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"Voter Bill of Rights" an Idea Whose Time Has Come?

Posted by Pete Healey on January 21, 2013 at 4:15 PM Comments comments (5)

Voter Bill of Rights

From unreliable electronic voting machines and millions of uncounted ballots, to partisan election officials and 10-hour waits at the polls, it is clear that our electoral system is in dire need of an overhaul. To build a more just, secure, and robust democracy, please support the following 10-point Voter Bill of Rights:

1. Pass a Constitutional Amendment Confirming the Right to Vote

Most Americans believe that the "legal right to vote" in our democracy is explicit, not just implicit, in our federal Constitution. In fact, the federal Constitution recognizes each state’s guarantee of voting rights, and furthermore, guarantees equal protection of those rights. Additionally, the federal Constitution provides for elections for the U.S. House and Senate, and repeated amendments to the Constitution have affirmed that the right to vote belongs to all citizens regardless of race (15th Amendment) or sex (19th Amendment), and to all citizens over the age of eighteen (26th).

Despite two centuries in which the right to vote has been affirmed and expanded as a constitutional right, the U.S. system of elections still does not adequately protect voting rights. Indeed, Justice Scalia in Bush v. Gore claimed that, "the individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for electors for the President of the United States." (Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98, 104 (2000)). Because the Supreme Court, election administrators, and elected officials have, for the most part, proven themselves unable or unwilling to implement the reforms required to protect American voting rights, we must work to adopt a federal constitutional amendment confirming every citizen's right to vote.

2. Guarantee a Voter-Marked Paper Ballot for All Voting

Every voting system in the United States must be equipped to facilitate a permanent, visible record of every vote cast, and to honor the right of the voter to mark their own ballot themselves. The public is the only realistic check on vote counts, because elections determine the composition of government itself; those in power cannot be trusted to count or process -- unsupervised -- the very ballots by which they came to office. The acid test for a free people is the guaranteed right to remove incumbents at will, especially criminal incumbents, from office. Any system that allows secret and therefore unaccountable vote counting is unacceptable because it denies the right to vote and to “kick the bums out” at precisely the moment when that right is needed the most.

3. Replace Partisan Oversight with Non-Partisan Election Commissions

It is time to overhaul our federal, state, and local election agencies to guarantee fair elections. We must replace the current system of partisan election administration, in which partisan secretaries of state, county clerks, election commissioners, and other partisan officials are able to issue rulings that favor their own political parties and themselves, with a non-partisan, independent system of running elections. We must end the practice of contracting out fundamental election functions, such as the maintenance of voter lists, to private corporations. We must also insure that independent international and domestic election observers are given full access to monitor our elections.

4. Celebrate Democracy: Make Election Day a National Holiday

Working people should not be forced to choose between exercising their right to vote and getting to work on time. While the laws of 30 states guarantee the right to take time off from work to vote, many workers and employers are unaware of these laws. Holding national elections on a national holiday will greatly increase the number of available poll workers and polling places and increase overall turnout, while making it much easier for working Americans to go to the polls. Election Day is already a holiday in Puerto Rico in presidential election years, and many Puerto Ricans celebrate and make Election Day a fun and festive party with a purpose. It's time for the United States to follow Puerto Rico's lead.

5. Make it Easier to Vote

Many citizens are discouraged from voting by unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles and restrictions. We must simplify and rationalize voter registration so that no one is again disenfranchised for failing to check a superfluous box, as occurred this year in Florida, or for not using heavy enough paper, as nearly occurred in Ohio. We must require voter registrars to sign affidavits promising to submit any registrations in their possession in a timely manner. We must eliminate police intimidation, language, physical disability, extra-legal requirements of personal identification, and other barriers to voting. To ensure that all qualified voters are able to vote, we must follow the lead of states like Minnesota and Wisconsin by replacing restrictive voter residency requirements with same-day voter registration, allowing qualified voters to register at the polls on Election Day itself.

