Parsing the Election III: The Other Elections

Among the various bits of voting that happened last night, it’s important to remember that more than just control of the White House, the House of Representatives and the Senate were on the line. There were also several ballot initiatives and local and statewide elections that need to be remembered. All of these are at least somewhat interesting, but there’s a few that really caught my eye.

First off, voters in Maryland, Maine, Minnesota and Washington state all voted in favor of gay marriage. In the case of Minnesota this was, as I understand it, voting against an amendment that would have outlawed it, but I do believe that in Maine, Maryland and Washington, the vote was to make gay marriage legal.

The importance of this cannot be understated. The majority agreed, however reluctantly in some cases, that the minority should be granted very basic human rights. This was the first time this happened in the case of gay marriage, and I’m glad that it finally did. Now we just move on to the inevitable court challenges which I predict will end in the Supreme Court saying that states don’t have to perform gay marriages, but they do have to recognize them when performed legally elsewhere, thus basically invalidating the Defense of Marriage Act.

We should take a moment to understand that Obama saying he supports gay marriage likely helped this issue considerably. He really is the best President we’ve ever had on gay rights, though given that the second best, Clinton, was the one who gave us Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and DOMA, that isn’t saying much. Tell me McCain would have been as good on gay rights and I’ll call you a lair to your face.

The other major thing to notice form last night is marijuana seems to have basically gone mainstream. Some states legalized medical marijuana, but that’s nothing new and not terribly interesting to me. No, the real interesting thing is that Washington state and Colorado both voted to make recreational use of marijuana legal.

Now that’s an important thing. In the case of Washington, what will happen is that, eventually, marijuana will be sold in various state-run stores, rather like liquor already is (or at least it was when I lived up there). You would be allowed to possess up to an ounce at a time, which is…I don’t know. A lot? A little? I have no idea, because I don’t use the stuff. But I’m sure it’s something that will greatly please those who do.

Of course the federal government isn’t big on this whole thing, so you can look forward to many challenges. For the Republicans out there, this brings up an interesting question. Isn’t this a states’ rights issue? The people of Washington state have decided they want to give up on the drug war and let people have their weed. Doesn’t Republican ideology mean that you have to support them in this? If there’s any intellectual consistency, of course it does, but when we’re talking about the GOP, perhaps “intellectual” is not a word that should be used.

There were many other state and local elections last night, but those were the ones that really caught my attention. I’m done, at least for now, covering what happened in election. I think I’m going to go take a nap.


Parsing the Election I: The Republican Party’s Next Move

Four more years!

The election is over. The only state left to call is Florida. Last I saw, it was trending toward Obama and hopefully will end up there. An imperfect man will continue to lead our very imperfect nation, and hopefully all will go well enough that in 2016, we can elect another Democrat.

I have a lot of thoughts on what happened last night. Here they are in no particular order.

This was less about everyone thinking Obama was great than it was about everyone thinking Romney was, basically, a lying asshole. This was an election that the GOP should have won, due to how basically stupid the electorate are. A number of people bought into the largely inaccurate perception that Obama was a weak, do-nothing president who hadn’t accomplished anything of note in the last four years. Had the Republicans had a better candidate, they might have pulled it off.

But that’s the problem with the GOP. There was no better candidate that their fundamentally (and I use that word with great deliberateness), insane base would have accepted. Had they had someone like Jon Huntsman as their nominee, they might have had more traction. As it was, when the GOP candidates were people like Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum, well, Romney is simply the most palatable of a really bad bunch.

The GOP needs to bear this in mind. They need to make sure they select a real moderate next time around, not someone whose opinions seem to vary by the hour. They also need to do a much better job of reaching out to minorities, especially Hispanics (more on how to do this in my Puerto Rico article that’s coming up next), and certainly need to do a better job of getting the youth vote. One CNN commentator I heard last night mentioned that once a young person had voted for the same party in three major election cycles in a row, it’s very likely that they will continue to vote for that party for the rest of their lives. By embracing the crazy and emphasizing the religious aspects of their party, the GOP has alienated the youth vote and basically lost an entire generation.

And I think that’s ultimately where the problem with the GOP lies. They continue to embrace the religious right, and, indeed, basically define the religious right. They aren’t the moderate religious sorts, like Eisenhower, Nixon, Bush I or even Reagan. No, they’re the party that embraces a view of reality that has nothing to do with facts. They reject evolution and global warming. They nominate people like Todd Akin, who famously made a series of dumb and wrong remarks about rape. They continue to try and force a conservative religious agenda on a populace that really doesn’t want it, especially among the younger voters.

