Are the Democratic and Republican parties out of date?
When William Henry Harrison died there were many questions. Who should follow him? And for how long? And what power should the successor have? That would not have been of great importance had it not been for Harrison, of all places, in 1841 as President of the United States of America. He was the first president to die in office. And the then still young constitution had no answer to that. Should the vice president take over? And if so, should he run out of office? Or should there be new elections quickly? At that time, his vice-president John Tyler took over. But he always had to struggle with the fact that his legitimacy could be denied.
More astonishing, however, than that the US Constitution gave nothing for this, was how long it took until the open question was finally settled in a constitutional amendment. That was in 1967, 126 years after Harrison's death. Which says a lot about the willingness of Americans to reform when it comes to the constitution and democracy.
It is no longer a question that US democracy is in jeopardy. That Donald Trump sits in the White House as the 45th President of the United States of America may be one reason. He doesn't give a damn about the constitution, doesn't shy away from firing an FBI chief who is investigating Trump's people. Above all, however, his election victory is a symptom of a democratic and constitutional crisis that has been simmering for a long time. The Midterms, the midterm elections, are just around the corner. In November the House of Representatives and a third of the Senate will be elected. And again the crisis can be observed in all its various forms. Ten reasons why one of the oldest democracies in the world shouldn't need another 126 years to reform:
1. The electoral system is antediluvian and hardly manageable
A nationwide election, but as many voting rights as there are states: whether a senator or a member of parliament, how someone won their election also depends on how the respective state is elected. Electronic voting devices are usually used for voting. Almost every state has its own machines. In the vast majority of states, citizens must first register as voters before they can vote. Others, 13 to be precise, have automatic procedures for doing this. In some states, citizens can register on the day of the election. In others, this has to happen weeks in advance. In some states, citizens can register in almost any public agency. In others there are whole areas without a registration office. Some require ID in order to vote. Others don't. There are states that allow voters to cast their votes before election day. Others don't. In addition, there are oddities such as the fact that in Illinois, for example, the authorities are obliged to issue "I voted" stickers to voters. That costs $ 30 million annually. How easy or difficult it is to cast your vote in the USA depends primarily on your place of residence.
2. The USA is in a permanent election campaign
Nationwide elections are held every two years in the USA. The House of Representatives always complete. In addition, there is a third of the Senate, every four years the president, the governors of the states, the representatives in the state parliaments, and mayors. And there are always special elections in between when a senator or member of parliament has resigned for whatever reason. The length of the election campaigns is unique in the world. The parties' candidates for an electoral district or a senatorial post are only determined in lengthy primary elections. The election campaign often lasts for months. Potential candidates for a presidential election already announced their interest in an election in the spring of the previous year. The 2016 election campaign lasted 597 days. As soon as one election campaign is over, the next begins. This reduces the time window in which anything politically happens at all. At the federal level, for example, Congress only has to pass laws in the year after the presidential election and in the year after the midterms, relatively unaffected by election campaigns.
3. The turnout is too low
Even in highly dramatic battles for the White House, voter turnout barely rises above 55 percent. In the 2016 election, 100 million Americans stayed at home. Almost a third of the population. One of the reasons may also be that many are fundamentally disappointed in politics. But that's too easy. It is also majority voting that prevents many from casting their vote. In the vast majority of electoral districts and states, the result will be determined beforehand. Either the Democrat or the Republican wins. Very rarely an independent candidate. That lowers motivation on both sides.
Even when it comes to the presidency, it is. Ultimately, what counts is what the candidates achieve in the states. And there the majorities in most states have been concreted for one side or the other for decades. And last but not least: Election day is always a Tuesday in the USA. If you want to vote, you often have to take time off. Often only those who have a steady job and a nice boss can do that. So far, the legislators seem to have simply accepted that.
4. Gerrymandering destroys trust in democracy
Just as a mental game: In North Rhine-Westphalia the black-yellow coalition is reforming the constituencies. In such a way that the probability that the SPD will ever win another constituency is almost zero. In NRW, however, that would only be half as bad. The proportional representation system ensures that the parties are allowed to send representatives to parliament according to their share of the vote. In the USA, however, this type of creative constituency design, called gerrymandering, has become a real fashion, which is booming, especially in republican states. Constituencies there are no longer reminiscent of districts. More like bananas with strange protuberances on the ends. Or horseshoes, so that a more democratic-minded area can be excluded. This guarantees that one party always gets the majority. What does the Supreme Court say about this, the highest court in the USA? Nothing so far. He only dismissed a lawsuit in June. Because of formal errors. The majority of the court is conservative.
5. Choosing is made unnecessarily difficult
President Trump supports the idea: if you want to vote, you have to be able to identify yourself. The demand hits sections of US society at a sore point. Trust in government institutions is so low that many refuse to even get an ID card. There is usually no ID requirement in the USA, as is the case in Germany. If you don't have a driver's license, you often don't have any other ID card. Voters from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds in particular shy away from getting an ID.
As a result, they are being denied access to the voting booth in more and more states, even if they are registered voters. In the state of Wisconsin, a federal judge has temporarily stopped the ID requirement five years after it was introduced. With the indication that nine percent of the voters did not have the required ID. Black voters are 50 percent more likely to not have an ID than white voters.
At the 2016 election, the rule was back in force. Hillary Clinton lost to Trump there by 23,000 votes. And then blamed the ID rule for their defeat, among other things. The assumption is supported by the voter turnout data. In countries where ID is mandatory, voter turnout has fallen by an average of 1.7 percent. In countries without an ID requirement by 1.3 percent. And in Wisconsin by 3.3 percent.
