It’s the most wonderful time of the election process! The time to vote for a new leader of the free world.
It can be an exciting time, but if you live in 2016 America, it can feel more like your house catching fire, and then being told you have to go vote.
There need not be anymore said about the vitriol and disappointment that stems from two candidates who cannot seem to keep themselves out of trouble, much less our country of 325 million people. But in the final days of this 600-day election cycle, rather than another piece denouncing both candidates, the American people deserve something to grab onto. Some kind of real direction as to where we can improve our political system. So without further ado, here are five ways to fix our democracy.
Congressional Term Limits
It seems crazy when you consider the lack of term limits that exist in our government. Neither congress nor Supreme Court justices have any term limits. And while we don’t elect our Supreme Court directly, we do Congress. Those feelings of frustration can amplify when we realize that back in the 2014 midterm elections, congress had an approval rating from anywhere between 10-20 percent (according to various polls). Yet despite the low approval, incumbents (congressmen running for re-election) kept 393 out of the 416 seats they held (94.47 percent), and 31 of them ran unopposed.
When you take away term limits, you change the goal of the game. It becomes a game of re-election, while civic duty takes a back seat. When you perpetually have the same congressmen over and over, special interests develop, and what’s best for the people isn’t what’s best for congress.
It has been argued that if people don’t like their representatives, vote them out. Term limits should not be implemented as a fix for people not wanting to participate in the political system. This however, isn’t an accurate representation of how the system works. It has always been very (emphasis on VERY) difficult for challengers to win against incumbents. This is due to gerrymandering (how districts are drawn up), and campaign financing rules, both of which are designed to benefit the incumbent. Therefore, it is not only hard to gain support in the first place, but it’s even harder to get the money required to run a serious campaign. Some also argue term limits are “unconstitutional,” which simply isn’t true.
In short, term limits make special interests more difficult to develop, and force those elected to be more accountable for their time in Congress. There becomes more motivation to do what needs to be done rather than spend the majority of your time campaigning for the next mid-term, which has been known to happen.
- Line-Item Veto
One of the more mundane, yet effective methods of eliminating special interest is to allow for a line-item veto. That is, to allow certain parts of bills to be struck down while allowing other parts to stand.
As it stands right now, however a bill is written and presented is how it must stay. We either vote in the entire bill, or none of it. This has proven ineffective, as well as only strengthening special interests in government.
In 1996, Congress actually voted to give the president the ability to line-item veto. It didn’t last long however, as the Supreme Court struck it down as unconstitutional two years later. But during its run, President Bill Clinton managed to use it 82 times, 44 of which stood (Congress overturned 38 of them). It saved the government $2 billion in that time.
- More limits on the Supreme Court
The Supreme Court today has the feel of having “the final say.” Using the Supreme Court, we’ve made major changes to civil rights regarding healthcare, race, sexuality, speech and religion.
Yet Supreme Court justices are not elected officials. Instead they are nominated by the president and approved by the senate. Perhaps this wouldn’t be so scary however, if they didn’t serve for life. And while the Supreme Court has done tremendous works in all areas mentioned before, it’s a scary thought that while they have the power to change all those things for the good, they have the power to reverse them all well (given another case regarding said issue reaches them). And the only way to reverse a decision by the Supreme Court is either by a Constitutional Amendment (which has only happened 17 times since 1794).
And despite the Supreme Court having the best interest of the people, they don’t always get it right. There have been several rulings that have had terrible consequences (Plessy v. Ferguson, anyone?). Making it easier to overturn the Supreme Court would mark a significant improvement to checks and balances.
- Get Rid of Political Parties
It seems ironic and hypocritical for so many in government to advocate a “strict interpretation of the constitution and the founders,” yet belong to a political party. The founders never meant for us to develop parties, and while it has managed to get things done, it still hinders the process.
We would be here until 2018 midterms listing off every instance and way that political parties hurt our political process. When politicians (and even citizens) are motivated to do what their party says rather than the right thing, progress slows down. When people are led to believe that one strict set of principles found by a political group is the only direction to go in, gridlock happens. When you preach the other party is only trying to destroy us, a divide in our nation occurs.
Political parties are useful, but they’re coming with a price.
- Get Money Out of Politics
Specifically, corporate money. When you allow corporations to donate unlimited amounts of funds to a political candidate, what motivation does said politician have to the other 99 percent of his constituents?
As has been stated many times before, this situation has largely risen out of the 5-4 decision with Citizens United v FEC. It essentially lets corporations donate as much money as they want to political campaigns. The stipulation is they cannot give it to a candidate directly. Rather, they funnel it through other means, such as television ads and organizations supporting a campaign.
This has obvious dire effects on the state of a democracy. It perpetuates the concentration of power in the hands of the wealthy, and weakens the voices of those without it. It makes money speech, and justifies corporations being endowed with constitutional rights just like people.
While most of these changes can’t happen overnight without overthrowing the entire system, they are in the long-term quite possible. But it’ll take diligent political activism from its citizens. The democracy isn’t broken, it just needs some updates. What do you think are some other ways we can fix our democracy? Leave your comments and thoughts below.