Keep Political Parties Away from our Elections

The evidence proves that Political Parties running elections is bad for Democracy.

Ideas for election reform have been flowing across my facebook screens nearly daily for the last month. Many of the ideas individually have a lot of merit, but there are some that are downright dangerous. The most common ideas are ranked choice voting, eliminating gerrymandering, open primaries, making election day a holiday, even more early voting, vote by mail, automatic voter registration, and mandating paper ballots. I am sure there are others that I missed listing and others that I have not heard about.

Why is election reform such a hot topic all of a sudden? A major driver was the recent election for president that did not turn out in any way how the experts all expected it would.  Their malfeasance has turned into a state of shock all across America. So the next question is, what went wrong that never went wrong before. As far as I can tell, nothing went wrong that hasn’t gone wrong before. That means that the problems that need fixing haven’t changed. Why all the fuss now? My thesis is that nobody wants to admit that anything was going wrong before. Especially the pundit class, that group of people who sit around tables that are near TV cameras and pontificate just as I am doing now, except my laptop camera is turned off and I don’t get paid. Also the pundit class keeps getting to talk into cameras and say stuff and two weeks later when they are all wrong, the same group gets brought back in front of the cameras and are asked to pontificate some more. Instead of looking back and asking what are we missing, they pretend that the real problems with our entire election are not consequential, and as the cognitive dissonance distance between what is broken and what the pundit class bases their predictions increases, the less reliable the predictions are, and the less the public believes them.

A reliable election process is where the best candidates are selected and those candidates should represent as much of the spectrum of ideas as possible. It also depends on all the votes being counted, and anytime the count is in doubt, a recount should be expected as a matter of course. Enforcement of election procedures along with the same level of audits used to validate that a bank is responsibly and honestly counting all the money individuals have handed to them for safe keeping is the minimum we should expect if protecting democracy is a true government objective. Are any of those standards happening in our election system? I don’t think so at all. In fact until we implement procedures to assure we have a process that brings forth candidates that advocate a broad spectrum of ideas, and elections whose results are trusted by the electorate, then any changes that do not directly address those problems will remain small band-aid patches on a deep wound. And if that is all we implement, then the band-aid will fall off and the wound will open even wider.

In order to bring forth multiple candidates with differing philosophies the two-party system has to be relegated to back of the line. It was obvious to the Founding Fathers that as odious as political parties are, they will form nonetheless. That should be accepted but in no way be legislated as a requirement for candidacy nor should parties be outlawed. People will do what they always do and form cliques, it is government’s role to make sure that parties do not make the rules.  Right now, our election system is so locked down as Democrat vs. Republican that around 98% of all elected officials in the US are members of one of those parties. That only two candidates are considered viable in at least 98% of our elections means that other ideas are literally stifled. Actual discussion is diminished and the voter finds nobody that truly represents their personal point of view, resulting in lower voter turnout. Counting ballots must take place on paper, but technology should not be eliminated. While scanner software is easy to manipulate, there is no reason that programming the machines cannot be done using open software, data entered (such as candidates names and their related printed information that appears on the ballot) should be in plain language. The program code should be written in an interpretative language so that any literate individual can read and understand how the program tabulates the votes .  Audits of at least 10% of the polling places must be mandatory and the audits must be a hand count of the scanned paper ballots.

There are two more critical issues that must be addressed since their impact on elections is profound. First, a law must be passed overturning the Supreme Court decision to release certain states and other jurisdictions from Justice Department oversight of changes to their election laws. It became obvious within days that the court had made a mistake since one state after another passed voter restriction laws as soon as the oversight was removed. Along with that, the law should provide tools for any polling places that are insufficiently supplied with voting machines or ballots to have those ballots printed at any nearby printing facility via a temporary eminent domain authority.

The second critical point is to remove any political party restrictions for Primary elections. This has become a frequent point made by many, but most do not go far enough since they only require that anyone can pick which party’s ballot they want. But consistent with my earlier point that parties must be relegated to the back of the line, each person showing up to vote in a Primary gets only 1 ballot with all the candidates on it. This becomes more critical when there is more than one office on the ballot. A person can then vote for the person they want in the primary no matter what parties their choice of candidates aligns with.


If Money Equals Speech, Does Speech Equal Money?

Salem Harbor




(NOTE:  The following post is adapted dramatically from a comment and a reply to another comment regarding a letter that appeared in the Salem News. The letter was written by a member of MA Move to Amend, a mission I wholeheartedly endorse.  Some of the reply comment appeared separately as a Facebook post and has not been altered very much.)

