Imagine if America had again waited on Florida amid charges and countercharges of voting irregularities or problems. While the whole world watched, again, Florida would again have amplified all that is wrong with our electoral system.
So here’s an idea: How about if Congress limits how long a voter should have to wait to vote? We have regulations governing how passenger loaded airplanes can remain on the tarmac – three hours. Why not set a similar limit for an act much more important to our national well being: voting?
And if state officials are found guilty because of actions they took – or refused to take – they, like the airlines, should be penalized. A penalty including, say, 30 days in jail sounds about right. Any bets on how long, under such legislation, even recalcitrant states would still have seven hour lines?
California, however, demonstrated the flip side of the coin.
The change started when California eliminated party primaries, which goad representatives of each party to appeal to their base. The theory had been that although candidates veered towards the extremes during the primaries, they would move back to the center during the general. The real life results, however: too many extremist representatives amid ever more rigid party-line discipline.
Californians recognized that this was a structural error – like a faulty chip on a computer – and replaced the chip. Instead of each party holding its own primary, there would be one primary in which all candidates for an office were on the ballot, minus party affiliation. The top two contenders – they could even be from the same party - would then run against each other in the general election. From the start, then, each candidate's incentive would be to maximize his appeal to the largest possible audience.
Nor did California stop there. It also appointed a non-partisan body to redraw districts for Congressional and state races.
If you have ever despaired at why Congress remains immobilized even as its popularity has cratered to the low teens, here is the reason: the vast majority of Congressional representatives are elected without meaningful competition. Instead, they represent gerrymandered “Republican” or “Democratic” districts. Minus meaningful political competition, the pull is again to the extremes, leading to a dysfunctional Congress.
By redrawing districts to encourage balanced districts, Californians forced candidates towards the center, where action is possible. And here is the amazing part: Californians, seeing their onetime first class education system shredded by cuts not just of fat, but also of muscle and bone, followed Gov. Jerry Brown’s lead and, by a 54 to 46 percent margin, voted themselves a tax hike.
That 8% margin was more than double President Obama's reelection margin. And, countering Republican arguments that increased taxes on "job providers" would somehow hurt the economy, the margin in wealthy Marin County was well above 8%.
In short, Californians reformed how their government functions, and then voted that they trust their reformed government. Could Florida’s Rick Scott, whose expertise seems to be rejiggering voting procedures for partisan ends, ever have pulled off a similar feat?
The November elections highlighted two polar opposite ways of governing – leading to polar opposite results. Florida's governor and legislators rejiggered the system for short term political gain. Their California counterparts reformed the system, bringing the body politic back from extremism while elevating trust in government. Florida's government again became a national laughing stock, while California's won back the trust of its people, at least in the short term.
Here’s hoping the rest of America noticed.
By Joseph Hanania Aslan Media Columnist