Friday, October 31, 2008

Universal voter registration is a must

It's an idea I've been musing about for a long time, considering the need for election reform where it's needed most: getting people fairly registered, getting people able to cast their votes, and getting those votes to count.

I was in Broward County FL in 2000, Ground Zero of where and when our nation's antiquated and fragile election system collapsed on itself. With all the arguing over who actually won the major election (President Gore or President Bush?), the real issue got ignored: the problems with how we Americans cast our vote, and with who actually gets to vote.

Oh, we tried to fix the HOW problem, and in some cases made it worse. Election officials jumped quickly to the fancy touch-screen equipment, sadly ignoring the many flaws that system had and still has. Optical scans have gained in use this year's election: fewer flaws to it (still has security issues), although it really needs a receipt system so people can be comforted that their choices can be confirmed in case of a recount. And still the big problem of WHO gets to vote hasn't been fully addressed.

With the Republicans this year (same as 2004 and 2006) screaming about voter fraud with groups like ACORN submitting questionable registration forms, we may finally approach that issue. As law professor/blogger Rick Hasen noticed in a recent Slate article:

When it comes to charges of "voter fraud" and "vote suppression," each election is worse than the last... These charges and countercharges are the real danger to the fabric of our democracy. If people are not convinced their votes will be accurately counted, they are more likely to view election results as illegitimate and, therefore, the government less worthy of our respect and willingness to abide by the rule of law.

What can be done about it? Though there are many things that can be done to improve our election system—from nonpartisan election administration, to a uniform ballot design for federal elections, to improvements in our voting machinery—the most urgent fix is needed for our system of voter registration... Right now, voter registration takes place primarily on the county level, and it requires a lot of effort on the part of outside groups such as ACORN, the political parties, and others... This is where a lot of the registration fraud comes from. Even for workers not paid by the card, a low-wage worker doing voter registration may be tempted to falsify information to keep his or her job, going so far as to register names in the phone book or cartoon characters...

Hasen's idea for fixing this and getting the Dems and GOP to stop ranting (well, more than they usually do)?

The solution is to take the job of voter registration for federal elections out of the hands of third parties (and out of the hands of the counties and states) and give it to the federal government. The Constitution grants Congress wide authority over congressional elections. The next president should propose legislation to have the Census Bureau, when it conducts the 2010 census, also register all eligible voters who wish to be registered for future federal elections. High-school seniors could be signed up as well so that they would be registered to vote on their 18th birthday. When people submit change-of-address cards to the post office, election officials would also change their registration information.

This change would eliminate most voter registration fraud. Government employees would not have an incentive to pad registration lists with additional people in order to keep their jobs. The system would also eliminate the need for matches between state databases, a problem that has proved so troublesome because of the bad quality of the data. The federal government could assign each person a unique voter-identification number, which would remain the same regardless of where the voter moves (PERSONAL NOTE: This might bring up privacy red flags, but why not the person's Social Security number?). The unique ID would prevent people from voting in two jurisdictions, such as snowbirds who might be tempted to vote in Florida and New York...

This is close to what's known as Compulsory registration: the idea that once you hit the legal voting age (18) WHAMMO you not only got the right to vote but you could vote without going through the hoops of filing for it. Even with the ease of registering today thanks to the Moter Voter Law, people still have to go out of their way to do it. With compulsory registration, that's long gone: No paperwork, no muss, little fuss. A lot of countries in Europe have something like this: Denmark, Finland and Germany have something where the government automatically takes care of the right to vote along with putting the citizen on their health care/tax/mailing address national register, and they simply mail their citizens a voting ID postcard.

Hasen's idea has merit: We already have the U.S. Census keeping track of people (they have to, Congress has to figure out every 10 years how to gerrymander their districts), so why not use them to keep track of their right to vote and ensure they've got it? And Hasen solves one problem of what happens to people who move: it's called the U.S. Postal Service. Any updates to a person's mailing address can be simply uploaded to the Census' databases from one government office to the next.

Another problem not addressed: privacy rights. What about those people who don't like the idea of the government or anyone else tracking them. Solution: laws and constant enforcement of laws to ensure protection of the data from any abuse. Constant vigilance: heck, we need that anyway to ensure our privacy rights against those abusing them...

This is a must, a Thing To Do regardless of how Tuesday's vote goes: we need the next President, the next Congress to enact laws to provide universal voter registration. It doesn't need to be an amendment: the Constitution alreadys grants Congress to make the laws regarding their elections, and since state and local level elections follow how the national-level elections go, getting them to conform is a non-issue. Make universal registration simple. Make it effective. Protect the info. Get it done.

