Voting, Elections, Democracy, Republicanism, and the Electoral College

Some people believe that the United States of America is a democracy. They believe this because they think that they have the right to vote. However, today, many of these people are wondering how it is possible that, even though Al Gore has won the popular vote, George W. Bush will become President of the United States. People often hear about the Electoral College, and are perplexed by it. Why does it exist? This perplexity is easy to understand. After all, people take time out of their lives to vote. They believe it is their right and duty. This is taught in every school. So how is it that it is actually the Electoral College that chooses the President and Vice-President of the United States?

Suffrage, the right to vote, is like a mirage. You can see something, it looks like suffrage, but when you move closer to examine it, it disappears.

Voting is Not a Right

We have been told over the years, by politicians no less, that voting is our duty, but what is most peculiar is that voting is not our right! The United States Constitution and its Amendments does not explicitly give people the right to vote at all! The original Constitution only allowed the people to vote for the House of Representatives.

"The House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several states, and the electors in each state shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the state legislature." — Article I, Section 2, U.S. Constitution

Of course, this part of the Constitution, given a reasonable construction, gives someone the right to vote. But because the people in each state needed the qualifications that were determined by that state to vote, suffrage, unlike rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights, was not extended to everyone. Even the amendments that have extended the right to vote to blacks, women, and young adults, merely state that their right cannot be denied or abridged because of race, sex, or of any age 18 or older. However, nowhere in the Constitution does it say that the right to vote cannot be denied, as long as it applies to everyone 18 or older. Of course, no politician or government would dare try to eliminate voting, for it is too deeply ingrained in our custom, but it is clear that voting, unlike free speech, is largely controlled, and thereby limited, by the state and federal governments. In fact, the most powerful people in our government are not even elected by the people! Why?

The Founding Fathers Abhorred Tyranny and Populism

Coming from countries ruled by monarchies that had no regard for the people, the founding fathers wanted to ensure thatsuch tyranny could never become established in the United States — thus, the separation of government powers with its legislative, executive, and judicial branches, and limited terms of service and the constant need for re-election — all at the expense of efficiency and effectiveness. In fact, the founding fathers constructed our government with regard to preventing even the smallest possibility of tyranny. However, the founding fathers also didn't want populism. They didn't think the general population had enough intelligence and information to wisely select their government leaders, and thought that they could be misled by, as Alexander Hamilton said, “low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity.” (No doubt Alexander Hamilton would look upon today's political TV advertising with its sound bites and management by media consultants as the very thing he feared!)

Like all governments, the colonies were jealous of their power. The original colonies didn't want to share power with a federal government, making it difficult for the Federalists to create a strong, central government. The Federalists finally convinced the colonies of the need for a central government that was stronger than the previous Confederation, and overcame their resistance by allaying their fear of possible tyranny by providing checks and balances in the federal government, and by granting the states sweeping powers in the election of its chief officers. Thus, the Constitution gave the states the right to decide who could vote for the House of Representatives — they decided that only white men with property could vote. The state legislatures chose the Senators for their respective states. It was only in 1913, that the 17th amendment allowed the people to elect the Senators, with electors needing the same "qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the state legislature," which at that time, meant the electors had to be male. Moreover, the state legislatures chose the electors in the Electoral College, who would then, chose the President and Vice-President of the United States. Nor were the people permitted to elect the members of the Supreme Court, an office that many believe is the most powerful office of all. Thus, the founding fathers constructed a government, through the Constitution, that purported to represent the people, but most people, nonetheless, had no say whatsoever in the new federal government.

Some voting regulations are necessary and desirable. Voters should certainly be United States citizens, and be old enough to understand voting and the issues, but many regulations were unreasonable, preventing most people from voting. Voting has since become more democratic. It took several amendments to the Constitution to extend the vote to most adult citizens. The 15th amendment, adopted 1870, declared that the right to vote in state and federal elections could not be denied because of race, color, or previous servitude. The 19th amendment, adopted 1920, extended suffrage to women, and the 26th amendment, adopted 1971, extended suffrage to everyone 18 years old or older. The 23rd amendment allowed the District of Columbia to appoint electors to the Electoral College, which elects the President. This amendment was necessary because the Constitution specified that only states could select electors. The 24th amendment eliminated taxation as a means to prevent people, particularly the poor and blacks, from voting.