Our current system forces millions of voters to wait up to ten hours to vote. This is unacceptable, and it disenfranchises those who cannot afford to wait. To increase access to the polls, all states must provide sufficient funding for enough early voting and election-day polling places to guarantee smooth and speedy voting. To ensure equal access and minimize the wait at the polls, election authorities must allocate resources based upon the number of potential voters per precinct. We must put an end to the government-backed practice of allowing partisan activists to challenge the voting rights of individual voters at the polls. Instead, the government must invest in campaigns designed to educate voters about how they can exercise and protect their right to vote.

6. Count Every Vote!

Voters must know that their vote will count and make a difference. Every recent presidential election has been marred by the discounting millions of spoiled, under-vote, over-vote, provisional and absentee ballots. This discounting of votes has disproportionately impacted people of color, especially African Americans, and is a fundamental voting rights and racial justice problem. Election officials must ensure that every voting precinct and wards is adequately staffed with sufficiently trained personnel and professional supervision; that old and unreliable voting machines are replaced; that absentee ballots are mailed with a sufficient time for delivery; that every ballot, including provisional ballots, are counted; and that provisional ballots count for statewide and federal contests regardless of where the vote is cast. Election officials should wait until after any recounts have been completed to provide final certification of election results.

7. Implement Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) and Proportional Representation (PR)

We must replace our current "first-past-the-post" system with Instant Runoff Voting (IRV). Unlike our current system, which forces voters to reject their preferred candidate in favor of a "lesser evil" who may have a better chance of defeating the candidate they most fear, IRV allows them to choose both. In this way, it eliminates the so-called "spoiler" and "wasted vote" effects and gives voters a more democratic set of choices. Under IRV, voters simply rank candidates in order of their preference (first, second, etc.). If a candidate wins a majority of first choice votes, that candidate is the winner. If no candidate gets a majority of first choices, the lowest vote-getting candidate is eliminated, and his/her votes are given to the candidates whom the supporters of the eliminated candidate chose as their second option. Counting continues until one candidate has received a majority. IRV therefore not only allows voters to voice their real preferences; it also ensures that the will of the true majority, not a mere plurality, produces the winner of each election. In addition, IRV makes it possible to conduct the runoff count without the need for a separate and expensive runoff election. Instant Runoff Voting has been used successfully around the world, including Ireland, Australia, and most recently, San Francisco.

The right of representation belongs to all citizens. Our winner-take-all elections award representation to the largest factions and leave everyone else, often the majority, unrepresented. The winner-take-call system unnecessarily restricts choice, polarizes politics and limits political discourse. We must adopt Proportional Representation (PR) for legislative elections to ensure the fair representation of all voters. Millions of Democrats in Republican areas and Republicans in Democratic areas are unrepresented in our system, and the majority of Greens, Libertarians, and other independents are unrepresented at all levels of government. Our system should provide fair representation to all voters, in proportion to their numbers.

8. Replace Big Money Control With Public Financing and Equal Air-Time

In a system where the amount of money a candidate spends is directly related to their likelihood of winning, it is not surprising that voters think politicians are more concerned with big campaign contributors than with individual voters. We must follow Maine's lead by establishing a nationwide system of full public financing for all ballot-qualified candidates. We must require the broadcasting corporations that license our public airwaves to provide airtime for debates, and free time for all ballot-qualified candidates and parties.

9. Guarantee Equal Access to the Ballot and Debates

In our current electoral system, independent parties and candidates face a host of barriers designed to limit voter choice and voice. Ballot access laws and debates specifically designed to exclude independent party candidates discourage voting and undermine the legitimacy of our elections. In most cases, the established parties have never themselves met the signature requirements they impose on independent parties. We must eliminate prohibitive ballot access requirements, and replace the partisan Commission on Presidential Debates with a non-partisan Citizens Debate Commission.

