Government of, for and by Everyone, Equally

A Manifesto for the United States of America, Part IV

Read Part I, Part II, and Part III.

The US is ruled by a private club of a few hundred oligarchs and corporations. An uprising aimed at the police cannot succeed without taking economic and political power away from this club and redistributing it among the poor and disenfranchised, especially Blacks and Indigenous members of our society.

In Part I, we examined the creation of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) – an extension of the Social Security system – as a means of empowering Blacks, Native Americans, the poor and all Americans by endowing them with a basic entitlement of financial security and independence, and by eliminating poverty. In Part II, we added Universal Public Health Care by extending Medicare for All and eliminating co-pays and gaps. And in Part III we made housing a right for all.

These three elements will have a profound effect upon the power structure of our society, but there is much more to be done. In Part IV, we will look at changes to the government itself, which is currently stacked in favor of the rich, powerful and privileged. In succeeding installments, we will examine proposals to overhaul public education, the economy, the environment, consumer protection, unions, immigration, the media, law enforcement, foreign policy and the military. [Please note that elements in this installment are taken from or inspired by provisions of the 2016 U.S. Green Party platform, but this is not intended as an endorsement of the Green Party.]

One of the most important changes in U.S. government must be to abolish the electoral college. This institution creates winner-take-all presidential and vice-presidential elections in every state, which leads to “battleground” states where most of the campaigning takes place. The result is that the other states are considered “safe” for one candidate or another, and are largely ignored by the campaigns, effectively disenfranchising a majority of voters.

This is intolerable and must be reformed. All elections must be by direct voting, so that only the candidate with a majority of the total popular vote wins. This applies to presidential and all other elections. Direct popular elections assure that every vote counts equally and that every candidate competes for every vote. This enhances the power and importance of all the voters.

But there are other problems with the current system. Empowerment of the individual voter is undermined when eligibility to vote is restricted by a bewildering array of registration laws in each state, often to the advantage of one candidate or party. These restrictions and conditions must be eliminated. We must enact a national “right to vote” law or constitutional amendment to guarantee universal and automatic permanent voter registration, along with fail-safe voting procedures, so that eligible voters whose names are not on the voter rolls or whose information is out-of-date can correct the rolls and vote even on election day. All voters may request mail-in ballots, and incarcerated prisoners must be able to vote.

Election financing is also corrupting our system of government. It encourages control and influence by the wealthy and corporations. All elections must be publicly financed, with a prohibition on the use of private funds for this purpose, even those of the candidate. This has the added advantage of eliminating the influence of corporate money in elections.

But what if there are more than two candidates in a race, and none achieves a required threshold of popular votes? Instead of an expensive, exhausting and time-consuming special election, rank choice voting instant run-off should be instituted in order to break ties or achieve a majority vote, or whatever vote is required to decide the election.

This brings up the issue of so-called third parties. The system must not lock out such parties or place them at such a disadvantage that new parties cannot reasonably compete for votes. Minor candidates and parties must also be considered to have major party status when they achieve a threshold of votes in a given election, e.g. 5%. This allows for innovation in political options and greater choice for the voter.

By the same token, candidates may not be represented differently on the ballot in different areas of the constituency in which they are elected. Presidential and vice-presidential candidates, for example, must be listed and described identically on all ballots nationwide, so that no candidate receives even a perceived advantage in one area or state over another.

Native American nations must have full sovereignty over their lands, and those lands may not be used for other purposes except by permission of these sovereign nations, without coercion. They must have the right to seek redress of grievances in US courts, with appeal to international courts in which they participate in selection of judges and jurors, commensurate with other sovereign nations. They will have the right to dual citizenship in their own nation and the US. If they choose not to have US citizenship, they will nonetheless have the right to permanent residency throughout the US.

American citizens in the District of Columbia must have the same rights and representation as all other U.S. citizens. This means that the District must be given statehood.

The U.S. Constitution must be amended to require that all vacancies in the U.S. Senate be filled by election rather than appointment. Appointment leads to cronyism and potential corruption, and it takes the choice out of the hands of the voter for as long as six years. This must be corrected.

There are a number of other measures, recommended by the U.S. Green party, that will help to further empower the US voter, and which I will mention in brief.

· Develop publicly-owned, open source voting equipment and deploy it across the nation to ensure high national standards, performance, transparency and accountability; use verifiable paper ballots; and institute mandatory automatic random precinct recounts to ensure a high level of accuracy in election results.

· Establish guarantees that every citizen’s vote counts, and that all U.S. voting systems—including electronic ones—are verifiable, transparent and accurate.

· Establish a National Elections Commission with the mandate to establish minimum national election standards and uniformity, partner with state and local election officials to ensure pre-election and post-election accountability for their election plans, require nonpartisan election boards, and depoliticize and professionalize election administration across the United States.

· Increase the number of polling places, and increase the pay for poll workers.

· Strengthen “sunshine laws” to provide citizens with all necessary information and access to their political system.

· Ensure that all important federal, state and local government documents are on the Internet, especially texts of bills, searchable databases of voting records, draft committee and conference reports, and court decisions.

· Reinvigorate the independent investigative agencies, such as the General Accounting Office and the Inspectors General.

· Secure the right of states and municipalities to refuse to invest in foreign businesses that do not abide by their standards for imported goods, fair trade, and environmental protection.

· Ensure free and equal airtime for all ballot-qualified political candidates and parties on radio and television networks and stations.

The point of all these measures is to expand and equalize the power of the individual voter in all elections and to reduce the power of the wealthy, the corporations, the privileged and the elite. The above recommendations can be discussed, altered and expanded, but the end result must be to transform our society into one that brings us closer to the ideal of equal power, equal rights, equal respect, equal dignity and equal treatment for all individuals in our society.

Paul Larudee is a retired academic and current administrator of a nonprofit human rights and humanitarian aid organization. Read other articles by Paul.