Of course, if voting were a “right,” none of these amendments would have been necessary.

Governments Regulate the Election Environment, Thereby Limiting Both Voters and Voters' Choices

Although most adults can now vote, the “right to vote” is still more restricted than necessary. The governments control the details of the elections, who may qualify as a candidate, and who may vote in what election. While some control is necessary, much of it is unreasonable.

The Constitution and various laws determine which officeholders are elected. The most powerful federal offices are the Presidency, the Supreme Court, the Senate, and the House of Representatives. Of these, the Constitution only allowed the people to elect candidates to the least powerful of these offices, the House of Representatives. Even the allowance to elect House members can be and is manipulated by the states, by drawing the Congressional districts, sometimes in bizarre shapes in a process known as gerrymandering, to favor one political party over another. It took the 17th amendment, passed in 1913, to allow the popular election of Senators. The people still can't elect the President or the justices of the Supreme Court — the most powerful offices in the federal government.

Voting is further restricted to the candidates. While people can vote for anyone, only candidates have any real chance of winning. The foremost factor in limiting candidates is wealth, especially if the candidate is running against an incumbent in Congress. Members of Congress have extensive staffs, supported by taxpayer dollars, which help them get re-elected, by doing research, public relations, and helping constituents with problems. Congressional members also have the franking privilege, giving them free postage to mail out newsletters and advertisements to their constituency. Congress passed laws that made it easy for them to be re-elected, and this is why incumbents win the vast majority of time.

If a candidate runs for President, it helps considerably if the candidate is either Republican or Democratic, because they are entitled to public financing. A third party can get some public funding only if the candidate wins 5% or more of the vote, and they can only get that money after the election is over. Furthermore, Presidential candidates have to run 2 elections, the primaries and the actual Presidential elections. In the past, caucuses, then party conventions, decided who would be candidates, and while the primaries have replaced these undemocratic modes of nominating candidates, primaries increase the need for more money.

Other factors can also restrict voter choice. For instance, third parties have a difficult time getting on the ballot because many signatures must be collected in petitions in a short time well ahead of the election. Many voting booths use levers where whole parties can be selected with one pull. Many voters pull the party levers out of convenience rather than because they actually want all the candidates. This, of course, makes it difficult for candidates not Republican or Democratic, to win.

The Electoral College is a constant reminder that the vote of the people for President of the United States has no legal standing, except insofar as the states allow it, and even then, the electors of the Electoral College are often free to choose whomever they want, even people not on the ballot! While some states do provide penalties for electors who do not vote as pledged, the penalties are minor, their vote is not invalidated, and requiring electors to vote for a certain candidate is clearly unconstitutional, since the founding fathers clearly intended that the electors be free to investigate and choose the best candidates for President and Vice-President (Federalist Paper No. 68, The Mode of Electing the President). Of course, some have argued that maybe there is a legal basis for forcing electors to choose a particular candidate (U.S. Constitution, Article II with Annotations), but then why have electors or ballots? The only reasonable construction for electors and ballots in the Electoral College is that they be free to choose the President and Vice-President.

The Electoral College Elects the President.

The most archaic element of our voting system today is the Electoral College. It could be argued that one reason the Electoral College was set up was that it was difficult for the people to learn about Presidential candidates, since they could live in any part of the country. Most of the news in early America was local. There were no national news organizations, and no means of communication other than by mail and by travelers. So, for example, it would have been difficult for people in Georgia to learn about a candidate from Massachusetts. While this argument seems plausible, it was also true that the founding fathers just didn't trust the judgment of most men, otherwise they would have provided for the direct popular vote of the Senate, where learning about the candidates would have been much less of a problem, since Senatorial candidates had to live in the state that they hoped to represent.