6. Too many people are not allowed to vote
Crystal Mason was jailed for five years in March 2018. Because she went to the polls in November 2016. She shouldn't have done that. She had already been sentenced to prison in 2012 for a tax offense. And came out of jail prematurely in 2016. What she didn't know: In Texas, her home state, no one is allowed to vote who is in jail or serving a suspended sentence. She was sentenced as if she were a professional electoral fraudster. The rule applies in a number of states. And leads to the fact that more than six million US citizens are no longer allowed to vote. What is striking is that, according to figures from the "Sentencing Project", the rule affects one of 13 black voters in the USA. But only one of 56 non-black eligible voters.
7. The right to vote is not sufficiently respected as a civil right
The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School just published a study that highlights a scandal that should have made huge waves. Between 2014 and 2016, 16 million voters across the US were struck off the electoral roll. Often in automated and sometimes demonstrably incorrect procedures. Sometimes all people who allegedly no longer live in the constituency are deleted. Sometimes thousands of people are struck off who the authorities believe are no longer eligible to vote because of a criminal offense. Sometimes for no apparent reason.
In the April 19, 2016 primaries in New York, for example, thousands of Brooklyn voters were sent back because their names could no longer be found on the electoral roll. Cleaning up the lists can be good when done correctly. And possibly also prevent electoral fraud. But the researchers at the Brennan Center for Justice have found that sometimes the cleanup itself is the fraud, if it discourages unwanted voters from voting. In the past five years, five states have illegally purged their electoral rolls. And four states have rules for cleanup that researchers believe are illegal. There, for example, voters are automatically deleted without informing them in advance and giving them the opportunity to object.
8. The two-party system has become obsolete
Orange juice is available in the USA with a lot of pulp, with little, with a little pulp, or without. And that from juice concentrate or directly pressed, organic and conventional. The 328 million citizens of the USA can vote here. Every day. Only in politics, you only have two options: Democrats or Republicans. There are other parties. But realistically, they have no chance of achieving anything. The system crumbles. It does not offer any political home for those who do not want to and cannot place themselves in one of the two major parties. And that makes the system prone to accidents. Accidents like Trump is.
The numbers: Trump was the favorite for 14 million voters in the 2016 primaries. That corresponds to just six percent of the 230 million eligible voters. That was enough to make him a Republican candidate. And because he was the Republican candidate, 63 million Americans voted for him. Which is only 27 percent of the electorate. In other words: if you manage to win a good quarter of the electorate, you will gain all power in Washington. Three quarters of those eligible to vote feel they are not represented when in doubt.
9. The Electoral College disregards the will of the citizen
Hillary Clinton had three million votes more than Donald Trump. Three million votes that just didn't count. This is due to the system of the presidential election. The key is to get as many electoral votes as possible in the states. And there applies: The winner takes all, the winner gets it all. Each state sends so-called electors according to its population Electoral College, the body that ultimately elects the president. Countries with a weak population tend to be overrepresented there. This is to prevent the populous coastal states from dominating the country.
But resistance to the "winner takes all" rule is now growing. Former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, lawyer and Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig and former Al Gore attorney David Boies jointly launched the "Equal Votes" campaign. And now the states of California, Texas, Massachusetts and South Carolina are being sued as examples. Their goal is to abolish the "winner takes all" rule that is practiced in 48 states. Preferably before the 2020 election.
Instead, the percentage of votes should determine how many electors the candidates are awarded in a state. An example: In Texas, Hillary Clinton won almost 3.9 million votes in 2016, Trump received 4.7 million votes. Nevertheless, all 38 electoral votes were awarded to Trump there. According to the Equal Vote model, Clinton would have won 16 electoral votes there, Trump 20. And the remaining two votes would probably have been won by the libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, who was third with a little over three percent.
10. Money is ruining US democracy
Jeff Beals made a spontaneous decision to run as the Democratic candidate for Congress in the 19th electoral district of New York state. He wanted to be different. He's not a finance attorney or a businessman like the other Democratic applicants. But a teacher, a former diplomat. He ran. And got a call from his party in the days after. The first question to him wasn't what he wanted in terms of content. What he wants to convince people to choose him. The first question was: how much money do you raise? Beals shared his story on the This American Life podcast. Hundreds of thousands of dollars for the primary campaign. And later more than two million dollars to campaign against the Republican candidate. He should have raised that much money to stand a chance.
What he noticed during the election campaign: He cannot get that much money together without bending over politically. For example, Beals wants a uniform health insurance for everyone. The idea is controversial in the Democratic Party. The party establishment wants to be pegged at most to the phrase "affordable health insurance for everyone". And the main donors in Beal's constituency see it the same way. He didn't get the money he needed to make himself known across the district. He clearly lost the area code. Of the 35,000 votes cast, he only won 4,600 for himself.
His case shows that money is the most important force in the US democratic process. If you know big donors on your side, you don't have to worry about how many TV and radio spots you can broadcast or how many posters you can put up. The donors, however, have a clear political agenda. They choose very carefully which candidate represents their interests. It does not matter at first whether these are also the interests of the broader population.
Raising money is one of the most important preoccupations for a Congressman today. For up to four hours a day they sit in the call centers of their party headquarters and call total strangers who are begging them for money, report individual congressmen. There are also donation dinners and receptions.
The system has been perverted since the Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that companies and organizations also have a political opinion and are allowed to underline this with donations. Direct donations to parties and candidates are capped. But instead, thanks to the ruling, there are more and more so-called Super PACs to whom unlimited money can be given.
Super PACs are basically extremely powerful election aid groups that put a total of $ 1.1 billion into the presidential campaign in 2016. Their financiers do not always want to be visible. But the candidates and the parties that are indirectly supported with the money know very well who helped them. MPs who won their election with the help of Super PACs will avoid pissing off their patrons.
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