The Future of Elections

Imagine getting so fed up with your legislator's vote that you could meander over to the local voting station, or perhaps even to your nearest mobile device, and vote against their decision. Or, on the other hand, imagine having a great idea and establishing a bill, fighting for it to reach a threshold level, and seeing elected representatives carry it into the process of becoming a law.

According to a US Census survey, in 2012 there were more than 142 million Americans age 35 or older, the age one is eligible for president. There were 226 million people in the United States age 15 or over, the age when I reached political consciousness. Yet on November 8, 2016, Americans will choose between two people to become president of our country. Odds are that write-in votes are not going to challenge the two standard bearers of the Republicans and Democrats, who insiders believe could raise more than $5 billion.

I have argued that democracy has to be expanded by amending the Constitution to allow for a form of direct democracy. This can be done by replacing one of the houses of Congress or supplementing them. Others have wondered whether the presidency is too big a job for one person. But it's not a zero-sum game. The country could still have the presidency with the people's vote. Whatever the final arrangement is, we can adopt another chamber of Congress to reflect the people's will more directly.

Doing so can solve many problems. Efforts at campaign finance reform have faltered badly, despite polls saying more than 80 percent of people think reform is needed. Allowing American adults to vote as often as our representatives and senators vote would take the wind out of special interests that seek to influence our legislators and the presidential election. Extending the vote to the more than 2 million people in prison and many Americans on parole would give them a direct voice to clean up our criminal justice system. It is asinine that as the leading country in the world, we take away the vote from people who have committed crimes. Real change comes with the vote. With voting rights under attack because of the Supreme Court's decision to remove federal oversight of voting jurisdictions with a history of abuse, the need for direct democracy is even more germane.

Both parties engage in gerrymandering when it suits them. In my home state of Illinois, the state's Democratic Party has a lock on power because of redistricting. Nationally, Republicans' gerrymandering resulted in them winning more seats in Congress than they otherwise would have won based on popular voting. "The House of Representatives, the 'people's house,' no longer requires the most votes for power," one journalist noted. I couldn't agree more.

We need to set an example to the world, which is facing a recession of democratic governance. Exploring ways to empower the people's vote would be the biggest innovation in governance in a long, long time. I'm not foolish enough to think this will happen anytime soon, but it must be discussed so that within the next decade or so, it will become a serious topic. In 2010, when I proposed the necessity of a basic income guarantee, I was laughed off. So were its champions in times past. Now, more people are taking the idea seriously, which is of a kind with the idea of direct democracy. Both ideas empower everyday people over institutional sclerosis. We can do more than hope that the people gain economic and democratic power. We can talk about it, organize and vote for change.