I think a bigger reason the founders established the Electoral College was because the Federalists wanted to sell Federalism to the states, who were obviously reluctant to share their power with a federal government, so the founders gave the states the power to select the electors that elect the President. In addition, by giving even the least populous states a minimum of 3 votes, this would give the smaller states a more proportional influence, which likewise helped to sell the idea to the states. However, the drafters of the Constitution didn't allow the state legislatures to vote for President because they feared that the President, because of his desire for re-election, would be beholden to the state legislatures and would lack independence, and so by creating a college of temporary electors, the electorate's independence could be maintained, and the President wouldn't be able to influence the electors for re-election, because he would have no way of knowing who they were beforehand. Alexander Hamilton argued, in Federalist Number 68, that learned men should elect the President, because they would be most informed and could investigate the candidates for the Presidency. These men constituted the Electoral College. These electors were chosen by however the state legislatures decided, and the number of each state's electors was equal to the number of Senators and House members representing that state. The electors cast their vote in their respective state capitals, and the votes were read to Congress in early January.

The many court battles that were waged by the Bush and Gore campaigns to determine the winner of Florida's 25 electoral votes had created an uncertainty as to whether the court cases would be resolved in time to select Florida's electors to the Electoral College, which had to be done by December 12 to prevent any challenges by Congress. Thus, the Florida legislature prepared to convene a special session to select the electors themselves. Because the Florida legislature is mostly Republican in both houses, they would most certainly select electors for Governor Bush. This caused a furor in much of the state, because people felt it was their right to elect the President, and the state legislature was trying to take it away. However, the fact is, the people never had the right to elect the President! Only the Electoral College can elect the President. Nor did people ever have the right to select the electors to the Electoral College. The U.S. Constitution clearly says that only the state legislatures have that right.

"Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector." — Article II, Section 1, U.S. Constitution

Of course, the states have passed laws that select the electors according to the popular vote, but that is a privilege — not a right — that the states have extended to the people, a privilege that they can revoke anytime. Even so, nearly half of the voters are disfranchised in the 48 states that award all the electoral votes to the winner of that state. If the states selected electors proportionally to the vote, as they should if they want every vote to count — a Gorean chant repeated over and over again by Gore and his supporters — the mess in Florida could have been prevented entirely. Gore would win.

The Electoral College should be Abolished.

The obvious solution to make every vote count is to simply abolish the Electoral College, and let the people elect the President directly. The original arguments for the college are no longer pertinent. With the two-party system that exists today, where the voters really only have two choices for President with any chance of winning, and in a country where almost everyone has some education and much news about all the candidates, there is no need for a special educated electorate. The system rarely worked this way, anyway. With the development of the party system in the early 1800s, the states were selecting electors according to party affiliation, not because of their education. Since, in the early days, party caucuses selected the candidates, it was only reasonable that they followed through with their choice by selecting electors pledged to their candidate. Nowadays, the electors are pledged to a specific candidate according to the popular vote with winner-take-all in 48 states and the District of Columbia.

Disadvantages of the Electoral College

Candidates give big states much greater consideration than smaller states. Although the electoral vote per person is highest in the smallest states (because no state, no matter how sparsely populated, has less than 2 Senators and 1 House member, and therefore is entitled to 3 electoral votes), the winner-takes-all-electoral-votes system emplaced in every state except Nebraska and Maine, nullifies any advantage this may have had in the past, and forces candidates to concentrate on the largest states, catering to their desires.

A candidate can win the Electoral College vote while losing the popular vote, as has happened with John Quincy Adams in 1824, Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, and Benjamin Harrison in 1888, and in Election 2000, with Gore winning the popular vote, but Bush winning the Electoral College votes, and therefore the Presidency.

