Reform 1: Reform the redistricting process
Every ten years, states are required by the Constitution to redraw their congressional districts to ensure that each member of Congress represents has a roughly equal number of constituents. However, during each redistricting process both political parties have historically worked to draw districts that over-represent the voters of one party and to help incumbent members of Congress get re-elected. This reform would require states to redraw districts in such a way that makes congressional elections as competitive as possible given geographic constraints, while still complying with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This could be done through new laws in each state, or through a constitutional amendment.
Only a few congressional elections each year can truly be called competitive. In 2010, 85% of all congressional representatives were re-elected – and this was an unusually low number. In fact, in each election from 1996 to 2008, no fewer than 94% of House incumbents were re-elected.
Competitive congressional elections will make candidates more responsive to the American people and willing to compromise. Politicians would be held accountable for their positions each election and would have to appeal to independents and members of the opposite party to stay in office.
Reform 2: Hold integrated and open primary elections
The candidates for each congressional seat are determined by partisan primaries where each political party elects a candidate to compete in the general election. Typically, the only voters allowed to vote in a party’s primaries are those registered with that party. Under this reform, the candidates in each congressional election would instead be chosen by “integrated primaries”, in which all candidates for a congressional seat – Democrats, Republicans, third party candidates, and political independents – would run in the same primary, and the top two vote-getters would advance to the general election. These primaries would be open to all registered voters.
Partisan primaries in non-competitive districts are one reason why Washington is so polarized. Politicians running in partisan primaries feel pressure to adopt extreme views and reject compromises in order to appeal to their party’s base. This has led to numerous general elections offering voters a choice between two extremes.
California’s 2012 Congressional candidates were determined by integrated primaries.
Reform 3: Campaign finance reform
In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that it is unconstitutional to bar corporations or unions from spending money on political speech, such as advertising. The decision led to the creation of “Super PACs”: organizations that can accept an unlimited amount of donations from individuals, unions, and corporations, and spend it on advertising and political advocacy. Super PACs are required to disclose their donors on a monthly or quarterly basis, although there are loopholes that allow some donors to retain anonymity. This reform would amend the Constitution to specify that only individuals who have the right to vote can contribute to political and other entities trying to influence elections. In addition, this reform would require all political organizations to disclose all their donors and contributions in a timelier manner.
The 2012 election has been flooded with donations from wealthy individuals, corporations, unions, and other special interest groups. According to Politico, as of August 7th, “2,100 donors giving $50,000 or more have contributed about $200 million” to the presidential election.
Special interest money in politics can harm efforts to make the government more fiscally responsible. The needs of wealthy individuals, unions, and corporations are not always in line with the broader public interest.
Reform 4: Institute term limits
Under the Constitution, there is no limit on the number of terms that members of Congress can serve. This reform would limit all representatives and senators to no more than 12-18 years in office, and would be enacted by a constitutional amendment.
Several members of Congress have been in office for decades. By the end of this term, 92 representatives and 25 senators will have served continuously in their respective chambers for 20 years or longer.
Long-serving politicians weaken the democratic process. Congressmen that are re-elected term after term tend to lose touch with the needs of the constituents who elected them. Although voters retain the ability to vote their representatives out of office, this becomes more difficult with each term their leaders stay in Washington due to the power of incumbency.
Career politicians view their positions as long-term jobs rather than what our Founding Fathers intended, temporary public service. The fear of not getting re-elected serves to reduce their willingness to tell the truth and make tough choices for the greater public good.
- Unanimous agreement by voters that our political system is broken and dysfunctional, with 78% supporting package of political reforms
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