What now, America?

Amidst controversy and divisiveness, America voted on November 6. Democrats won a decisive victory in the US House and in state legislatures. Republicans solidified their majority in the US Senate. An unfit president declared victory, for reasons that defy reason.

Is the country now better off, because of the checks and balances newly in place? Or are we instead on the verge of an acrimonious and paralyzing gridlock, with unpredictable consequences? Only time will tell.

But we need no more time to recognize that our electoral and governing processes require urgent rethinking. Consider that:

  • Only 49 percent of eligible voters actually voted, and that is higher than in any other mid-term election since 1966. Why is one of every two Americans willing to let others choose for them?
  • We had a mostly binary (Republican or Democrat) choice, despite over 40 percent of the electorate being registered in neither party. Shouldn’t we make more parties electorally viable, to capture the plurality of views of our citizens?
  • Collectively, campaigns spent over $5 billion dollars. Shouldn’t ideas, not money, be the currency to earn votes?
  • Since 1964, in each election for the House at least 85 percent of incumbents were re-elected. Since 1982, at least 75 percent of incumbent Senators were re-elected each time. Shouldn’t we better balance established and new perspectives?

Now, imagine a future where:

  • Generous public funding was available for campaigning; campaign periods were short; and political advertising was not allowed (or strictly regulated) on radio, TV and social media—roughly as in Norway, a country with high voter turnout
  • No one could be elected without receiving 50 percent of the votes, plus one—as in Maine’s rank voting system
  • The voting process was made easier and more convenient—as in Oregon’s vote-by-mail model
  • Term limits existed for all branches of government
  • A population-based tiered system determined the number of Senate seats per state (balancing equal people’s and equal state’s representation)
  • The popular vote, rather than the Electoral College, determined the US President
  • Issues of exceptional significance could be brought directly to the voters through national referendum.

Each of these changes would have major and likely positive implications. One could reasonably expect that:

  • Multiple parties would become viable, ending an unproductive and divisive political duopoly
  • Parties would be forced to govern through alliances, encouraging more consensus-based legislation
  • The influence of money on election outcomes would dwindle, and with it the influence of special interests
  • Power would be less concentrated in professional politicians, and government would better reflect and be more responsive to our collective views
  • Voter turnout would increase, as people became more vested in the process
  • Every vote would count equally in choosing our President.

Any changes in our electoral and governing processes would face formidable obstacles—some through the self-serving resistance of the two major parties, others emanating legitimately from our democratic process, our Constitution, and the autonomy of our states.

Yet, do we truly have a choice? The Founding Fathers had a remarkable vision for a government by and for the people. But nearly a quarter millennium has passed. The country, and the world, changed. The enabling systems for our Democracy are obsolete, and every new election proves it, again and again.

We have the need and moral imperative to seek electoral and governing systems better adapted to the evolving reality of our society. Will we have the necessary courage, drive and skill?

— Antonio Baptista

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