It seems you can’t pick up a newspaper (ok, I’m being quaint, but some of us do still read newspapers) or turn on your television without hearing about how our elections are under assault. If the Russians aren’t rotting our minds with memes of Hillary Clinton drunkenly gazing at balloons, the Chinese are hacking into our voter rolls. When the Chinese aren’t hacking into voter rolls, the Iranians are hacking the voting machines themselves. When the Iranians aren’t playing centrifuge subterfuge with the voting machines, the North Koreans are actually changing vote totals.
It’s a wonder a beloved TV sitcom character hasn’t been elected to Congress with all this electronic doo-dah. Oh, wait…
Okay, the security of our electronic voting systems are important. I don’t mean to belittle them. But that insecurity highlights a much bigger problem our nation faces: in a representative republic, the integrity of the electoral process cannot be open to interpretation. When it is, then the legitimacy of the election outcomes that select our representatives comes into question. No government without said legitimacy can stand for long.
It seems to me that I’m not the only one thinking the way we vote has become an absolute mess over the last twenty years. You would have thought that after the disaster of the 2000 election, the one in which “Hanging Chad” came to mean something other than executing a yuppie horse thief, we would have gotten our act together. But as the most recent election demonstrated, if anything we got worse at both voting and counting the vote. Of course, much of the coverage centered on our favorite county (Broward) in our favorite state (Florida) for electoral shenanigans. This overlooks that there were nearly four dozen House races that still weren’t called a full week after the election. It overlooks serious charges of vote tampering and fraud in California, New Jersey, Illinois, Georgia, Alaska, North Carolina, and Utah.
Since we didn’t learn from the disaster that was 2000, allow me to propose some simple changes that would be relatively simple to implement that would go a long way to ending the nonsense. Will it end voting irregularities forever? No, of course not. They are a feature of any voting system since man-made systems are imperfectible. But we can do much better than we have to date.
Step 1: Implement a national Voter ID system
Look, forget all the nonsense about poor people, or black people, or Hispanic people, not being able to get a valid state ID. It’s the 21st century, for chrissakes. There is absolutely no reason an adult should not have a valid ID. I challenge you to find me a state where you can buy a beer or pack of cigarettes without a valid ID. If we demand you have a valid ID for something as mundane as getting a cold brew at a restaurant, any argument against having one for something as important as voting is ridiculous on its face. Remember this sob story? The only reason he was prevented from breaking the law was due to Tennessee’s voter ID law.
Yeah, Voter ID laws work exactly as intended. Which may be why the same crowd that is all for open borders and illegal immigrants voting in our elections are so against them.
Step 2: Get rid of early voting
It seems many of the problems we run into with counting the vote (and where some of the greatest opportunities for general screwing with the ballots) comes from the fact that in some jurisdictions, people can actually begin voting up to a month before election day. There are other reasons to get rid of early voting (seriously, who but the most partisan hack is 100% certain of who they’re going to cast their ballot for a month before election day?), but that’s another post for another day. Anyway, the nonsense we witnessed around the country last November, with ballots mysteriously materializing from car trunks and classroom closets, would immediately end simply by getting rid of early voting. I understand voting in the middle of the week is inconvenient for a great many people, but that brings me to my next suggestion, which is…
Step 3: Make all national elections a national holiday
See, now nobody has the excuse they can’t get off work to go vote. Yes, the lines might be long. But if voting becomes a holiday, think about this: how long will it be before the nation’s retailer’s start offering discounts when you present that “I voted” sticker? I bet Friendly’s even starts offering a free scoop of ice cream!
Step 4: End “ballot harvesting”
Look, I don’t know who came up with this piece of insanity. I’m ambivalent about absentee ballots, to begin with (I can’t get around particularly well these days, but I still show up to vote in person), but if your state is going to allow them, shouldn’t the very least expectation be that you put the doggone thing in the mailbox yourself? I don’t know who thought the idea of letting party operatives handle them was a brilliant idea, but they need to be taken out back and put out of their misery the same way we do horses with broken legs. Heck, we’re ten weeks past the election and one district in North Carolina got so fouled up with ballot tampering as a result of this idiocy that they likely need to call a special election. Stories have come from California of voters just signing a blank ballot and handing it over to a party apparatchik. I’m 100% certain no tampering happened in those instances whatsoever, right?
Step 5: Get rid of electronic voting machines
I don’t know if the Russians or Iranians or little green men from Mars are trying to break into the electronic voting systems in use around the US. What I do know is there is enough distrust that those systems can be secured against sophisticated hacks (or even hacks from 300 pound couch potatoes) that we should have already stopped using them.