10. Abolish Electoral College, Enfranchise Ex-Offenders, Enact Statehood for the District of Columbia

It is time to end the safe state/battleground state dichotomy and make all votes equal, no matter the state of the voter. We must amend the Federal Constitution to replace election of the President by the Electoral College with direct election by the voters. At the same time, for so long as the Electoral College persists, we must amend our state laws and constitutions to allocate each state's electors to the winner of the national popular vote.

The permanent disenfranchisement of former felons, a practice that falls outside of international or even U.S. norms, is an unreasonable and dangerous penalty that weakens our democracy by creating a subclass of four million excluded American citizens. The practice has also been used to purge voter lists of hundreds of thousands of citizens never convicted of any felony. Because the criminal justice system disproportionately penalizes African American males, this disenfranchisement is racist in its impact and is constitutionally suspect. Those states that permanently disenfranchise felons must amend their laws and practices to restore full citizenship to ex-offenders.

It is also time to end the disenfranchisement of the over half million Americans who reside in the District of Columbia. D.C. residents deserve the same political rights enjoyed by citizens of our nation's fifty states, namely full voting representation in both houses of the U.S. Congress, as well as legislative, budgetary, and judicial sovereignty. Washington D.C. is the only existing majority African American federal jurisdiction, and thus, the denial of D.C. voting rights is inherently racist. Furthermore, the denial of D.C. voting rights cannot be defended on the basis of population size; the majority white State of Wyoming has a smaller population. It is time to grant statehood to the District of Columbia.

Even the "Independence" Party Has Become a Dependent Party

Posted by Pete Healey on January 5, 2013 at 8:15 PM Comments comments (0)

The following link takes you to a story about how the Independence Party of New York State has become almost completely dependent on the two major parties. Though they veer from one to the other in a haphazard way, more than 90% of the candidates on this party's ballot line are actually major party candidates.

More evidence, if you still needed it, that a proportional election system is the only way out of this two party impasse.

http://www.ballot-access.org/2013/01/03/new-york-independence-party-leaned-toward-republican-nominees-in-2012/#comments

Barely 60% Turnout in New York in Presidential Election

Posted by Pete Healey on December 31, 2012 at 9:15 PM Comments comments (0)

     It took them two months and they're only the 49th state in the nation to finalize their election results but hey, whaddaya 'spect?!!? This is New York!

Here is a link to the unhappy story about how only 7 million out of 11.5 million registered voters in New York even bothered to show up and be counted.

http://www.ballot-access.org/2012/12/31/new-york-state-posts-final-2012-election-returns-tally-presidential-vote-increases-by-400332-votes/

Shelly Silver Still in Charge in Albany!

Posted by Pete Healey on December 28, 2012 at 6:30 AM Comments comments (1)

 

The following is an enlarged "tweet" from my local daily paper, the Kingston Freeman, introducing new legislation from the Speaker of the NY State Assembly. Two provisions, one for limited early voting, and the other for limited financial disclosure, are each poor substitutes for the election system reform and campaign finance reform that are sorely needed in "the most dysfunctional state government in the country". But whadja 'spect from a man who should have retired years ago?

     Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver introduced legislation to allow New Yorkers to vote up to two weeks before Election Day, and to change state law forcing more disclosure of political spending. Silver, a Manhattanite who leads the Democrats that dominate the chamber, said Thursday that he would advance the measures during next year’s legislative session. He said each measure would “give New York’s voters a far stronger voice and help level the playing field in the electoral process.” The first bill, co-sponsored by Staten Island Assemblyman Mike Cusick, a Democrat who chairs the Election Law Committee, would require each county to establish at least five sites for early voting and open them each of the 14 days leading up to the November election. That includes the weekend. The hope is to boost voter turnout. Currently, New Yorkers can only vote in person from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Election Day, or by filling out an absentee ballot if they have a reasonable belief they’ll be unable to get the polls. Thirty-two other states, including Florida and Ohio, have some form of early voting. The second measure would force disclosure of political advertising and vote-getting efforts not coordinated with any given candidate, so-called “independent expenditure” campaigns. They are a growing force in New York elections: New York State United Teachers spent over $4 million to boost mostly Democratic candidates in 2012, and two downstate Super PACs spent over $500,000 supporting Duanesburg Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk’s bid for state Senate. Just before Election Day, the State Board of Elections ruled that this spending only needs to be disclosed if it contains “magic words” that clearly direct voters to support or oppose a candidate. This standard did prompt disclosure by NYSUT and the pro-Tkaczyk PACs, but it is loser than definitions governing federal campaigns and elections in New York City. Silver’s bill would set the definition for state races more broadly, so that any campaign that is the “functional equivalent” of direct advocacy is required to disclose its spending and major donors. “Too often we are subjected to third party political advertisements that clearly advocate for or against a candidate,” said Cusick. “However, under the current system, the funding sources behind some of these advertisements are unknown. All candidates are subject to disclosure requirements, therefore it is time for us to close this loophole and make all involved in the political process accountable for the messages they send to the electorate.” Scott Reif, a spokesman for Republicans who control the Senate, said they would review the bill.

 

David Randolph of Sunnyvale, California!

Posted by Pete Healey on December 16, 2012 at 2:55 PM Comments comments (0)

The New York Times today published several letters in response to a call for new third parties that might, tongue in cheek, be useful in the U.S. today. Most of the responses were as silly as the originall call but this one caught our eye:

 

 

A democratic structure that allows for multiple parties could serve to introduce fresh ideas and marginalize ideologues. But we will not develop a multiparty system simply by wishing for it or by coming up with a catchy name.

We have a two-party system because our representatives are elected on the basis of winner-take-all districts, rather than proportional representation. Under our vote-counting structure it is nearly impossible for a new party to test out new ideas, winning a small number of seats at first and expanding its representation if the voters approve of its positions.

Under a multiparty system the Tea Party would hold perhaps 5 percent of the seats in Congress, the Evangelical Party another 5 percent perhaps, and let’s say the Business Party might attract 25 percent. Other groups on the right and the left would fill out the seats.

Under such a system Mitt Romney would have been able to stand his ground as a leader of the Business Party in the primaries and would not have needed to constantly flip-flop and pander to the far right. For the general election, Mr. Romney might have formed a coalition with the far right and lost, or he might have succeeded in forming a coalition with a center-left party, possibly unseating President Obama.

Our two-party system is not God-given. It is time to change how we count votes and to end the despotism of dysfunction.

DAVID RANDOLPH

Sunnyvale, Calif., Dec. 12, 2012

 

 

Is It True? Will the Democrats Win the Senate and Lose it Before the Legislature Convenes?

Posted by Pete Healey on November 13, 2012 at 8:20 PM Comments comments (0)

Is it true? Have the State Senate Democrats screwed up yet again? Have they won a majority of the seats but lost control because of defections? Who picked these candidates?

The Next Moment in Our Evolution

Posted by Pete Healey on November 13, 2012 at 8:10 PM Comments comments (0)

     We are still committed to the principle of proportional elections and have spent considerable time over the last five years of our existence in holding our tongues on partisan issues in favor of respect and tolerance for all views and ideologies. We're now done with that and while we'll do our best to continue our attitude of respect and tolerance for all points of view while expressing our own in a programmatic way.

 

                                                                  'GREEN 47' MANIFESTO

WHO WE ARE AND WHAT WE WANT

Political renewal in the U.S. is nearly impossible now, that's clear. The two major parties have successfully marginalized all independent poltical activity from the right and left, and the lap dog mass media complies without question or interference. The Occupy movement was hardly a force in the most recent campaign since most of its organizing has disappeared and the Democrats have co-opted some of its rhetoric. What was missing from the Occupy movement was the reality that the 99% can be divided into two distinct groups, the ' working class ' as the 47% and the ' middle class ' as the other 52%. Of course these are rough approximations but with Mitt Romney's now infamous remarks about the 47% and his characterization of them as the lowest class in the society this is a good place to draw a line, to make the point. The 1% has its liberals (Democrats) and its conservatives (Republicans) and the next 52% seem comfortable with and well-adjusted to those two choices. The 47% however are a different matter. Most of them just won't play along, or participate. In this election as in the last, several million of these 47%-ers waited in long lines at the polls and provided the margin of victory for a President who never once spoke to them, and against a challenger who only slandered them.

