What to do on November 3rd

On November 3, 2004, all citizens who care about democracy in the United States must get to work for electoral reform. The United States, with its two-party monopoly on political discourse and its disproportional representation, has one of the most backward, antiquated democracies in the industrialized world.

The first step in electoral reform is voter registration. This should be a simple, convenient process. All states must pass same-day registration laws so that citizens are able to register and vote on election day.

Second, states must remove all ballot access obstructions -- such as signature gathering and percentage systems -- for third parties. The present system is set up by the Democratic and Republican parties to keep third parties out of the electoral process, but smaller parties should be valued and welcomed as part of the democratic process.

Third, abolish the electoral college so that citizens can directly decide, by popular vote, who our president and vice president will be. House Joint Resolution 109, sponsored by Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr., would add an amendment to the U.S. Constitution eliminating the electoral college.

Fourth, develop a system for instant run-off voting. This system is also known as "direct democracy." Citizens will vote for their first three choices in order of preference. The City of San Francisco is using an instant run-off system in 2004, so the success or failure of this experiment will do much to help us prepare for a national instant run-off election.

Fifth, stop all paid political advertising and require broadcasters to devote free air time for public forums and candidate debates. This requirement should be tied to the FCC license renewal process. The airwaves are not owned by the broadcasters, but by the public. Broadcasters lease the airwaves from us with the stipulation that they will serve the public interest. Paid advertisements have become nothing but negative personal attack ads, whereas debates and candidate forums offer more thoughtful discussions about real issues.

Sixth, the election season can be shortened considerably if the statements and platforms of all candidates are published and distributed free to every voter. This, along with televised debates and candidate forums, is a much better use of federal election funds.

These suggestions for electoral reform are merely suggestions off the top of my head and do not represent a final list of needed reforms, but I see these as the most crucial now. Proportional representation also needs to be addressed so that women and minorities are fairly represented in government. Also, voting machines need to be capable of instant run-off voting and counting proportional votes and we need to rethnk the wisdom of excluding felons and former felons from active participation in the electoral process. Citizenship and voting could be an important and inexpensive rehabilitative program. Why exclude them?

Readers should begin the process of electoral reform in their own states by urging their representatives to support HR 109 and by working with state legislators to overturn ballot access obstructions and provide for same-day voter registration.

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