Monday, July 11, 2016

THE POWER OF ASSOCIATION I: Book Review, The Inevitable Party

Seth E. Masket is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Denver. His new book is The Inevitable Party, a study of the consequences of anti-party laws in the United States. 

Starting over 100 years ago, would-be reformers have taken power away from political parties in an attempt to remedy the effects of political machines and the bosses that controlled them. Masket tells us how today the new boss is the same as the old boss—as political insiders are resilient. They adapt to rules intended to disburse power, resulting in “reforms” that weaken democracy by fostering lack of transparency and polarization.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Citizens United: The Real Story


THE HISTORY OF MODERN CAMPAIGN FINANCE LAWS
By Krist Novoselic

The most notorious Supreme Court ruling of recent times is 2010’s Citizens United v. F.E.C. This ruling has captured many an imagination with the idea that the Court turned somehow turned “corporations into people” or that money was created into speech. This article is not about propagating these useless catchphrases, rather, it is about how independent campaign expenditure prohibitions bump into 1st Amendment protections. I look at the history of attempts to regulate independent campaign expenditures and how, in the process, a state censorship board was created.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Peaceful Resolution with Armed Dissent in the United States

Photograph of Geronimo, 1887 by Ben Wittick
Militiamen taking over a federal bird sanctuary in Oregon has me thinking about violent political actions. I have been studying American Indian history and there are similarities with actions some Indians took a generation ago. I hope the situation in Oregon will be resolved peacefully and there is precedent for this in the United States. The following are my thoughts based on an essay by Dean J. Kotlowski that is in the Roger L. Nichols compilation The American Indian: Past and Present

Friday, October 30, 2015

Don't believe the hype with Citizens United v. F.E.C.

Smokescreens to my right and left.
(This piece was originally posted on Medium, October 23, 2015.)

I bet you’ve heard the slogan, “Let’s overturn Citizens United!” This is telling people we need a constitutional amendment, or appoint new justices, who will overrule 2010’s Citizens United v. F.E.C. decision.

Citizens United has become a symbol, to many, of an exclusive federal government that puts a premium on political contributions. I agree that this is the state of the current United States political situation. However, calling for repealing a 2010 ruling is more of a potent rhetorical tool than a realistic — or even honest — solution to fixing an American democracy out-of-whack.

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Brief History of Ranked Choice Voting

Party Machines Hated Proportional Representation (PR)
Image from Kathleen Barber's Book
Lawrence Lessig is trying to raise $1 million through crowdsourcing to run for president on a democratic reform platform. As of today, his effort is halfway towards the goal. One leg of his proposal is proportional representation for the US House based on FairVote’s latest plan. I have written in the previous post about how this system would work. This article is about the history of Ranked Choice Voting.

Ranked Choice Voting is not a new idea. It is constitutionally protected and has a long history in our nation. It has been more of a forgotten idea. But this is changing. The reform is reemerging as an alternative to the two round voting used in non-partisan municipal elections. It can also work with partisan elections where the results can mirror the primary / general election dynamic. Here is a very brief account of the history of Ranked Choice Voting. Most of the historical information in the article was taken from Kathleen L. Barber’s books - Proportional Representation & Electoral Reform in Ohio. &, A Right To Representation.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Real Election Reform Enters The 2016 Race

I sent Lawrence Lessig's latest effort five dollars today. I did it because he is supporting proportional representation as part of his Citizens Equality Act. (He also links to FairVote, a reform group that I Chair) Lessig is right, the system is rigged—and it is the result of voting rules that tend to tip the scales.

Here is an example of how lopsided things are. In November of 2012, in Washington’s 7th Congressional District, (Seattle) the Democrat received 298,368 votes to win the election. In the 3rd District, where I live, the GOP winner got 177,446 votes. The reason for this lopsided result is the single-member districts rule for US House seats. The bi-partisan commission in Olympia that drew the lines packed the 7th District with Democratic voters, and the result is a huge surplus of votes. In the 3rd CD, the Democrat won almost 40 percent but that accounted for nothing—as the winner takes all. In the end, all of these surpluses piled up to where it cost the Democrats—who won the most votes nationally—the US House.

Nowhere in the US Constitution does it express single-member districts with winner-take-all rules for House elections. The current rules are the result of political decisions by the elites who make them.

Winner-take-all rules also impact campaign financing issues. For example, Washington’s 7th and 3rd districts are so lopsided for one party or another, they tend to be ignored; while the handful of so-called “swing districts” get tons of money dumped into them. This is a great value for the special interests who tend to dominate campaigns because they only need to spend / amplify their voices in certain areas. All the while, voters in safe seat districts are spectators in elections that are seen as a foregone conclusion.

Friday, June 12, 2015

My Testimony in Olympia Supporting Options for Local Elections

I am testifying today in support of allowing local communities and jurisdictions the ability to move away from winner-take-all at large elections.

This committee is considering districting as a way for localities to remedy possible issues with minority vote dilution. Nowhere in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 does it mandate exclusive districts as a remedy. In fact, the jurisprudence established since this important federal law was passed gives local communities options for voting remedies. While most choose a districting plan, others opt for a modified at-large system.

There are over 100 jurisdiction in the United States that successfully use this kind of voting system. For example Texas, which has a large Latino population, has 40 school boards that use modified at-large to elect their board members.