None of the existing major or minor parties to the left or the right, make a priority out of appealling to the 47%. What follows is a short-term agenda that works " from the bottom up " to raise the stakes on both liberals and conservatives, and on the upper 53% as a whole. It's our hope that the latest election results show conclusively that the existing electoral system and its two unhealthy party structures are not part of the solution, and that the way out begins with a strategy that engages some of the 60 or 70 million 47%-ers who don't vote. Here are several proposals that appeal directly to those who are most affected by ' The Crisis ' that is now well into its fifth year:

- Establish a public jobs program to help clean up and rebuild the East Coast, bringing hundeds of thousands of jobs to the unemployed on the East Coast, providing relief and reconstruction aid to the people of the region.

- Demand that the federal government strike a " Grand Bargain " over marijuana with those states that have already approved measures to legalize it and bring policy proposals for national legislation to stop the arrrest and incarceration of non-violent drug offenders, and especially marijuana users.

- Enact a three year suspension of interest payments on student loans for all of those with outstanding balances. This measure would give relief to young people struggling to make ends meet and the banks would be returning the favor that this government provided just four years ago in the form of multi-billion dollar bailouts.

- Raise the federal minimum wage by $1 per hour each year for the next three years.

- The Affordable Healthcare Act leaves many without insurance or access to health care(estimates put the number at 25-30 million), and of course the greatest number of those not covered are 47%-ers. States must be required to close the loopholes and fill the gaps so that insurance coverage is universal, as they begin to construct their so-called ' health care exchanges ' to implement this federal legislation.

- The financial collapse in the housing industry was caused in large part by a government policy to foster home ownership without any regulation or oversight of the mortgage industry which took advantage of and deceived 47%-ers, and even some middle class people who may now have become 47%-ers! Debt forgiveness should be the watchword for the government in these cases just as it has been the watchword for the financial institutions!

- To help pay for these measures we need only to look to the Defense Department which has become a a profit center for the 1%, a public jobs program for the 52%, and a killing field for the 47%. It's time to make major cuts in a military that spends more than the rest of the world's military budgets combined (and yes the President was deceiving us in his last debate when he claimed that the defense budget was larger than the next ten nations combined. He knows better!). Our nation will not be at greater risk if we have a military presence in only 50 of the world's other nations as opposed to the more than 100 in which we now operate.

- No deal struck between the Democrats and Republicans should include any short or long-term ' fixes ' or lowered allocations to Medicare or Social Security that would reduce or limit benefits for current or future retirees.

- Electoral reforms of a fundamental nature will be required in the medium and long run to open up our system to new actors. We recognize that the 47% will have several differing political expressions and ideologies. 47%-ers are Democrats, Republicans, Socialists, Libertarians, Communists, Constitutionalists, Greens, and Anarchists, and political space must be made for all of them in order to reinvigorate and renew our currently unhealthy system. We must look to the proportional election systems that now dominate the world's democracies and to which the emerging democracies of Eastern Europe, Latin America, Africa have universally turned in the last twenty-five years. Ours is no longer a ' model of democracy ' for any other nation. It is an oddity and a 19th century relic that doesn't fit into a 21st century reality.

- Finally, we are ' green ' because in this new period it is vital to always remember the awful mess we've made in our drive for more, more, and more of everything. It's necessary for us to look every day at ways to ' Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle '. We will need to add a fourth ' R ' to this green mantra , to ' Repair ' the damage we've done. We also ask the upper 53% to accept less while making a little more available to the 47%, to really prove that ' we are all in this together '.