Step 6 : JIT ballot verification
This is little more technical, but every bit as important as anything else. During the latest Broward “Whose Vote is It Anyway” episode, we were once again treated to election workers trying to decipher illegible ballots. Just because that wasn’t enough fun, then we heard that poll workers could, in the even a ballot was indecipherable, just fill out an alternate one. Just fill out an alternate one? Are you kidding me?
In software engineering, we use “Just-In-Time” testing to validate that our code at least has the correct syntax and spelling to not cause a digital rejection of our work when trying to make it do something. It isn’t that hard to do something similar with a paper ballot. Optical scanners, which have been around for longer than most of you who read this blog, can detect if too many circles on a line (or a row) are filled in, and if they’re filled in correctly – and check this out, they CAN EVEN COUNT THE VOTE IN REAL TIME. If your ballot is illegible, for whatever reason, the poll worker can hand you another blank, destroy the bad one and scan the corrected ballot all before you leave the voting booth! Amazing!
This won’t completely end the questions about voting. Some states will complain vociferously about Congress passing any further restrictions. I can already hear the Chamber of Commerce harping on yet another paid holiday. Democrats will kvetch about Voter ID and the loss of early voting, Republicans about JIT verification. Both will scream bloody murder over ending harvesting.
But these six steps will make our elections more secure and provide for quicker vote tabulation. They address some of the biggest questions the nation has about our elections. It puts what is the most vital process in republic back into the sunlight, restoring the trust that the process isn’t corrupted. In short, it is the first step in injecting some sanity back into our politics.
Ever since getting blown out in Wisconsin, Donald Trump has been hollering about the way we select presidential candidates, calling it unfair, or deriding it as a “rigged system.” Sure enough, the left-of-center pundits and writers who support him, and most of the misguided people who’ve pledged their allegiance to the “Trump Train,” have suddenly decided that a system that’s been around almost as long as the United States is fundamentally flawed. I shouldn’t be surprised. The typical Trumpster also tends to think the US Constitution is terribly flawed and no longer relevant.
The delegate system is based on the same idea that fueled the adoption of our Constitution. That is, the best system of governance is a representative republic, with semi-autonomous states sharing power with a centralized national government. As conceived by the men who gave us our Constitution, the office of President was not to be directly entrusted to the general populace. Rather, they conceived the idea of electors being chosen by the people. The electors would then choose the President. They had two reasons for this, both outlined in Federalist 68. The first is that the general populace can be easily swayed by emotional appeals to our baser instincts. As Alexander Hamilton noted, “Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union.” The second was they understood the vast majority of citizens are not active politically, nor are they as attuned to the issues and policies as their brethren who are politically active. Their decision was that by entrusting the selection of Chief Executive to a group of people who were politically active, they were ensuring that the gravitas of the position was honored. Yet at the same time, because the electors were selected by the citizenry, the people’s voice would be heard. Hamilton, again: “… the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.”
I realize this conception of how our political system was created will confound most of you. After all, you’ve heard since childhood that the United States is a democracy. Every politician declares it during every speech. Most sadly, we’re taught in school that because we vote, we’re a democracy. Some people are taught that we’re a representative democracy; that our votes go to elect representatives who are supposed to vote the way we want them to. That’s also incorrect! We are a representative republic. We elect representatives. The representatives we elect are then to debate and vote on the issues and policies as best they see fit. The decisions they reach are not bound by any measure to popular will. We then can decide if we approve of those decisions at re-election time. There have been occasions – quite a few, actually – when a representative has defied popular will in the votes they cast. One of the most celebrated books of the 20th century, Profiles in Courage, highlights eight such occasions that profoundly changed the history of our nation.
Our founders were against the idea of political parties, but their creation is a natural outgrowth of politics. It’s only natural that people who share similar views and goals would coalesce into groups working towards implementing those ideas into law and policy. Even in our nascent stages, the republic soon found itself being divided into political parties. The very men who were opposed to the idea of political parties were creating them. As those parties formed, they began to decide on which candidates for office would receive the backing of the party – including candidates for President. Should it be a surprise that they adopted a similar system for choosing their candidates as the one outlined in the Constitution?
Of course not. Many of you seem surprised at the notion that the popular vote doesn’t decide who a party’s nominee for political office. In order to understand why this is, you need to realize that prior to 1972, most states didn’t even have primary elections. Those that did, did not “bind” their delegates to vote for any particular candidate. The delegates, in most cases, were selected at state conventions. In the remainder, delegates were directly chosen during a caucus. In either case, the general public was barred from attending: only members of the party could choose their delegates. And quite often, the national party conventions did not resolve the issue of who the Presidential nominee would be on the first ballot of delegates. It seems to me that the system worked rather well. In the case of the Republicans, the convention chaos resulted in some pretty momentous choices; men who went on to become some of our most consequential Presidents. Lincoln (3rd ballot), Harding (10th), and Eisenhower (2nd) were all the products of contested/brokered conventions. In fact, during the 1952 convention Robert Taft accused Eisenhower of “stealing” delegates that were supposedly his. That led to the adoption of the “Fair Play” rule. In an ironic twist, it is that rule which Trump is using to accuse Cruz and Kasich of “stealing” delegates this year.
