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Profile, Quizzical

Fixing the US political system

This inspired by remarks in catsittingstill's journal:

I think that the current system could be vastly improved with a few simple, though politically difficult, steps:

1. Resurrecting the FCC "fairness doctrine" and the post-World-War-II media decentralization requirements. This would break down the system of political control of public information that has emerged in the past two decades.

2. Making voting a duty of citizenship. This would require that political candidates respond to all citizens, rather than pick the groups they think they can most easily gain the support of. As it is now, we have the most political, the most fanatical, and the most scared determining election results.

3. Adopt improved voting systems and systems of representation. No voting system is perfect, but our current system, plurality voting, is enormously vulnerable to spoilers—we are getting a horrific taste of this with Clinton and Obama—and it can be easily gamed as well. The instant runoff system has gained some traction, politically; there are other systems that might be tried as well. At times, also, US legislatures have used proportional systems. I think we need to experiment with these and begin adopting improvements; what we have now is failing. William Poundstone has written an excellent introduction to this subject; I recommend it to anyone seriously interested in the forms of democracy.

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The United States doesn't have a plurality voting system. We have a two-party system. Plurality elections have more than two parties running, for example in the UK, the Labor* party, the Liberal party, and the Conservative Party, respectfully.

Re: Plurality voting?

I think you are confusing plurality voting--where the candidate with the most votes wins, even if there is no majority--with proportional representation, where coalitions of parties of various sizes form ruling and opposition groups in the legislature. I've never seen a US ballot with only two parties on it.

Whatever it is, I'm against it.

Hi -- a mutual Friend linked your post, which is interesting but I disagree with at least half of it.

I agree with you about media decentralization, tho I don't think we need to go back to WWII levels.
Disagree strongly re fairness doctrine. Faux News has shown how easy it is to fake two-sidedness(e.g., Hannity & Colmes). Also, the fairness doctrine was an administrative and doctrinal nightmare, precisely because it was impossible to measure how "opposing" a viewpoint really was. Also, most issues have more than two sides. Finally, some issues have only one sideworth taking seriously. We should not have to watch a creationist blather every time someone says "Darwin."

Not crazy about the citizenship thing. This implies taking away citizenship of non-voters. Some people just won't vote, others will want to but goof it up, and if you thought voter intimidation was popular now, wait 'til someone can take away your citizenship just by scaring you off the polling place or "accidentally" purging your name. And of course, you can't remove citizenship without a trial...so right off the bat, you have immense costs, at least tens of billions, for enforcement, voter protection, revamping the polling system to make sure each and every person gets a real opportunity to vote, etc. And for what? The ones who didn't want to vote in the first place will still ignore it as much as possible. They'll vote at random, or by bigotry. Your "most fanatical" sounds like it's my "most willing to get off their butts and do the work."

Changing the voting system...I dunno. There are a lot of possible improvements, but they all have their problems too. Not clear any of them are going to be better in practice after 50 years or so of unintended consequences. A shorter primary season might be a much simpler cure for a lot of the current problems.

Personally, my current favorite change is a national referendum system. I think that when we centralized economic policy (which was necessary when our economy became more national), we made local politics so much less important to people's lives that most people quite rationally lost interest in it, and made economic issues so hard to affect that they quite rationally lost interest in voting their wallet in national elections. If we want policy to reflect the majority's economic needs, we have to give people some real access to economic policymaking.

Re: Whatever it is, I'm against it.

Thank you for your reply; I'm glad someone is reading.

The fairness doctrine used to work well enough, though I agree there is some risk; "Experts dispute shape of earth." I hate having the FCC exercising editorial control, period, but what we've got now is worse.

"This implies taking away citizenship of non-voters." A fine, as is used in Australia, would be sufficient, I would think. I see not voting as something on the level of illegal parking, not treason.

Perhaps in 100 or 200 years the voting system will again have to be revised; future activists will have to worry about the problem. What strikes me as especially pernicious in our current system is that, exactly in times of conflict, when we most desperately need to resolve disputes, that is when the system is at its worst. In 2000 we had one disaster; 2008 is shaping up to be another (let's not even get into what ID requirements are going to do this November.)

Having watched the initiative be gamed in California, Oregon, and Washington, I think the only way a national referendum could work is in conjunction with extensive reform of the media. The combination of the "bully pulpit" of the presidency with a propaganda operation like Fox, and otherwise compliant national news operations, makes for a very misinformed public, and a misinformed public cannot cast sensible votes. There is also a widespread underestimation of the power of state and local governments (this is partly due to the collapse of local television news).

In any event, thanks again for the reply!

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