The Supreme Court’s recent McCutcheon ruling allows individuals to donate up to the current limit an amount of money to an unlimited number of candidates. This erases the limit set on the number of candidates one could finance . Of course this creates some new problems in our electoral process. Many we can anticipate, and probably just as many we can’t. It is possible that some aspects of the ruling may even create some positive effects, but for one reason alone, the negatives absolutely outweigh the positives. The overwhelming amount of expenditures being made in electoral campaigns cannot be seen as anything but a negative trend. I make this point not only on moral grounds, but also on sound economic principles.

The law was put in place to prevent wealthy individuals from affecting not only the outcome of the election, but also the results of a federal election. The outcome being the winning candidate, and the result the winning candidate’s votes in Congress. Historically, the PACs frequently have funded candidates of both establishment parties. Why? Because no matter who wins, they get access to the candidates. By allowing unlimited access, because that is what a campaign donation is, a request for access; wealthy individuals can and will fund both candidates.

And the reason for overturning the maximum number of funded candidates? Free speech. The logic somehow is that the money provided to a candidate so that the candidate can get their message out is free speech, The very same free speech as protected in the US Constitution. (I know my choice of  language is somewhat a subliminal negative message about the ruling, if it offends you; get over it.) Really? So I can go into Macy’s, go up to the clerk at the register with a cart full of clothes and then proceed  to pay for the clothes with a 2 hour speech, or perhaps if I use a lot of big, gotta look that one up in the dictionary words, I only have to speak for 15 minutes! I know, just because money equals speech does not mean that speech equals money. But, if I silently gave money to a cop after he (hypothetically, of course) pulled me over speeding isn’t that a closer example to this SCOTUS ruling?  Or am I trying to influence the cop into not handing me a very expensive speeding ticket?

No, money provided to a candidate can be used for the candidate to exercise her right to speak freely, but it has nothing to do with the donor’s right to speak freely. In fact, just the opposite. When I speak (or write) in favor of a candidate, then the words of endorsement are mine. I am responsible for the content, not the candidate. When I fund a candidate, the opposite occurs. I get to speak to the candidate to influence her. And the speech is mostly private, not public. The more funding, the more private. Are you cynical yet, because thee is one last point. Even though there are dollar limits on the amount you can spend on any one candidate, that doesn’t stop the average influence seeker from finding party organizations to buy influence from. The amount of direct, legal influence a seeker can use to gather access is essentially unlimited.

Gaining influence over our political leaders is effectively described in the Constitution.  The right to assemble is an allowed form of influence.  And so isn’t the right to speak and write freely. But, nowhere does the Constitution equate speech or press to money or wealth. In fact, The Court has ruled that the right to vote cannot be associated with any sort of poll tax.  Money as speech is an artificial construct of the Supreme Court and the Court has taken that construct beyond any reasonablele limit. We can speak freely, but not all the time. Falsely shouting fire in a crowded area is prohibited speech that endangers others. Making false accusations in print may make one subject to a libel suit. Assembling to commit violence or even assembling without permits are not allowed. Our freedoms have limits and we depend on the Congress to define them, and the Court to name them. The McCutcheon case does the exact opposite, Congress had defined the limits to the concept of money is speech, a concept defined by the Court. 

What are the limits to money is speech? I would say that Congress determined that limit is 18 candidates. Perhaps that limit is too high, but the question can also be asked at what decibel level is it OK to speak the word ‘fire’ in a crowd?

That is the type of analysis the court is supposed to make. At what limit does the campaign empowerment and ‘gratitude’ that comes from an unlimited amount of money effectively become a bribe? How about the donor that gives both sides the maximum amount? Isn’t it obvious that the donor is expecting one of the two major party candidates to return the favor? Very rarely does large sums of money go to one major party and also a small one. Isn’t that using one’s wealth to squeeze out points of view not held by either party an obvious and negative influence on our elections? Doesn’t allowing by multiple rulings virtually unlimited money into electing people divert from our economy more productive uses of that money.

There is much more that is wrong with this decision, as well Citizen’s United and the Voting Right’s act. In my mind, these 5 Justices need to answer in a public hearing. There is only one kind of hearing that will force the 5 Right Wing  justices to prove to Congress that they overturned standing law on sound Constitutional grounds. That would be an impeachment hearing. These 5 need to be impeached and if they cannot explain themselves sufficiently, they lose their jobs and their rulings are nullified.


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