One group I'd like everyone to start contacting on this is see what they've got lined up to promote universal voter registration. Let's see if we can get Congress's attention before the next election cycle... Oh, AND VOTE PEOPLE! November 4, 2008! Or early voting if you've still got a few days to do it!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Early voting in Florida 2008

It's time. Voting has begun for the general election, and dang is the turnout hot!

I know I'm gonna be missing the people who did the early voting this Monday and today, but what the hell, I'm gonna go over with you the Florida state amendments being proposed this November 4th and yes I will make my recommendations about how you should vote on em dammit!

Amendment 1: a Declaration of Rights to remove an outdated law in the state constitution that banned certain ethnics groups (the Japanese?) from owning property in the state. No law really ever came of it and it's so discriminatory that it would never hold up in any court, but the passage still needs to be removed and this is the cleanest way to do it. A no-brainer to vote YES on this.

Amendment 2: the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment. It states that a marriage can only exist between a man and woman, and that any other form of union (between gays, between farm animals, between Disney cartoon characters, between congressmen and their pages) be invalid.
This is the cultural war at work here. There's already a regular law on the books, but groups opposed to gays having equal marriage/union rights want this passed to make it harder for federal courts to legalize gay unions.
My view on this? I'm single, lonely, virgin, never getting married anyway. Directly, this law does not affect me (it doesn't MANDATE I get married) one way or the other. However, I view this law as a sham, a violation of the rights of those who want to marry, co-habitate, what have you. They call this amendment a Marriage Protection act??? What a joke! This law doesn't protect people or society from the forces that DO threaten the sanctity of marriage: it doesn't stop adultery, it doesn't stop domestic violence, it doesn't stop divorce. There are hundred of gay couples looking to get married. There are THOUSANDS of hetero couples getting divorced every year. Divorce affects families by screwing up income, by breaking up households, by dividing and weakening parental responsibility regarding raising children. (In a nice irony, in the states that are allowing gays to marry we are already seeing gay couples file for divorce just like the heteros). If this amendment was doing something to cut the rate of divorce, if it was doing something to crack down on domestic violence, I'd buy the whole "We're protecting the sanctity of marriage" sthick. But it's not: it's a blatant attempt to deny a very small minority from being able to share access to legal rights that hetero couple get. There's even a chance this amendment could affect the rights of hetero couples by limiting their access to legal rights, for example hetero couples living in common-law (non-certified) marriages could find their current ability to share health care costs denied for themselves and any kids they might have.
This is a discriminatory amendment. I'd vote NO.

Amendment 3: This amendment allows the Lege to limit state Property Appraisers on appraising real property that has received hurricane wind protection upgrades and energy-saving upgrades. People were complaining that attempts to upgrade their homes to qualify for insurance coverage discounts were nailing them the other way with higher appraisal taxes. The most obvious benefit of this amendment is that it could encourage improvements to houses to withstand hurricane damage, which could go a long way to reduce insurance costs and improve our state's attempts to keep people insured. The most obvious consequence is that counties and cities will see a reduction in the property tax revenues they'd otherwise be getting: calculations on that appear minimal. I'd vote YES.

Amendment 4: This amendment is similar to A-3 in that it limits Appraisers again, but this time regarding property being 'protected' for green/conservation purposes. The gist is, keep your land 'green' and never pay property tax on it. At all.
Environmental groups are all for it: it encourages land owners to keep certain properties undeveloped and eco-friendly (places like wetlands, for example). Other properties being used but having conservation value can still be taxed, but only for current use value and not based on potential use (which is a tactic some Property Appraiser offices use to keep some landowners honest... and some offices use to squeeze more tax revenue out of other landowners...). Critics fear that land owners could figure out loopholes in the definitions of 'current use' value or 'in perpetuity', and end up getting tax-free land that they would then use to generate greater profit.
The questions about the law are valid, but the chances this law could improve the state's environment (which has been threatened) and better define property development are valid as well. I'm erring on the side of YES.

Amendment 5: no longer exists.

Amendment 6: Another Property Appraiser limiter, this time applying to waterfront/beach property. Properties to be appraised for 'current use' rather than 'potential use.' Property and business owners in waterfront/beach areas were complaining their rates were going up for developments and improvements in their area that they did not directly contribute to (for example, a marina's fish/tackle store getting hit for 'potential use' improvements done to a boat pier built for a condominium down the street). The Appraisers are fighting back on this one, noting that area development upgrades do affect other properties and businesses much like a fancy new home improves the value of the surrounding neighborhood. For the most part, I'm siding with the businesses: they shouldn't get taxed for things they're not doing. However, this amendment is too narrow: it protects marinas and commercial fishing businesses, but not local hotels and stores that are also getting hit hard by the 'potential use' appraisals. I'm thinking NO, until a better amendment gets passed.

Amendment 7: no longer exists.

