we don’t have term limits on Congress is because they themselves would have to impose them. Sure, sometimes you get lucky and you get a good Senator or Congressman for a lifetime, but often, because of how congressional elections are, the incumbent wins simply because they are the incumbent. This does not make for good governing.
The fix: Well, somewhat obviously, put term limits on Congress. Again, this is hard to do because it would be them that would have to do it, but it would make our democracy much more true. They don’t have to be short term limits, because there is something to be said for seniority and giving politicians time to be able to do good work for their district or State, but there’s gotta be some kind of limit. I think a maximum of 12 terms in the house of representatives, a maximum of 4 terms in the senate, and a maximum of 36 years for one individual between the house and the senate would be a reasonable time frame. That still allows the people in the house and senate time to figure out how things work in Washington, time to gain seniority, time to work their way up, but it puts a definitive cap on how long these people can be in power, allowing for fresh blood in the system.
4.) Term Limits for Supreme Court Justices
The Problem: Okay, this is a nuanced one, because the point of the Supreme Court being a lifetime appointment is “to assure the integrity of the power granted to Court Justices and protect them against unwarranted interference from either the legislative or executive branch. The express and implicit separation of the Supreme Court from the other branches of Government is therefore upheld” (Constitution.Laws.com). And that’s a pretty damn good reason, however as we’ve seen in the past few decades, judges on both sides are becoming more and more partisan. This shift makes a lifetime appointment too great a power for any president to have. And of course congress is supposed to act as a check confirming them, but that’s asking a strictly political body to check politics at the door when considering one of the most powerful positions in the US Government. Essentially, what all this has led to is that the court skews one way or another for a long period of time, because justices can be in power for decades.
The Fix: Okay another obvious one here, put term limits on justices. You would want it to still be a large number of years, maybe 15 or 20, but just giving some kind of cap would ensure a little more flow in and out of the Supreme Court which would likely be a moderating influence over time.
5.) Citizen Legislation through the Supreme Court
The Problem: I’ve talked about it quite a bit here as a barrier to these things getting done: Congress, in many cases, is asked to check themselves as opposed to another branch checking them. I believe if there’s one major flaw in the way our government was designed, it’s the massive amount of power congress has as compared to the minimal checks and balances they have. In fact they are supposed to serve as a check and balance for both the Judiciary and the President. There has to be another way to impose rules upon them that they will not impose upon themselves.
The Fix: Don’t get carried away with the title here, I’m not in any way suggesting that people should just be able to make laws through the supreme court. That would be an awful idea. What I’m proposing is the ability for citizens or groups to make a certain type of law through the supreme court. More specifically, ones that pertain to checking the power of congress or ones that would affect only members of congress. This way, the Supreme Court could take up a case where someone is arguing that it is in some form unconstitutional, or contrary to the reasoning of parts of the constitution, and to the detriment of the people that Congress does not have term limits. The Supreme Court could choose whether or not to hear it, like they do with any other case, and they would hear arguments on either side just like they would on any other case. The only difference would be that the petition being discussed would have a “bill” attached to it and if the Supreme Court found in favor of the group pushing for term limits, that “bill” would become a very real law, and begin to apply to members of congress. The problem of course, is, that it would likely take an act of congress to implement this check, as it would seem to go a little bit outside the current scope of the Supreme Court. Still, I think it would have the potential to really revolutionize our government for the better, creating an important check and balance on Congress that they don’t seem to have right now.