This Week’s Mtg, Part I: Election Reform

As promised, here’s a list I came up with of ideas for changing the ways we hold elections in this country.  I know it’s as 3-day weekend, but if anyone wants to hear more about any particular ones of these (or others I’ve overlooked) in my intro next Thursday, please let me know in comments.

Ideas for reforming our elections kind of naturally fall into two categories: Those that would change (1) how we vote, versus (2) what we’re voting for.  But, since we kind of agreed we wanted mainly to discuss reforms that have some chance of actually happening, I’ve divided them into those that would require changes to

  1. The Constitution:  More interesting and bold, but non-starters.
  2. Federal law:  Not doable in the present, insane climate, but possible later on.
  3. State law:  Some might be quite doable in CA and other states.

Some other changes would/might require court decisions, too, but I haven’t done any research yet so I’m not going to try to specify here which ones.  Here is a list of some of these ideas:

Constitutional change(s)

  • Most changes to what we’re voting for in federal offices.
    • Terms (length) of office:
      • For president, Senate, and House
      • For Supreme Court — but not for lower federal courts; Congress controls how many there are and their terms of office.
      • Term limits.
    • Changing size of Senate or House
    • Age and citizenship requirements (only president must be a citizen).
  • Electoral College changes (but see workaround idea, below).
  • A Constitutional right to vote – Does not now exist.
  • [There are many other ideas for reforming the Constitution that
    are not election changes – veto, war powers, etc. – so we needn’t consider them

Federal  Law Changes

  • Create a single, national voter registration database.
  • Requirements to make voting for federal offices more uniform (courts might have to rule on whether feds can do this or the Constitutional amended, depending on specifics.).
  • Plow more federal money into state election process so they’re not so outdated.
  • Mandate whether/when/how states can hold primary elections (maybe req. Constitutional change)

State Law Level – Can Or Must Be Done Here

  • Federal Offices:
    • Redistricting:
      • Shape of House districts (but not population size).
      • Who draws the districts (legislature vs. commission)
      • When to redistrict (every 10 years or whenever legislature wants).
    • Primaries: Whether and when to hold them for president and Congressional races.
    • President:
      • Whether and when to hold primaries.
      • Electoral College: Who’s on it, and whether they are required to vote winner take all (the “interstate electoral compact” idea)
    • Federal judges: Nothing; all under Federal control.
    • Election mechanics and procedures: Lots of discretion.
      • Whether and when to hold primary elections and whether they are open or closed.
      • Types of ballot (paper vs. electronic); Counting procedures.
      • Whether to use absentee voting or vote by mail.
      • Voter ID requirements, location of polling places, and other “reforms”– unless the courts strike them down as discriminatory.
      • States CANNOT change the federal general election day.  The first Tuesday in November is mandated by the Constitution.
    • State offices: A state can do pretty much anything it wants, with  a few exceptions like they must preserve the one-person-one-vote non-discrimination standard.  So, a state could:
      • Change terms of office or begin/end term limits.
      • Enlarge or shrink # of legislative seats.
      • Change who/when draws state house or senate districts.
      • Make state judges elected or appointed.
      • Make other offices elected or appointed (e.g., attorney general)
      • Change election mechanics and procedures.
      • Primaries: Whether and when.  Open or closed.
      • Initiative process: Begin or end it, change it to give legislature more or less authority to modify or overrule them.

Supreme Court Must Act

  • Courts frequently get involved in stuff like this.  But, obviously, SCOTUS would need to overrule recent rulings in order to allow feds or states to:
    • Shorten the campaign season for any office –state or federal.
    • Limit campaign spending by rich candidates or by “independent” groups.
    • Publicly finance campaigns.

Well, this got to be a long list!  I’ll simplify this a lot when I give my 15-minute opening.  Let me know if you want me to focus on any particular ones.

Look for a Part II This Week post by Tuesday evening.

Have a nice weekend.


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