As President Obama said in his victory speech, far too many Americans waited in line for a very long time to vote this year and “we have to fix that.” Similarly, the candidates bombarded key states like Ohio and Florida, while ignoring concerns unique to voters in California or Mississippi. Election officials dreamed up new and increasingly creative ways to disenfranchise voters. Courts wrestled with state officials who, at times, even openly defied orders seeking to protect the vote. And partisan gerrymandering gave Republicans a House majority they did not earn and that the voters did not want. Here are five basic reforms that can be enacted before 2016 to fix many of the problems experienced during this year’s election:
1) Abolish The Electoral College
In a modern Democracy, there is simply no way to defend what happened in 2000, when the candidate rejected by the American people nonetheless became their president — albeit with an assist from five Supreme Court justices. Add to this the fact that the Electoral College offers copious opportunities for election rigging — such as Gov. Tom Corbett’s (R-PA) plan to give most of Pennsylvania’s electoral votes to Romney no matter who won the state — or the possibility that some of the 538 people chosen as members of the Electoral College could give their votes to someone other than the winner of their state, and this relic from more than 200 years ago becomes completely bonkers.
Additionally, while voters in Ohio were undoubtedly sick of the parade of political advertisements that hit their state this election cycle, there is a very real advantage to being from a swing state — presidential candidates have an extra reason to listen to your concerns and will potentially make campaign promises that benefit your state. The flip side of this is that major cities like Chicago, New York or Los Angeles, the deep south (including many African-American population centers) and much of the Great Plains do not enjoy this same access to the next president. The President of the United States should be the president of all the United States, and a voter in Harlem should have the same opportunity to make their case to a presidential candidate as a voter in Pensacola.
Most importantly, however, the President of the United States should be the person that most Americans want to be President of the United States. The way to make this happen is to abolish (or at least, make irrelevant) the Electoral College, either through constitutional amendment or through the National Popular Vote compact.
2) Abolish Partisan Election Officials
As if Katherine Harris did not make this point perfectly clear in 2000, partisan state election officials proved over and over again in 2012 that neither party should be in control of collecting and counting votes. Yet this year brought Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted’s war on early voting, attempted voter purges in Florida, Colorado and Iowa, and top election officials touting laws that do little more than keep minorities, low-income and student voters from the polls.
A better alternative is the Wisconsin plan, where a nonpartisan Government Accountability Board made up of retired judges runs elections, not partisan officials beholden to a political party.
3) Eliminate Partisan Gerrymandering
Based on early vote totals, which admittedly could change before the final tallies are available, voters cast over half a million more votes for a Democratic House candidate than for a Republican House candidate in 2012. Yet Republicans will control the House largely due to the kind of partisan gerrymandering that allows President Obama to carry the state of Ohio, but Democrats to only carry a quarter of its House districts. This is both unacceptable and unconstitutional.
There are many proposals for how to end partisan gerrymandering, which range from non-partisan redistricting commissions to judge-drawn districts to proportional representation. One thing is clear, however, a system that allows one party to seize control of the House for up to a decade simply because it wins in a redistricting year has to go.
4) Allow All Voters To Register On Election Day
Same day registration is the law in Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, and it will soon be implemented in California as well. This basic reform can boost turnout by as much as 7 percent, and it should be the law nationwide. Congress could make it so tomorrow, at least with respect to Congressional elections, because the Constitution permits the United States to “at any time by law make or alter” a state’s election law.
5) Ensure Adequate Early Voting In All States
It should go without saying that when voters have to wait six hours or more in line to exercise their most fundamental right, that their state failed to provide them with adequate opportunities to exercise the franchise. Yet lawmakers and election officials in the key states of Ohio and Florida fought tooth and nail to cut the number of days when voters could cast an early ballot. Their electorates paid for it this year with unacceptably long lines — the kind that actively discourage people from waiting to cast a ballot. This performance must not be repeated in 2016.