The electors are free to choose anyone for President and Vice-President, including people who are not even on the ballot. Although there have been only 12 “unfaithful” electors in American history, the current election can tempt some electors to switch their votes from Gore to Bush or vice versa. A possible scenario: With Florida, Bush has 271 electoral votes to Gore's 267, and since 270 votes are needed to win the Presidency, Bush should become President, even though Gore won the popular vote. But suppose when the electors actually cast their vote, 3 of the electors, hoping for a place in history, or because they are disgruntled by the way Bush won, switched their votes to Gore. Then Al Gore would be elected President rather than Bush whom everyone was expecting. While this may not be a bad result since Gore did win the popular vote, this, nonetheless, points out a glaring defect in the Electoral College, in that the electors are free to choose whomever they please, not the people. Furthermore, because millions of dollars are released to the winning candidate for the transition to office almost immediately after the election, much of that money would be wasted if the Electoral College decided to choose someone else for President, since they actually cast their vote in December, a month and a half after the election.

A third party has virtually no chance of winning the Presidency. For instance, in 1992, Ross Perot won 19% of the popular vote against Bill Clinton and George Bush, but no electoral votes.

So why has the Electoral College lasted for so many years? Since the Electoral College was established by the Constitution, it will take a constitutional amendment to change it. That means 2/3 of the Senate and the House must vote for it, then it must be ratified by ¾ of the states. A proposed constitutional amendment for the direct election of the President failed to pass the Senate in 1970 and 1979. Even if Congress does pass it, large states will probably oppose it because the college gives them a greater importance than they would otherwise have with their winner-take-all awarding of electoral votes. Ironically, the least populous states would probably oppose it because the Electoral College gives them a greater than proportional influence.

Better Voting Systems

Voting would be a better means to democracy or republicanism, if the system itself were better. Many people in the hotly contested presidential race in Florida are complaining that their vote was not counted, or that, because of the confusing layout of the butterfly ballots, they voted for Pat Buchanan instead of Al Gore, or they realized their mistake and selected Al Gore on the same ballot instead of getting a new ballot, thereby casting a vote for Buchanan and Gore for President. Ballots with 2 or more candidates selected for President are automatically disqualified. Al Gore is also contending that many votes were not counted, because no vote was cast for President on many of the ballots. This may have resulted because these voters didn't want to vote for any candidate for President, or the ballots were dimpled instead of punched through, causing the machines not to read the vote. There was much argument about whether dimpled ballots should be counted, and if so, what standard should be used to read voter intent? If most of the ballots in Florida and the rest of the United States were counted using only machines, is it fair to give some of the mostly Democratic southern counties in Florida a more intense scrutiny — in effect, applying a different standard in counting the votes?

Why Florida is using 1960's technology for vote counting is baffling, but it is this very technology that is causing most of the problems in Florida. An interactive electronic system would eliminate virtually every problem Florida is experiencing today. If an interactive system couldn't read a vote, it would alert the voter right away, while he was still there, in real time. If the voter selected two candidates for the same office, such as happened with at least 19,000 votes in southern Florida where the voter selected two candidates for President, thereby disqualifying her vote, an interactive system would alert the voter right away, or better yet, not even allow more than one vote for each office. Furthermore, the ballot layout can be plain and clear, since there would be no need to try to fit all the candidates onto a few sheets of paper. Indeed, voters could have greater control over the layout, such as the ability to enlarge the fonts on the ballot, if they couldn't see it clearly enough. There would be no need to read dimples, and there would be no need, ever, for a recount. And many people would be able to vote from home, on the Internet, which would encourage more people to vote, and shorten the lines at public voting kiosks for those people who don't have Internet access at home. Digital signatures could even eliminate the need to register, which is another major deterrent to voting.

This whole system would be much cheaper than the present system, at least in the long run, since there would be no need to read, handle, store, or transport ballots. Everything would be stored electronically. Indeed, the amount of money being spent recounting the votes by hand, and waging court battles in Florida and the United States Supreme Court to determine the outcome for President could easily pay for an interactive, electronic voting system in Florida.