The liberalization of the nomination process began in 1972, in the aftermath of the riots at the Chicago and Miami party conventions in 1968. Most states adopted primaries, many opened those primaries up to the general public (no party affiliation required) and states bound the delegates chosen to reflect the popular vote at the convention for at least the first ballot. Only a few states opted to remain with caucuses or conventions selecting their delegates. And only one state does not bind any of their delegates, while several have a mix of bound and unbound delegates. The desired effect, the nominee being chosen by popular affirmation, has been achieved. Indeed, only the 1976 Republican and 1980 Democratic conventions have offered any drama, although in both cases the insurgent candidate was defeated between the end of the primaries and the convention.
Since the liberalization of the nomination process, consider the men nominated by the popular vote: Nixon, Ford, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Dole, George W. Bush, and Romney. Only one of those men could be considered consequential in a positive manner. Only 3 of them have managed to win the Presidency, and two of those left office with the country in far worse shape than when they entered. If we were to change anything as regards candidate selection, I would prefer we return to closed caucuses and conventions without general public input. You may call it “undemocratic,” but the objective is to find the best candidate; to find people who can represent the values of the party and lead the nation. The general public has demonstrated exactly what the founders feared: an incredible ability to choose the very worst people for the most important job in the world.
Consider the roll call of Presidents since 1972 and see if you can actually dispute that. Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, GHW Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama have been elected as President. One was forced from office, another was impeached. Both Bushes left the nation economically in tatters. Carter is best remembered for his failures, while Obama is ending his Presidency with his signature achievement about to go belly up and the nation slipping back towards recession. Only Reagan managed to accomplish anything of note, but even his accomplishments have proven to be short-lived. Even ending the Cold War hasn’t lasted; today we’re faced with a resurgent and belligerent Russia and China.
You might also argue that by returning a system by which party insiders, we would be disenfranchising you. I don’t think so. Remember, the nominee is supposed to represent the party, not the general populace. I know many people who call themselves Republican or Democrat, but the reality is, they only are on election day, and often only on Presidential Election day. The other 1,460 days of the election cycle they do absolutely nothing to support the party. It’s kind of like telling people you’re a member of the cast of your favorite TV show, because you can quote some dialogue and know all the characters. In other words, if you want a say in who a party nominates, it would mean actually getting involved in the political system. Simply voting is a privilege of being a citizen. Performing the actual duties of citizenship – canvassing for candidates, raising funds, perhaps serving in local government, attending party meetings – these are also ways of becoming involved with a party at the local level. Not incidentally, it’s also how you become more acquainted with the political system.
In this year when so many of you seem more interested in blowing up the system, rather than putting in the individual effort to make it “work,” it’s also the best way to change the things about the system you don’t like. And who knows? Maybe, instead of whiners-in-chief, we can actually get back to commanders-in-chief, to Senators who worry more about representing their states than the national party committee and Representatives with more than graft on their minds.
Every once in a while, a bolt from the blue comes along and provides you with instant clarity. I just had one.
Yesterday, I noted this quote from the Partisan-in-Chief: “Republican policies are an approach to government that will fundamentally cripple America.” I thought Obama was simply trying to stir up the radical left with that oddball statement. After all, Republicans may be trying to streamline government (and dragging the Democrats along, kicking and screaming) but they’re hardly out to cripple the nation.
And then I realized he made that statement at a LinkedIn open house. And followed that up over the weekend by telling the Congressional Black Caucus to “Shake it off. Stop complaining. Stop grumbling. Stop crying. We are going to press on. We’ve got work to do.”
It seems our post-partisan, post-racial President is ready to not only toss aside post-partisanship in an attempt to hold onto power. He’s now throwing away the idea that we’re one nation, ideally color blind. Yes, he’s out there riling up the black community by (1) scaring them into thinking Whitey Republican is going to take away their jobs (although, with real unemployment in the black community hovering around 37%, there aren’t that many to take and (2) Whitey Republican is going to cripple their America. You know, the one the rest of us refer to as the welfare state but the one the liberals love to think of as the “real” America. The Promised Land in the Genesis song where everything comes easy, you just hold out your hand.”
