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Change: Substantive and Systematic

Phil Tajitsu Nash // Published February 4, 2008 in Asian Week
I want to live in a world where a woman or multiracial man can aspire to be president. I also want to see viable candidates who understand that the great divide in our country these days is not left versus right, but top versus bottom. Instead of looking for some mythical “center” position from which to govern, we should aspire to a multi-party democracy where candidates take their cues from Dr. Martin Luther King, who reminded us that there can be no true and lasting peace without justice.

Presidential candidates across the political spectrum are proclaiming this a “change” election, which is normal when the people in power have not done a good job. I believe that “change” should mean transition to a world where women, people of color, gays, Muslims and the less-affluent can aspire to the White House just as easily as white, privileged, straight, Christian men.

Unfortunately, unless we as a people fight for systemic changes in the way we fund elections, run elections and count votes, our quadrennial made-for-TV campaign event will continue to be a moneymaker for the television conglomerates and a loser for democracy.

The primary season that has evolved in recent years favors small, mostly white, rural states (Iowa and New Hampshire), leaves most of us with no meaningful input into the process, and forces candidates to pander to lobbyists in order to raise enough money to be competitive. A multi-partisan group, Fix the Primaries (fixtheprimaries.com) has some good ideas for fixing things.

Meanwhile, Dennis Kucinich, who was judged “non-viable” by press pundits, and John Edwards Business-Should-Not-Fear-Edwards Jan-08 , who chose to receive public monies, but whose message was largely ignored by the corporate media and drowned out by a tidal wave of corporate money from the other campaigns, fought for reforms in the ways we run and fund elections.

Without them in the race, we may get a female or nonwhite face looking out the window of Air Force One in 2009, but we may not get systemic, structural changes that will make our democracy as strong and vibrant as that found in most of the other democracies in the world.

To understand how impoverished our democracy is compared to that found in other countries, go to aceproject.org, an online electoral knowledge network set up by several United Nations agencies and other international organizations. While we had the best democracy in 1789, our version of “Democracy 1.0” has many problems that have been fixed in the “Democracy 2.0” practiced all over the globe (for details, go to fairvote.org).

No matter which candidate you support this year, one way you can be a guaranteed winner on Nov. 4 is if you take it upon yourself to be a force for electoral reform in your state and community. These are some of the systemic changes that are needed immediately:

1. Full public financing of elections: Go to the Web sites of publiccampaign.org and commoncause.org, and see how Maine, Arizona and many of the world’s democracies have figured out ways to reduce the impact of big money on democracy.

2. Shorter election periods: What nurse, public school teacher or other non-lawyer can afford to take 18 months off to run for office?

3. Guaranteed television time for each candidate: We the people own the television airwaves. Every candidate that meets a threshold of candidacy should get free airtime.

4. Reduced barriers to candidates and parties: A stunning list of all of the political parties active in the world can be found at www.psr.keele.ac.uk/parties.htm. Type “American third parties” into your web browser and read more.

5. Same day voter registration: If we encourage impulse shopping, why don’t we encourage impulse voting? There are already laws against fraudulent voting or re-voting, so there is no reason why we shouldn’t encourage more people to vote.

6. A federal holiday for Election Day: Going along with #5 is to make Election Day a federal holiday. No one should have to miss a day of work or risk being fired in order to vote.

7. Voter-verified paper records: The problems experienced in Ohio in 2004 and Florida in 2000 have barely been addressed. Type “voter-verified paper trail” into your Web browser to read more.

8. Instant-runoff voting: Instead of mudslinging, make it in the candidate’s own best interest to be nice to their opponents, so that they can appeal to their supporters in a runoff. Type “instant-runoff voting” into your Web browser for more info.

9. National Popular Vote: Maryland and New Jersey have passed laws to enact a way of counting presidential votes that is much fairer than the current Electoral College process. Bills have been introduced in 42 other states. Read more at nationalpopularvote.com.