Some people have expressed concern about the digital divide. They fear that online voting will only increase it. That Internet voting systems will benefit some and hinder others is no argument against it. While some argue that blacks and poor people who don't have computers will be less likely to vote in an electronic system, there is nothing to prevent them from going to public electronic voting polls just as they do today with the present technology. Additionally, if people are not comfortable with technology, mail-in ballots can also be used, which Oregon made good use of in Election 2000. 75% of the voters in Thurston County, Washington voted by using mail-in ballots in the last 3 elections.

While many people argue that there are many problems with electronic voting, particularly security, none of these problems are insurmountable, and most problems will be solved permanently as electronic voting is used more and more in the future — an inevitability. If shopping, banking, and trading stocks online are doable, certainly voting is, also. Electronic voting can and will work. For a complete report, including many details about electronic voting, by the California Internet Voting Task Force (original source: https://www.sos.ca.gov/ivote/, no longer available). Thurston County, Washington has recently conducted an online voting trial. For the complete report, including sample electronic forms, see https://www.co.thurston.wa.us/auditor1/. The vast majority of voters in Thurston County who used online voting liked it better than the older methods. Electronic voting will happen. There are simply too many advantages to it over the old systems. An electronic voting system could have entirely negated the need for recounts and legal maneuvers in Florida's Election 2000.

A Better Democracy

How, then, can democracy be made to work better?

Most People Shouldn't Vote!

Not vote? It sounds un-American. During every election, people are urged to vote. The importance of voting is taught in every school. Some European countries even require it by law. But people should not vote if they don't know what the issues are, or if they don't know anything about all the candidates running for that office; otherwise how can one vote intelligently? Unintelligent voting is worse than not voting at all! Unfortunately, most voters are ignorant of both the candidates and the issues, and thus, television advertising, with its sound bites, billboard presentation of the issues, and personal attacks sways the outcome of manyh elections. Certainly, this is no way to elect the best candidate. Increasingly, tax dollars finance a large part of this very expensive form of advertising. Public financing of elections usually benefits only Democrats or Republicans, further restricting voter choice.

Governments should end public financing of elections, and support voting websites, such as Project Vote Smart, that enable people to vote intelligently. These voting sites can be supported in proportion to their popularity. If more people use a particular site, then that site should receive more funds, since it is serving more of the people, and presumably doing a better job. Doing it this way would promote competition among the various sites to serve the public more effectively, and would eliminate any government control over the process.

Knowledgeable People Should Vote on the Issues

Many candidates elected to office believe they have a mandate. They believe this because they were campaigning about specific issues, and because they were elected to office, they therefore conclude that the people were approving the candidate's stand on the issues. This is true many times, but how can the candidates really know what the people want? Most people are mainly concerned with one thing or only a few things at most. One voter may believe that Americans have the right to bear arms, and will support a candidate, let's call him Candidate Gun, that supports that position, and maybe that's the only thing he cares about. Another person might vote for his opponent because he believes in gun control. Maybe the opponent hasn't taken a stand on gun control, but maybe the voter feels strongly enough about gun control that voting for Candidate Gun's opponent will lessen the probability that Candidate Gun will be elected to office. Another voter might vote for Candidate Gun because he is against abortion. Another voter may vote for Candidate Gun simply because he is Republican or maybe because he is not a Democrat. Another voter may know nothing at all about Candidate Gun, but selected him because the voter, confused by all the issues and candidates and not having enough time to really learn about either, pulled the Republican party lever. That is one of the main functions of parties, isn't it? To provide a uniform platform, to keep the choices simple, so that people can select Democrat or Republican.