I said yesterday that this election strikes me as a battle for the soul of the United States of America. After further reflection, I think that may be the greatest bit of understatement in my life. This isn’t a battle. It is an all-out WAR.
New Jersey’s 9th Congressional District, which covers most of Bergen County and in Hudson County, parts of Kearny and Jersey City as well as Secaucus, is currently represented by Steven Rothman. It’s time to change that and elect Michael Agosta to Congress this November.
Steve Rothman is a likeable person. Anyone who doubts that he is doing what he believes is best for the citizens of his district, the state and the nation in general are seriously deluded. Unfortunately for the rest of us, Rothman’s views of what’s best too closely follow the ideas of Karl Marx. That is, Rothman is an unabashed socialist. He honestly thinks every problem we face is best solved by a huge dose of government intervention and wealth redistribution. He doesn’t call himself a socialist, of course; but his voting record speaks for itself. He is ranked as a far-left liberal, having voted for nearly every proposed tax increase and government program that’s been introduced since he took his seat in 1997. Perhaps the best thing to be said about Rothman is that unlike his predecessor, Robert Torricelli, nobody suspects Rothman of undue corruption.
Michael Agosta, unlike Rothman, is a political neophyte who espouses the ideals of smaller government and personal responsibility. He is a man of good standing, although the Democratic Party has certainly tried to impugn his character over the past two weeks. A former Federal Air Marshall and soldier, Mr. Agosta’s national security credentials are born of the front-lines, not of a government-sponsored think tank. And on economic issues, Michael Agosta understands that the only way to revive the economy is to get people back to work – and to do that, we need to reduce taxes and hold the government accountable for their actions.
This November, vote for Michael Agosta. Vote to return America to Americans, not politicians.
One of the more intriguing topics to come up for debate in this election cycle is the issue of “Park51,” more commonly referred to as the “Ground Zero Mosque.” Despite President Obama’s insistence that his presidency would represent an ascension past the culture wars that have defined American politics since the founding of the nation, this has become the flashpoint issue for 2010.
Like most cultural issues, this one pits two core American values in opposition to one another: our first amendment rights to congregate freely and the freedom from having one group impose its values on any other, as described in the ninth amendment.
Under the First Amendment, the members of the Cordoba Initiative certainly have the right to peaceably assemble, to worship their god and to disseminate information about their beliefs. Those are their stated reasons for wanting to build their edifice virtually on top of the Twin Towers site. They say that they want to foster an understanding of Islam as a religion of peace, not terror. In other words, by building on the site they have selected they hope to heal the wounds many feel are directly causal from an intractable religious dogma that preaches the destruction of all things and people not Muslim. In the Cordoba’s view, that opinion of Islam is distorted and incorrect. But in their attempted healing gesture, they are demonstrating an incredible callousness towards the very society they hope to inform.
What they forgot is that for most Americans, our only exposure to Islam is what we’ve seen on TV, and foremost among those images is the image of the Twin Towers collapsing to the ground – and the Muslim world celebrating the wound inflicted upon the “Great Satan.” 9/11 was not an attack by one nation on another – unlike any assault since the Middle Ages; this was purely a religious war being waged by Muslims acting in the name of Allah. Even if the impression upon our nation is incorrect and this is merely one sect of the religion striking out at their perceived enemy, there are better ways to inform the American public than by pouring salt into the wound. Of course, it isn’t the first time the leader of the Cordoba sect has demonstrated an incredible lack of sense when speaking to the his adopted country: this is the same Imam who, in the days immediately after 9/11, essentially blamed the US for the attack. He is also on record attacking Israel and defending Hamas, to the point of helping sponsor the June provocation.
By refusing to reconsider their position, the Cordoba Initiative ignored the nation they are hoping to educate and thereby, gain further assimilation. It shouldn’t be that difficult for them: suppose a group of extremist Lutherans attacked Mecca? And then the Catholic Church built a large cathedral on the site? Would the Islamic world understand the differences between Christianity, radical Lutheranism and Catholicism? Most likely not – and the local bishop would be considered an idiot if he were to expect any local support.
By stepping into the middle of this muddle, the President turned up the heat on the issue. Perhaps he meant to. Perhaps he miscalculated. Either way, the mosque became definitive of a larger issue; namely, how does a subset of American culture successfully integrate into the mainstream? Is it through legal channels or gradual acceptance? It seems the left wing of the American body politic, as it often does, chose the method of legality: of asserting one constitutional right over another. In so doing, both they and the Cordoba’s have turned their mosque into a temple of rights vs. right and given the nation a new wedge issue. By embracing the intransigent side of the debate, the President has assured his party will bear yet another millstone on their way to the November elections.