Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Eight reforms Democrats and Republicans should unite to enact

At this time of maximum partisan ranting, I keep hoping that honorable Republicans and Democrats will unite to work for reform of America's political infrastructure, so as to make elections and governance more fair and more democratic, regardless of who's in power at any given time.

First on this list is nonpartisan legislative redistricting. Gerrymandering produces districts where the pols pick the voters instead of vice-versa. This is inherently corrupting--and it produces legislatures full of partisans.

Second is open primaries that put the top two vote-getters in the final election, regardless of party, and instant runoff final elections, in which you vote for both a first and second choice at once; then if nobody gets a majority, the election is automatically recalculated, taking people's backup choices into account. This lets people vote their heart, even it's for a Ralph Nader or a Ross Perot, but also vote their head, to make sure their voting preferences are really taken into account.

Third is modifying the electoral college system to send electors proportional to the vote in every state instead of winner take all. This doesn't require a constitutional amendment--just an agreement between all the states to make the change, since any one large state doing so unilaterally would help one party or the other, but doing so nationwide helps both parties and helps states' rights, because then elections wouldn't be distorted into focusing on the needs of a few battleground states.

Fourth is amending the Constitution to eliminate considering any but American citizens in determining Congressional apportionment (this generally favors Republicans, I note, even though I'm a Democrat--but it's fairer).

Fifth is eliminating the anchor baby loophole from the Constitution. The loophole favors Democrats like me, but again the current system isn't fair, and that's more important.

Sixth is modifying the electoral college system so that it's a little less imbalanced between populous and non-populous states. Currently one Montana voter's vote counts as much as nearly four California voters. How about halving the imbalance?

Seventh is making district attorneys and judges unelected offices and putting a 20 year term limit on Supreme Court appointments. Elected judges and DAs corrupts the system, tipping it towards conviction and longer sentences regardless of circumstances.

Eighth is making passing a relevant civil service exam a prerequisite to running for national office. The exam should be, oh, 2/3 as difficult as a Bar exam.

Would you agree these eight nonpartisan reforms? Do you have any others that you think should be supported by both Democrats and Republicans?


One Salient Oversight said...

1. This is one reason why California is so divided - Gerrymandering has led to politicians committed to the base rather than to the middle and you end up with partisans who obviously can't pass any 2/3 majority bills in California.

2. Here in Australia we have preferential voting which allows many political parties to be directly voted for while allowing these votes to be transferred according to the preference of the voter. It means that a third party vote is not wasted. Had a preferential system been enacted in the US, it would've probably transferred Ralph Nader votes into Al Gore votes in the 2000 election (and won Gore the election), but also would've transferred Ross Perot votes to George HW Bush votes in 1992 (and won a 2nd term for GHWB)

3. A better system would be the abolishment of the electoral college system altogether and have it replaced by a national popular vote (preferential of course). I know that California has had a proposal around for years that would transfer its electoral college votes to the candidate who won the national popular ballot. The electoral college is an 18th century invention and is not used in any other democratic country.

7. America is the only nation that elects its judges and DAs and, you're right, this encourages corruption. As for the Supreme Court, your system is reasonable but I would randomly select Federal Judges to serve on SCOTUS for, say 2 years rather than be selected and appointed by the President and ratified by the Senate.

8. A civil service exam is a good idea (we abolished it in Australia a while ago and many are hankering for its return), though it would also be good to increase the standards of entry while also increasing pay, thus attracting and rewarding the best candidates.

Ehkzu said...

What you call "preferential voting" is exactly what I meant by "instant run-off."

I'd love to abolish the electoral college. But then, I live in the most populous state of the Union. The trouble is that we have a lot of small states, and they're not about to give up their advantage in today's system. Australia was certainly wise not to adopt it, but if you had, you've have as much trouble getting rid of it as we would.

That said, getting rid of our winner take all system would at least enfranchise minority party members in every state.

Today, a Republican in California will never elect our President--and probably not a Senator either. The same is true for whichever party is on the outs in 33 of our 50 states.

So this mild reform would transform national political campaigns, which now take place almost entirely in 17 "battleground" states, which distorts national politics wildly.

Your rotating SCOTUS is really interesting. I'd never thought of that. I wonder if our existing SCOTUS has a store of institutional knowledge that your proposal would dilute.

Then again, the institutional knowledge of the hard right ideologues who now control the Court aren't doing our country any favors...

Kevin Rica said...

I hate to tell people this -- maybe I'm wrong and the law was changed again, but the anchor baby loophole was changed decades ago.

I'd have to check, but an American-born child cannot sponsor a parent for immigration until that child is 21. So an illegal immigrant who has a baby here could be deported. We just don't. The same generally goes for any illegal immigrant here. We just don't.

It's just like the controversy over whether legal immigrants should be allowed to get welfare benefits. The law says that foreigners are excludable from the U.S. if "they are likely to become a public charge." So if they need to be on welfare, they obviously don't qualify as legal immigrants. Why is the law not enforced? Because we just don't.