For the Republicans to succeed in 2016, they need to have good, sane, moderate candidates. They need to weed out the crazy early on, and possibly have fewer debates, since that’s less chances for the crazies to get attention. They also need to properly and fully embrace immigration reform in a fashion that doesn’t include stupid concepts like self-deportation, but that rather provides, yes, amnesty. Most of us don’t like the concept of anything like amnesty, but those of us connected to reality understand that it’s needed. The GOP needs to understand that, too.

But I have a feeling that it’s going to take one more drubbing. They won the House, after all, and depending on what happens in 2014, they might keep it. I expect one final election where they double-down on the crazy and nominate someone like Rick Santorum, or possibly actually nominate Rick Santorum. I think the wing of the party that says, “Romney’s problem was that he was too liberal!” will hold enough sway to make that happen, and that likely will ensure that the Democrats retain power in 2016.

Know hope.

Almost Done

So tomorrow, the election happens. It’s actually happening right now in some places (hi, Guam!), but those places don’t really count (sorry, Guam!). As we go into Election Day, I remain confident in my prediction that Obama will win, something 538 shows a very high chance of happening.

I’ve pretty much said all that I’m going to say, but in case it needs to be explicit, here it is: VOTE DEMOCRAT. Don’t vote for the Republicans. Don’t vote for people who think gays are, at best, second-class citizens. Don’t vote for people who want to end a woman’s right to choose. Don’t vote for people who would take us into yet another war against a Muslim country. Remember that the financial crisis was caused in part by greedy rich people who loved firing people. Don’t put those people in charge of our recovery.

I shall be live-blogging the election results tomorrow. Meantime, if you want a bit of fun today, go check out this list of informative and interesting election myths from Cracked. And enjoy the following comic from XKCD!

Fixing the Primaries

As I type this, CNN is announcing Romney as the winner in Florda’s primary, and a winner by a solid margin at that. This is a bit of a relief, because as much as I don’t want him to stand a chance of being president, I’d take him over the likes of Gingrich and Santorum any day of the week.

The primary system in this country is very odd. It’s orchestrated by the parties and largely for the parties, and it’s basically a way for them to get attention. It strikes me as very strange the way that it’s currently done (Iowa, then New Hampshire, then South Carolina, then Florida and eventually other areas). I’m sure there has to be a better way to do this, and I think I’ve figured out one.

First off, let’s have ten primaries staged over the course of twenty weeks beginning in early January. Basically what we’d do is in each primary have five states that don’t border each other vote. Ideally make them as far away from each other as you can. That forces candidates to run on a more national level and less of a local level, which since they’re running for president only makes sense. It means that they also will be less likely to have to adopt extremist positions in order to get votes, especially since doing so can damage them in the other states. It also ensures that, at least among the Republicans, it isn’t the most conservative states that are picking the winner.

To make things even more interesting, we could shuffle the order every four years. So the states in block one in 2016 go last in 2020 while the states that went second in 2016 go first in 2020, etc. This gives every state a say at least occasionally and prevents problems where the states that go last under the current system are really meaningless. It also removes the problem of states jumping ahead in line to get more of an impact.

Of course this idea won’t be adopted by either party. They think they have a vested interest in the way the system is currently run, and believe that, among other things, it provides a crucible for the candidates and screens out the fringe. I suppose it does both those things to a point, but it also disenfranchises the states that vote after about April and leaves a lot of people with a bad taste in their mouth. There’s also the problem of New Hampshire’s stupid law that says they must vote first, but that can be dealt with (if nothing else one wonders what would happen if another state passed an identical law).

I’d like to see this concept adopted. I know it won’t be, but I like it and I can dream.

Our Broken Electoral System

So Iowa has their caucus in about eight days, as CNN never tires of reminding me. It’s the first official stage of the 2012 Presidential Election, and I take some serious solace in the fact that, within a month after Iowa, we’ll largely be done with the GOP race, and we’ll have the Romney vs Obama race confirmed.

Recently I came across a series of videos about the electoral system and how, basically, the one we have simply doesn’t work. The general election is skewed heavily toward only two parties and the electoral collage, with its 5% failure rate, is a joke that needs to be elminated.

