Urban Agenda -- 21st Century Political Renewal


Reprinted w/permission-Washington Post Writers Group & the artist

Building a pro-city platform and Urban Agenda for the next Presidential campaign & locally.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Proportional voting suggestions in a column by Neal Peirce

Peirce suggests:

1. Proportional voting for representatives.
2. "Three seat" legislative districts.
3. Direct election of the president (dumping the Electoral College).
4. A single six-year term for the President.

By Neal Peirce
Washington Post Writers Syndicate

Can we make it last -- the wave of good feeling, bipartisanship, shared patriotism -- that infused President Ford’s funeral?

For a while, perhaps. One may hope that the ascendant Capitol Hill Democrats will grant the vanquished Republicans some of the minority party rights that dimmed in recent years. Partisans of every stripe may remember, at least for a while, Gerald Ford’s good-humored steadiness, his pragmatic and moderate voice.

But is there any way to diminish the forces that so easily demean our public dialogue -- bitter special interest politics, the corrupting influence of campaign cash, the demonizing of opponents, the lure of attack ads?

Across grassroots America, there are some hints of hope. In Minneapolis, Minn., and Oakland, Calif., in Davis, Calif., and Pierce County, Wash., voters last November approved “instant runoff” or “proportional representation” election measures.

Under instant runoff, voters make their first, second and third choice among candidates for an office. As opposed to “winner take all,” where the leading candidate, even with less than a majority, gets elected, instant runoff allows immediate recounts of voters’ second (or third) choices until there’s a majority count. Because voters’ backup choices are potentially important, narrowly partisan campaigns become bad politics.

Closely allied is the system of proportional voting where several officials get selected from a field in a single district or city. Steven Hill of “FairVote” and others are now recommending three-seat legislative districts both for legislatures and congressional seats.
Maryland does this now. I'm not sure if the way that politics works there is any different.
Illinois used the proportional system to pull a heavily divided state together after the Civil War and until 1980. Voters could cast all their three votes for one candidate, or distribute them as they chose. Result: any candidate who got over 25 percent was likely to win. Republican areas usually had a few Democratic legislators, and vice-versa, making legislative partisanship less acute, bipartisan coalitions commonplace.

In the spirit of Gerald Ford, couldn’t we experiment much more broadly with such alternative systems -- American democracy updated to represent our many voices, races, economic groups, in a 21st century world? The opportunities should be rich, the time ripe, for our 50 state legislatures and local governments to experiment freely and broadly in this field.

Ford, it’s worth noting, was a vigorous, life-long supporter of electoral reform. As minority leader of the U.S. House, he voted for the historic Voting Rights Act in 1965. After the ill-starred 2000 election, he joined with former President Jimmy Carter to co-chair a national commission on electoral reform, laying the groundwork for the 2002 Help America Vote Act. Ford and Carter also recommended making Election Day a national holiday and restoring full voting rights to ex-felons.

For decades, Ford supported abolishing the electoral college and giving the people the right to vote directly for president. Both the American Bar Association and Gallup Polls, he noted on the House floor in 1969, supported a direct vote. “If we do not” adopt a direct vote amendment, said Ford, “it is my honest opinion that the people will be let down.”

As indeed the people were let down in 2000, when the archaic electoral college vote system awarded the presidency to the presidential candidate who trailed his opponent by 539,893 votes in the nationwide count.

There’s another reform we might consider in these times: a single six-year term for president. President Lyndon Johnson’s former press secretary, George Reedy, put me onto the idea some years ago. And while I can’t find any evidence that Gerald Ford supported it, proponents over the years have included the first and greatest Chief Justice, John Marshall, not to mention President Andrew Jackson and statesmen ranging from Henry Clay and Thomas Hart Benton to Everett Dirksen, Mike Mansfield and George Aiken.

Why a six-year term? The incredible challenges of today’s presidency are so great that a Chief Executive should be running for the history books -- not another term.

Nothing can or should take politics out of the presidency: political persuasion is key to gaining national consensus, compelling congressional action, forging global alliances.

But a six-year term should be sufficient to each president to make his (or her) singular contributions. And limiting that person to one term would relieve us of the unseemly spectacle of presidents using and misusing their immense powers to muscle obscene amounts of campaign dollars out of self-interested contributors, or even descending into the depths of Watergate-style abuse.

Think of it this way. With a direct vote for president in 2000, we’d almost surely not be bogged down in the disastrously ill-advised Iraq war. And with a single six-year presidential term, we’d be preparing for the inauguration of a brand new president two weeks from now.


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