11-12-12 - The Destruction of American Democracy

People who actually care about democracy in America should be very concerned about the trend in the last 10 years. (granted if we look back farther to the LBJ era and before, corruption was rife in American politics, but it seems like it got better for a while, and now it's getting worse again).

1. Corporate Speech / Unlimited political spending.

Duh. Can we impeach Thomas and Scalia already? Every lawyer and judge in this country knows that they have no business being on the bench; they are literally the punch-line of law school jokes. It's a farce that we have such incompetent, corrupt, lazy, biased buffoons making some of the most important decisions in the country. (in case you aren't aware : in Citizen's United (as with countless other cases), Thomas and Scalia were known to be meeting with the supporters of the conservative side of the case).

Without campaign finance reform, there is no democracy. Both parties are just the parties of big corporations now. Both parties are the puppets of wall street, the military, the health-care complex, the cable companies, etc, and none of those interests will ever be harmed, no matter how much they fuck over the populace. Politicians are the puppets of money, and money wins elections. With the current court, the only way we'll get serious campaign finance reform would be with an ammendment, which is pretty unlikely in this day.

(in amusing absurdism, lots of states are going after political speech by labor unions, and the courts have so far been upholding it. While I basically agree that Unions should not be making political speech, or at least their members should be allowed to opt out of funding it, it's in odd opposition to allowing unlimited corporate political speech)

2. Electoral College.

I think everyone with a brain realizes now that the electoral college is a huge disaster that's ruining national politics. National elections hinge entirely on the results in a few swing states, thus national party platforms and attention are directed at the interests of those states. The majority of the country has almost no say in national elections. It's completely retarded.

The electoral college also means that the national elections are disporportionally controlled by the state governments of a few swing states, which gives those state governments massive power over the nation that we all must be concerned about.

3. Voter roll tampering.

Voter roll tampering should be really shocking to anyone of either party that respects the right to vote. At the moment it appears to be the Republicans who are mainly using this tool (certainly in the olden corrupt days, the dems were masters of it).

For a while the main tool was expunging criminals from the rolls (with collateral damage to non-criminals). The new tool of choice is "voter id" laws. Voter id sounds okay in theory, but in practice the point of the voter id laws is to remove some poor people and some old people from the rolls, because they tend to vote more Dem. I've heard some Dems say it's not a big deal, it's only 20,000 people or so that lose their right to vote, but of course that number is *massive* in the swing states.

In a wider view, the problem is that the party which gets into majority in the state government has the power to change the rules to affect future elections. That should raise some serious eyebrows, and brings us to the next point :

4. Gerrymandering.

It's completely ridiculous that the party in charge (in many states) gets to draw the voting districts.

I think a lot of people don't realize how powerful this is, or how widespread, or how ridiculous many of the districts are. (see for example : amusing maps and disturbing control ). We're being robbed right in front of our eyes and we're not doing anything about it, and they're laughing all the way to the bank; it's sickening.

If you win control of a state by even a tiny margin like 51-49 , you can rig the districts to go for your party by a huge margin, like 12-4. The way you do it is you put all the opposition support into a few districts that they will win in landslides, like 95-5, and then you spread out your support just thin enough to guarantee lots of wins, like 55-45 wins. (if you have a 51% majority of the state's population, you can split your state into just 2 districts where the opposition wins 95-5 , and 23 districts where you win 55-45, giving you a 23-2 majority from 51-49).

I've seen proposals that there should be better non-political committees to draw the voting districts (something like direct-elected long term seats), but I think they're all doomed to be corrupt eventually. I would much rather see the elimination of voting districts entirely, and instead use direct state-wide election (something like : you vote for your top 5 people and the people with the most votes get the seats). (multi-vote systems are also a big win for other reasons; they give non-mainstream candidates a better chance of winning, and allow viable 3rd parties to form)

(I understand that the idea of local districts is that you have a rep in your area to help address your local issues, but I think that's basically a myth; the only thing local representation does is encourage corruption, as the rep tries to get tax cuts and earmarks for business interests in their district)

amusing disclosure : my first ever software job was working on gerrymandering software ("redistricting software" but of course we all knew what it was for). It was a CAD package that had all the census data, and you could move the borders around and see the political balance in each district so that you could easily adjust the lines to get the voter ratios you wanted. We sold it to Cook County, which is one of the classic Dem-side gerrymanders (what they do is take little slices of Democratic Chicago and put them into the suburban districts that might otherwise go Republican).


Unknown said...

Man, this is old, but I have to say one thing: there is one non-nefarious use of gerrymandering, which is minority representation. To simplify, say that there's a state, with ten districts, that's exactly 10% African-American [substitute your own minority here--'gay' works], and let's further simplify (and now we're really getting into dangerous territory, so let me reiterate that this is all hypothetical) and say that white people never vote for black people. If the districts are 'fairly' partitioned, or even under your multi-voting system, there will never be a black representative; however, gerrymandering to get all the black votes in one district allows for the situation of 1 black representative and 9 white ones, which is proportionally accurate to that state's ethnic makeup.

It's still probably not worth it, though, given all the potential for corruption in basically every other circumstance.

cbloom said...

Yeah, that's a fair point, and some of the gerrymandering/redistricting when it's working well is done specifically for that purpose.

Even then it's a bit weird that it's the redistricting committee, not the people, who are deciding which voters are likely to vote in certain blocs.

I want to point out that multi-vote *does* work in your case.

The idea of multi-vote is to set up a system in which there isn't a committee deciding what groups are likely to vote together, it can happen organically.

The down side of multi-vote is that it can easily be swarmed by an organized minority that stick to a voting list (see Rabid Puppy and all that nonsense).

Take your example of 10 representative seats up for grabs, and 10% of the population is gay. If all the gays vote for the same rep as their 1st choice, that person has at least 10% of the vote, so is guaranteed a seat. No matter for the rest of the 90% of the population votes they can't get more than 9 people on. This does require the minority to be well organized so that they vote as a bloc.

The good thing about this is that the minority doesn't have to be pre-decided by the government. Any 10% minority that organizes and picks someone to vote for can get that person in. The bad thing is that if the minority gets split they can easily get no rep.

old rants