Sadly, the only way to make these changes is by amending the Constitution, and that happens so very rarely. It’s certainly not likely to happen anytime soon. But I can hope, and dream, and in the meantime, I can look at these vids that explain exactly what the problem is and how to fix it! Enjoy!

Make sure you check the rest in that series, then check this:

Changing the Voting Rules

I’ve been thinking lately about voting rights, and as tomorrow is Election Day, I thought I’d share some of those thoughts.

In the USA, you have to be 18 in order to vote. This is despite the fact that at sixteen you’re considered old enough to drive a ton or two of moving steel down a freeway at 65+ mph. This seems odd to me.

Of course, I’d also think it odd to lower the voting age to sixteen, since while many sixteen-year-olds are mature enough to vote, most aren’t. Then again, perhaps most aren’t at 18 or 21 or even later in life. Most people in this country probably can’t, off the top of their heads, name the three branches of government, describe the process of checks and balances, name any of the cabinet officials or name their own Congressman (to be fair, I’m not 100% sure who mine is, but I think it’s Ed Pastor, but I’m kind of in a border area, so it’s hard for me to be sure). That so many people vote simply on the basis of party or on the basis of “candidate X seems like someone I could have a beer with,” is a bad thing and something that cries out for a solution, and I think I have one.

Initially I thought that the best choice would be to say that you aren’t allowed to vote until you can pass a citizenship test, and that this test can be taken at pretty much any age. Once you pass it, you can vote. But then I got really bugged by that notion. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re a citizen, you should be able to vote. Of course just allowing all citizens to vote doesn’t work, either, and leads to situations where you have little kids voting.

But then I remembered American Samoa. It’s one of our little overseas territories, and a place most of us never think of. The people of that island territory are in an odd situation. Even though it’s part of the USA, they aren’t considered citizens. When they’re born, unless at least one parent is a citizen, they are American nationals. They carry a US passport, they can live and work anywhere in the USA, but they aren’t citizens, though they can become citizens by taking the same process and tests as resident aliens.

You see where I’m going with this.

My proposal is that everyone who is born in this country would automatically be an American national, but not a citizen. You’d still be able to have a US passport, work here, live here, serve in the military, etc, but you wouldn’t be allowed to vote. If you wanted to vote, you’d have to take a citizenship test and that would involve learning a lot more about our country’s government than most people do. I’d also allow people to take the test basically at any age they felt they were ready to take it.

This wouldn’t put an end to politicians pandering to get elected, but it might make it less easy for them to do so. It might also increase voter turnout and that’s never a bad thing. Yes, this would require a Constitutional amendment, since under the 14th Amendment, everyone born here is automatically a citizen, period, but I still think it might be worth looking into.

I’m not under any delusions this is actually going to happen, but I still think it’s an interesting idea. Any thoughts?

Elections: Not Always a Smart Idea

I just got done watching an episode of Frontline from back in February. It talks about a crisis in this country centering around coroners who may or may not be qualified to do their jobs. According to what they were saying in hundreds of counties around this country, the office of coroner is an elected position. No qualifications are needed, and in fact in some areas you, at least until recently, didn’t even need to have a high school diploma. As long as you can get elected, you can serve and that’s all that matters.

It’s the same with a lot of other positions around the country. Here in Arizona, as in many other places, sheriffs are elected (thus sticking us repeatedly with Sheriff Joe). So is the State Mine Inspector. So is the Attorney General. So is the Secretary of State. In almost every state, judges are elected officials.

I must ask at this point, why? Why do we do this? This seems really stupid and counterproductive. I mean, how can a judge possibly campaign in any ethical fashion? Come to that, how can sheriff candidates campaign? All they can really do is say, “Yes, I’ll enforce the laws!” and beyond that it’s just a popularity contest. And State Mine Inspector? Why the hell is that an elected position?

Look, democracy is all well and good, and I wouldn’t have any other form of government. But really, people, this is taking it to a stupid extreme. All of these positions should be appointed positions, and with the possible exception of judges, they should expire at the end of the term of office of whomever appointed them. If the next person wants to reappoint them, great. But otherwise, no. There should also be confirmation hearings and a certain level of minimum qualification required for people who are appointed.

I realize this doesn’t entirely eliminate the possibility of getting unqualified people into office, but it does lessen the chances. And really, there’s not a single good reason why anyone in these positions, especially a judge, should have to run for election.