Amendment 8: Provides counties with the opportunity to create a local sales tax to fund their county-level community colleges. It allows the county residents to vote on the sales tax, and limits the tax to five years, at which point it 'sunsets' out and the voters would have to vote a new one if needed. The deal is, schools and colleges should already be getting funding from the state to stay operational, and they still will: this amendment is an attempt to supplement more funding. The question becomes, will this give the state an excuse to cut back on their funding if/when the counties start their own funding? Otherwise, I kinda like this law: it gives each county the choice of improving their own local systems of higher education, and community colleges are where a lot of low-income residents go to improve their education and work toward higher degrees that translate into better-paying jobs. I'd go YES on this one.

Amendment 9: no longer exists.

There we go. Have at it.

Monday, October 13, 2008

James Fallows' amendment idea

From a week ago, give or take a few hours:

"No Person shall be elected President or Vice President without accepting a session of questioning by the press, such session to last no less than one hour and to be open to normally accredited members of the press in the same fashion as at Presidential news conferences. The questioning shall occur and the results shall be made freely available to the public at least one week before an Election is held."

I read it, chuckled a bit about who(m?) it was referencing. Sarah Palin's refusal to directly confront the mainstream media in open question session has been annoying a lot of the online and mainstream writers and opinion-makers, such as Andrew Sullivan. But you couldn't fault her or the McCain crew on that: her scripted and hermetically-sealed interviews were unmitigated disasters anyway.

I felt the need to email Fallows and give him my take on the amendment idea: that it was an emotional response to an unlikely situation (McCain selecting Palin as Veep) that could never really happen again:

... (it) doesn't really cover many of the sins being seen in this 2008 election. It focuses completely on the McCain-Palin refusal to make available Palin for give-and-take sessions with the media that journalists have long taken for granted as part of the electoral process. I honestly don't see how this amendment will correct any similar problem in the near future: this was a perfect storm of an impulsive candidate (McCain) selecting a Veep (Palin) that was so clearly unvetted and unprepared for national campaigning. Given how the GOP ticket has been slipping, almost all of it due to McCain's ADD-like lack-of-focus and the public's growing awareness that Palin could be a heartbeat away from the Presidency, I don't think any future campaign is going to be this stupid again...

I then added my suggestion for the best possible 28th Amendment: basically my "Lying is not protected speech/any politician caught lying get to be tarred and feathered" Idea.

God bless him, Fallows emailed back, letting me know he knew full well his idea was more of a vent than a serious suggestion:

Mine was a more modest and sarcastic attempt to focus on Palin's apparent attempt to win election having NEVER ONCE had a press conference.

I emailed back, apologizing for my rant and noting that for all my attempts at snark and witticism here (which isn't much), my political humor switch burned out back in 2003. And that was pretty much that.

I've forwarded some LOL Cat photos to Sullivan, in the meanwhile, but the bastard's a dog fanatic so I don't think I'll be hearing from him. ;-)

Friday, October 10, 2008

I'm at that point I want to see it fall to Zero

The last few days, watching the stock market completely collapse, knowing full well I am watching the doom of my own nation, and the whole global market... it brings out the anarchist in me, the part of me that wants to build a bonfire and dance around it like a tribal shaman-warrior summoning up the gods of destruction.

It's because a part of me is sick of the scam, the con job the financial elites all tricked us with over the past 30 years, always crying out "Deregulate and let the free markets save us!" "Cut all taxes and the wealth will trickle down!" "Greenspan knows what he's doing!" Yeah, choke on it.

It's because I really do genuinely want to see this all collapse down to zero while George W. Bush is still in office, so this albatross gets wrung around his neck as his ultimate legacy (I wonder which part of his library think tank is gonna contain a memorial to the 2008 financial meltdown).

It's because when it happens, I want to travel to what's left of the place. Whatever ruins the city of New York becomes, I want to hobble over the debris and stand in front of Wall Street, stand upon the piles of fallen jumpers, and shout to any survivors "ARE YOU GETTING IT? ARE YOU LEARNING YET YOU GREEDY BASTARDS? ARE YOU LEARNING WHY WE NEEDED REGULATIONS AND LAWS TO PREVENT YOU FROM DOING THIS TO YOURSELVES AND TO EVERYONE ELSE? ARE YOU FIGURING OUT THAT GREED IS THE ENEMY OF ALL FINANCE? THIS IS ALL ON YOU! ALL ON YOU! VIRTUE OF SELFISHNESS MY ASS! NOW DIE!"

And then I will walk home and try to find a job, which will be very hard to do with the entire economy wiped out. To all you Bush-worshiping neocon greedheads, welcome to the reality-based world. I hope to see you all (well except for the ones in jail for war crimes violations) on the unemployment lines too. So I can punch you in the face and get away with it, 'cause no jury will convict me.