The solution is to have the people vote on the issues as well as the candidates, not necessarily as a referendum, such as they have in California, but as a way to obtain a clearer picture of what the people actually want. Electronic voting, particularly Internet voting, could make polling on the issues easier, and it could be done more frequently. Do Americans really support abortion or not? Have the people vote directly on the issue for a clear answer. Indeed, while many people are not very enthusiastic about the candidates, which is one of the causes of low voter turnout, they may very well be more passionate about the issues, and allowing them to vote on the issues directly may motivate more people to vote. While society is too complex today to have people participate directly in government, as a true democracy is usually defined, it is certainly possible to poll the people from time to time about general issues and directions that the government should be taking. Indeed, people should vote directly on all constitutional amendments. Why let such an important vote to the states? The states merely represent the people, or so it is supposed, and this representation is imperfect at best, and at worst, diametrical. Such a flagrant flaw can be removed by having the people vote directly on constitutional amendments, and thus allow a truly democratic participation in a truly important foundation of our government. The Electoral College is a good example of a diametric representation of the people. The states oppose eliminating the Electoral College, because it gives them greater power than if the people elected the President directly. The states wouldn't be able to play games that allow, for instance, the winning Presidential candidate to take all the electoral votes of that state, even if the candidate won by only one vote, thereby disfranchising half of that state's voters. A candidate wouldn't become President by winning the Electoral College while losing the popular vote as Bush just did. It's a safe bet that the people would vote to eliminate this archaic institution in an instant, if they were permitted to do so. This can move society closer to a true democracy than it has ever been.

The Internet Can Enhance Elections Immeasurably

The Internet can be far more than just an effective voting system. It can be a complete reference to the whole process of voting, where one or more websites can offer people complete information about anything they need to know to vote intelligently. Information is both necessary and sufficient to vote intelligently. Nowadays, the main avenue of information for voters is news and advertisements. News is fragmentary and incomplete, because there was limited space in most news media and because the purpose of news is to inform about current happenings that would interest the public in an entertaining way, eliminating important details. It is difficult to follow an extended event because virtually every news article about the event would have to be read as it happened. This fragmentation also makes it difficult to find specific information because the information is spread over many articles published at various times. Advertisements are a bad way to get information, because they are biased, brief, narrow, and costly. An expensive system benefits wealthier, but not necessarily more qualified, candidates. A voting website can have all the information any voter would need in one place, in a format that allows finding specific information, and comparing candidates and issues much easier, and such a distribution of information would be free to the candidates, because the cost of publishing and distribution is virtually zero, and because the voting websites would compete amongst themselves to be the most complete repository of information.

While most candidates today do have websites, many people, especially those not technically inclined, have difficulty finding these sites, especially when there are many candidates to consider. Having one or more voting sites, with complete information and easy navigation within the site, and an easy URL to remember will make finding information faster and easier.

Voting can only be as good as the list of candidates. The number of candidates obviously must be limited, so that voters are not overwhelmed, but unfortunately, the main limiting factors are money and party affiliation. What these factors have in common is that neither has anything to do with how well the candidate will be able to perform his duties in office. When a business looks at job applicants, it considers the applicants' experience and education, and the business may even test applicants for skills pertinent to the job. Shouldn't we be doing the same thing with political candidates? Why not develop standardized tests for each political office that would best test the candidates' understanding of that office, and their ability to perform the duties of that office? Voting websites could present the results of such tests in a format allowing easy comparison by voters. Complete backgrounds on each of the candidates can be added, to assess more general qualities, such as experience, education, and personal attributes. A voting website could have a database of news article links for more independent information. A popular voting site could design a standardized test for each office, and offer it to the candidates, with the results — including if they refused the test — posted on the site. This would motivate the candidates to really learn about the office and its duties, and maybe even develop the necessary skills required by that office. Certainly, this would be a better criterion to judge candidates than the current system, where many voters just pull the party lever, or vote the way their parents did. It would help to elect competent candidates, who may even have new ideas beyond maintaining the status quo, thus, helping to eliminate a mediocracy.

A voting website could also have tutorials on every issue, including dissenting opinions, possibly by the candidates themselves. Pertinent experts should write these tutorials in language comprehensible to most people. Various experts can also comment about various candidate strategies, pointing out flagrant flaws or advantages. This would help to prevent candidates espousing solutions that may have voter appeal, but aren't realistic or effective, and it would help voters to realize that many popular solutions are not the best solutions, or even realistic ones.