WHO WE ARE NOT

We are not the 99%. We have come to this conclusion after a year of agitation on the basis of the 99% and 1% formula that the middle class, the 52%, has turned the conversation primarily toward their needs and toward solutions for their difficulties. Witness the Democrats' campaign slogans ' From the middle out ' and ' Put the middle class first ', and issues specifically addressing the needs and desires of the 47% are not high on any of their lists.

 

We are not ' progressives '. This words' meaning changes with each person who uses it so much that we think that ' progressive ' may be the new ' opportunist '.

 

We are not in agreement with the existing ' Green Party ' . The Green Party of the U.S. is mainly a party of the 53%, populated mostly by the professional middle class, and exemplified by the medical doctor who was their presidential candidate this year and by the attorney who managed her campaign. This is a party that is more Social Democratic than anything else, again exemplified by their campaign platform calling for a ' Green New Deal '.

 

We can no longer be content to just play junior partners for each of the parties of the 53%, and we think it's foolish to veer back and forth between one corrupt institution and the other, as if on a seesaw.

 

We're Changing Our Name!

Posted by Pete Healey on October 16, 2012 at 10:00 PM Comments comments (0)

Until Election Day, please call us "Party of the 47%". Please don't call us "The Party fo the 47%" because of course that would invalidate everything I've said, and believed, for the last several years! So much has been spoken and written about the 47%'ers in the last few weeks that I don't have to repeat any of it and we all know everything we need to know about them anyway. I'l just add, as a reminder, that the Reps represent "top down" and the Dems new slogan " from the middle out" leaves out the entire 47%, completely! So here we are, representin'!

More Bad News About the NYC Board of Elections!

Posted by Pete Healey on September 19, 2012 at 7:35 PM Comments comments (0)

Copy and paste the link below for a New York Times article on the lousy design and implementation of primary ballots. For chrissakes, when will they ever get anything right?

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/18/nyregion/new-york-city-voters-annoyed-by-hard-to-read-ballots.html?ref=politics&_r=1

Is This Evenhanded Enough?

Posted by Pete Healey on September 2, 2012 at 10:40 AM Comments comments (0)

Below is pasted a letter I wrote to the Kingston Daily Freeman of N.Y. about the race in my congressional district:

.LETTER: Both parties fail us

Published: Sunday, September 02, 2012

 

Dear Editor:

Now that the congressional race in the new 19th District is set, there are several conclusions that may be drawn from both the Democratic primary and from the selection process for both main parties:

•The national parties chose both congressional candidates for us. Neither the Democrat nor the Republican incumbent has run for public elective office before running for Congress.

•The Democratic Party as a whole should be embarrassed, if it had any shame at all, since neither the "machine" candidate nor the "left-wing" candidate could bring even 5 percent of Democrats to the polls. For all their various claims about being the "majority" party or the "99 percent" party, this turnout should serve as a wake-up call.

•The Tea Party isn’t going to be a factor in this campaign. The Democrat insisted early on that his "opponent" is a Tea Party supporter, but that claim has been found to be a wild exaggeration and has apparently been discarded. The other side hasn’t bothered to make the claim that the Democrat is a "left wing socialist" because even Julian Schreibman’s primary opponent, Joel Tyner ,can’t be fairly described that way.

•Neither a CIA lawyer (Schreibman) nor a Marine colonel (Chris Gibson) is going to make an issue out of an annual $700 billion defense budget, which is one of the major factors bankrupting this nation and ruining, not preserving, our standing in the world community.

Neither of these gentlemen, though they were born and raised in the Hudson River Valley, has spent much of his adult life here. Their scant involvement in local politics appears not to matter in the "grooming" process for their campaigns for national office. Then, of course, the winner will spend the majority of his time in Washington, continuing their absence from the district.

Apparently, the Maurice Hinchey era is over in more ways than one: This is a district that wasn’t drawn to protect the incumbent, the Democrat is no "liberal lion," and the winner, whoever it might be, will still be mostly unknown to the people of the district.

PETE HEALEY

New Paltz


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