Saturday, December 20, 2008

Manifest for a U.S. Parliament
Part 2 - Every Vote Counts

A political system is only as good as the voters make it. If voters don’t take responsibility for the workings of their system they will inevitably be taken advantage of by the politicians that they vote for. People who choose to go in to politics are always highly driven individuals, and unless the political system is set up in such a way that the interests of the voters is the foremost concern at all times, politicians will make the system work primarily for themselves. A system that allows large-scale monetary contributions to individual politicians, such as the American system, is hence a recipe for disaster. Likewise, a system that only allows two parties, will foster collaboration between those two parties to the effect that no other party can be allowed in to the political system, and very large parts of the population will be shut out of politics in terms of their wants and needs.

I will now continue this second part of the manifest with prescriptions for how the American political system can be made better and truly work on behalf of its voters, whatever the needs and convictions of those voters are.

Proportional Representation

What makes the American political system different from most other political systems (save for some other Anglo-Saxon countries) is the lack of proportional representation. If 49% of voters in a given constituency vote for a certain party, those voters could receive 0% representation in the legislature. This is not an anamoly either; it happens all the time. In a system with proportional representation, if 49% of voters vote for a certain party, that party receives 49% representation from that constituency in the legislature, no more, no less. How could anyone seriously say that proportional representation is unfair, unjustified, or in any way unsuitable? It directly transcribes what the voters want!

The votes would be counted according to the D’Hondt method (more on that some other time), and a party must receive at least 8% of the national vote in order to be represented in Parliament. That rule ensures that extremist parties are not represented in Parliament.

The Inception of a U.S. Parliament

The two houses of Congress would be merged into one unicameral Parliament, with a fixed number of seats, perhaps 501. Elections would be held every 4 years. Each state would be awarded a number of seats based on population size, in the same way as the present electoral college awards votes for President based on population size. Each vote in the Parliament would be decided by means of a simple majority, with the exception of a vote of no confidence in the President or the governing party or coalition, which would be decided by a two-thirds majority. Filibustering would be removed as a tool entirely.

The Usage of a Mixed Personal and Party Vote – The Party-List Ballot

One of the common objections to a political system that is based on political parties, as opposed to individual politicians, is that such a system takes away the ability of the voter to vote for a politician that he or she particularly likes. This problem can be remedied by the party-list ballot. In such a system, the voter takes a ballot for the party that he or she likes, and on that ballot, the party has listed the politicians that it considers best suited for the job of being a member of Parliament. The party lists politicians in order, 1, 2, 3, and so on. Any politician on the list can be ticked off, and the vote would go to that party, and that specific politician who has been ticked off. If the voter chooses not to tick an individual off, the vote goes to the party, and the person who is number 1 on the party’s list. When all the votes are counted, the voters may have defied the choices of the party, and number 1 and 2 on the list, may have been exchanged for number 5 and 12 as the party’s representatives in Parliament.

End the Role of Money in U.S. Politics

As I wrote in my last post, the ability of individuals, corporations and organizations to make large contributions directly to individual politicians is making a mockery of the political process. All such contributions must be made illegal immediately. Period. Political advertising on TV and elsewhere must also be ended, and campaigns should be conducted purely through debates in the media. Each political party would be given a set amount of money from U.S. taxpayers, end of story.

Decrease the Power of the President

There’s really only one appropriate word to describe someone who is head of state, head of government and commander-in-chief: King. No other modern country has this configuration, and for very good reasons. To give one man such vast powers is simply dangerous, and as we have seen during the last 8 years, it can have truly disastrous consequences. However the role of the President would be changed, at least one of the three roles would have to be given to someone else in order to safeguard the country against a semi-dictatorship.

Increase Voter Participation by Practical Means

The main reasons behind the fact that voter turnout is the lowest in the U.S. among all industrialized countries is obviously that there is no point for most people to vote because there is no proportional representation. But there is also large-scale voter-suppression, fraud and other tactics that keep voters away. This must obviously be dealt with mercilessly. In addition, there is a number of practical measures that can be taken to make it easier for people to vote, such as:

- conduct all voting on Sundays

- automatically register every U.S. citizen as a voter on the person’s 18th birthday

- create a national ID card which is sent to every U.S. citizen when the person turns 18

- allow mail-in ballots in every election

- End all electronic voting and create completely uncomplicated, nationally standardized paper ballots

If you agree with me, spread the word. If you disagree with me, leave a comment. (You can also leave a comment if you agree with me)


Billy said...

I like this country you describe. Know where I can find it?

The manifesto is a good starting point, but how does one go about actually enacting such a fundamental change? It's mind boggling even to think of it.

Jacob said...

Thank you for your comment Billy. I have eluded to some strategies before, and I think that the best way to go about it in the U.S. is to build on the political history.

There once was proportional representation in many cities and municipalities, but they were largely gotten rid of by the 1950s. Some important examples are New York City and various parts of Ohio.

I believe it would be possible to enact democratic change on a local level which could then spread over time to the national level. That seems to be one of the few ways to get structural change in this country. You can see this process happening with healthcare today, where the process could be argued to have started locally in Vermont, California and MA.

On another note, the current U.S. system, I believe, is very similar to the semi-democratic systems that existed in Europe in the 19th century, such as the "guilds parliaments", where different sectors of society could send representatives to parliament and gain a small amount of influence, although the nobility and the king always had the last word. The U.S. is not a country of people power, but I believe it is inevitable that it one day will be.

It was once thought to be impossible in many other places, until it was no more.