Project Vote Smart, at https://www.vote-smart.org/, is a voting website that, although it doesn't have all the advantages listed above, simplifies intelligent voting significantly. For instance, enter your 9-digit zip code into its search engine and get a list of all the state and federal candidates that you can vote for. This site also has a database of the candidates with their views on particular subjects, making it easy to compare one candidate with another, and a searchable database of public statements made by the candidates. Although this site is limited now — it doesn't include local elections, for instance — it is easy to see how such a site can grow to the point, where virtually every candidate will want to use it.

Conclusion

A better democracy can be achieved in several ways.

  1. Institute electronic voting.
  2. Support voting websites that can educate the electorate about the candidates and the issues more effectively than any other medium.
  3. Allow the people to vote for the most important offices directly, including the Presidency, the Vice-Presidency, and the justices of the Supreme Court. There is no good reason to have an electoral college today. The reasons for its existence have been negated long ago. People should elect the President directly as they should the Vice-Presidency for the obvious reason that he may one day be President. Presidents often choose their Vice-Presidents as lesser people of themselves, at least in their own minds, because they don't want the Vice-President outshining them, and they want them to be agreeable to their policies. However, it's not in the people's interest to have a Vice-President that is less competent than the President, and it certainly wouldn't hurt if the Vice-President were more independent, so that the President can consider different views, even if those views are repugnant to him. The Supreme Court justices are extremely powerful people, so why let the President pick them? The justices should have a long term, but not for life. Although the courts can check the power of the executive and legislative branches of the government, there is no real check on the power of the Supreme Court. Forcing them to run for re-election would help to make them more responsive to the people.
  4. Allow the people to vote on the issues, giving elected officials a clear mandate.
  5. No government or agency should ever be secret, unless it is necessary. There is no way for the people to judge the government unless they can know what the government is doing. This should be a constitutional amendment, so that no government can pass laws to frustrate the attempts of the people to know what the government is doing.
  6. The people should vote on constitutional amendments directly, and there should be a straightforward method of putting amendments on the ballot, rather than letting Congress and special interests decide. A good possibility is having an official website that allows anyone to put up a possible amendment, and have the people with a digital signature, to avoid fraud, vote for the best ones. Possible amendments with a specified minimum of votes would be put on the ballot. Because constitutional amendments are so fundamental to our government, I believe this is one of the best ways that true democracy can be practiced, in spite of the complexity of issues and governments today.

Finally, government sovereignty should be eliminated. With central databases containing information on every citizen, and electronic money soon coming, allowing the government to gain more information about everyone in the country in unprecedented detail by examining their financial transactions, the government will be more powerful than ever. Do we really want such a government to be sovereign? The government serves the people — not otherwise. In direct contrast to the opinions of our courts, people are sovereign, not governments. The governments are merely corporations that should serve the needs of the people. And like business corporations, their organization and activities should serve the people best at the least cost. The government should never be permitted to limit the liberty or put undue burdens on the people, unless the government can show that such an infringement or burden would benefit the people more than it would hurt them.

Government by the people, for the people, to the people. Amen.

References

1) U.S. Constitution, Article II with Annotations

News

Report of the National Workshop on Internet Voting: Issues and Research Agenda — March, 2001

UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA STUDENTS VOTE ONLINE — The University of Oklahoma at Norman saw voter participation in its student elections increase 20 percent this year after it introduced a new Web-based voting system. Of the university's 20,000 full-time students, about 35 percent voted over a two-day period in March. Students could vote from their own computers or at university computer labs and polling stations, using their network ID and passwords to log on to the system. The voting system let the students vote only for those offices for which they were eligible to vote and provided real-time vote-counting updates. Results were known as soon as the polls closed. Usually, campus officials said, tallying takes seven to eight hours. The university will make its software available for download, at no cost, next fall. (Chronicle of Higher Education, 4 May 2001) — from the Edupage newsletter, April 30, 2001

A number of newspapers recounted the Florida ballots. Bush would have won if the 2 most widely used standards were used to recount the ballots. Gore would have won if more liberal standards were used. Electronic voting would eliminate arbitrary standards. Either a vote would be registered or it wouldn't, and the voter could review her votes right away, to verify that the machine accurately recorded them.

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