And if the law says that illiterates are not eligible for certain types of immigrant visas -- what does the U.S. vice-counsel say? -- "Get me the Bunny Rabbit book." I've done it myself.

Ehkzu said...

Kevin--that's not the loophole I was talking about. It's the one in the 14th Amendment that gives anchor babies citizenship in the first place.

I agree that the parents should be deported and given the option of taking their American citizen child back to their home country with them, or raised in our foster care system, or adopted.

But the anchor baby provision in the 14th remains in place, and it will take another amendment to the Constitution to change it. I wish it weren't so, and I wish SCOTUS had ruled otherwise, but the current Amendment is pretty clear about this, even though, as I said, the framers of that Amendment didn't foresee its current use.

Kevin Rica said...


If that is what you are objecting to, then the term "anchor baby" is a misnomer. The baby doesn't anchor the parents or confer any immediate immigration rights -- regardless of popular belief. The parents could be required to leave -- we just don't.

If the parents actually were deported and baby goes with the deported parents, the American citizen baby could return when he/she reaches his or her majority. Then be ready for the logically deficient objection from those advocating non-enforcement: “If the child returns to the parents’ home country and grows up there then the child will not have the skills to succeed and become a productive member of American society – won’t know English and American customs, won’t have a decent education etc.”

Notice the shameless sophistry? The children will be unfit to succeed and contribute to society if they are raised in their parents home country, but the parents would contribute to American society under the same circumstances.

On the other hand, changing the constitution will be well neigh impossible. But the 14th Amendment is open to some interpretation. We NOW know that the SCOTUS can change its mind if it wants to. Congress could even help it if it were to pass legislation clarifying the 14th Amendment, which confers citizenship on “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof." There are exceptions for those who are born in the United States but not subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S. -- such as children of foreign diplomats (diplomatic immunity) or babies born on foreign warships in U.S. territorial waters (don’t know the last time that happened). So Congress might try carving out an exception for those here in defiance of U.S. law. But – We just don’t.

Ehkzu said...

Kevin--true, the instant citizen offspring doesn't confer citizenship on the illegal alien parents. But it does confer welfare benefits, which an enterprising family can milk--especially after they've got three or four of them.
And they can sponsor their parents, eventually. And as you accurately pointed out, anchor babies' parents may avoid deportation due to that citizen in the cradle.

Hence "anchor." It's not a perfect anchor, but then, speaking as a scuba diver, not all real anchors are perfect either. That's why I never diver off a boat that doesn't have someone one board at all times (and I mean someone who can drive the boat).

As for the 14th Amendment...I hope you're right and I'm wrong. But I've read the amendment and I don't think the exception for diplomatic personnel can be stretched to cover illegals' offspring. I think they are under our jurisdiction by virtue of being here and not part of a diplomatic mission. And so do the guys (and gals) in black.

We could certainly do a law or even a presidential order that explicitly forbade considering anchor babies in deportation proceedings, though. That would help. Make them less anchor-y.

Some would call this hard-hearted, and it is if all you're considering is one family's story--especially when everyone in question is a bundle of virtue.

But in the context of 12 million illegals...that's something else. And I've noticed that many people don't seem to be able to think about problems that have a large scope, so they're constantly making decisions that are tactically kind but strategically disastrous.

Kevin Rica said...

Well Ehkzu, It bothers me, but George Will has come around, maybe far enough around, to my point of view on immigration. He used to be all for the Big Business Republican view on the need for cheap labor and the supposed impossibility of enforcing the immigration laws. Maybe watching what happened to David Frum's position at the AEI induced a death row conversion on Will's part. While I don't mind agreeing with Will occasionally (and occasionally he is challenging), I worry when he agrees with me.

Anyway, Will is making 14th Amendment arguments similar to mine. See:

Ehkzu said...

Here's the comment I just posted on the Washington Post website in response to the George Will column on birthright citizenship that he just published:

Both parties fear the Mexivote too much to try to add a new amendment negating the 14th. The Roberts court might be able to re-interpret the 14th as Will lays out here, but it's a long shot.

My own reading of the 14th is that it confers birthright citizenship on the offspring of illegals who are born here.

But my reading of the 14th's history is that its framers meant it to cover the children of ex-slaves, not those of illegals, because there were no illegals then.

So it's a loophole. Legal, but a loophole.

The only thing that will let us control illegal immigration is a universal biometric ID system for everyone in the United States.

Require anyone going to a hospital or applying for any job or for any social service to be identified this way, denying illegals anything but emergency care followed by deportation.

This wouldn't require a constitutional amendment and it wouldn't require anyone to single out illegals of any race or nationality. It would be a fine-meshed net and a nondiscriminatory one, giving lawmakers political cover.

The only problem is the paranoia of both right- and left-wing nuts.

I hope that Mr. Will uses his bully pulpit to support universal biometric ID and not tilt at legislative windmills.