IVN.us http://ivn.us Independent Voter Network: Unfiltered News Fri, 27 Feb 2015 23:09:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Obama Seriously Does Not Know Why Americans Didn’t Vote in 2014 http://ivn.us/2015/02/27/obama-seriously-not-know-americans-didnt-vote-2014/ http://ivn.us/2015/02/27/obama-seriously-not-know-americans-didnt-vote-2014/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 21:34:52 +0000 http://ivn.us/?p=23295659203 Obama Seriously Does Not Know Why Americans Didn’t Vote in 2014

During an MSNBC town hall event in Miami, Florida, on Wednesday, President Barack Obama called out Americans for not showing up to the polls on Election Day 2014. Obama insisted that if America had the same voter turnout as countries where 60 to 70 percent of the eligible voting population participates, Congress would have passed comprehensive immigration reform by now.

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Obama Seriously Does Not Know Why Americans Didn’t Vote in 2014

During an MSNBC town hall event in Miami, Florida, on Wednesday, President Barack Obama called out Americans for not showing up to the polls on Election Day 2014. Obama insisted that if America had the same voter turnout as countries where 60 to 70 percent of the eligible voting population participates, Congress would have passed comprehensive immigration reform by now.

“Why are you staying at home?” Obama said. “Why are you not participating? There are war-torn countries, people full of poverty, who still voted 60, 70 percent. If here in the United States of America, we voted at 60 percent, 70 percent, it would transform our politics. Our Congress would be completely different. We would have already passed comprehensive immigration reform.”

National voter turnout hit a 72-year low in 2014; only 36.4 percent of eligible voters participated. What Obama doesn’t realize is he somewhat touched on a key problem that is keeping many people home on Election Day.

Despite some lackluster efforts in Congress to pass “comprehensive” immigration reform in the past, the legislative branch has yet to move forward on anything substantive. This is probably because Congress isn’t having a truly comprehensive discussion on immigration and immigration reform. It’s an issue that is mostly used as leverage by members of the Republican and Democratic parties to score political points during negotiations on must pass legislation like funding bills.

The debate is always reduced to empty rhetoric and talking points that are amplified on social media and mainstream media outlets. Immigration reform is nothing more than a prop in the ongoing political drama going on in Washington.

Power shifts in Washington are not rare. In the last 14 years, Americans have seen a federal government completely controlled by members of the Republican Party, a Congress controlled by the Democratic Party during a Republican administration, a government completely controlled by members of the Democratic Party, a Congress divided between both major parties, and now a Republican-controlled Congress during a Democratic administration.

No matter what the makeup of the federal government is, truly comprehensive immigration reform has gone nowhere.

President Obama wants to know why people don’t vote. What he fails to see or simply refuses to see is that he is part of the problem and many current members of Congress (regardless of their party affiliation) are part of the problem.

Why should Americans believe that anything is going to change? No matter who has majority control in the legislative branch or which party controls the White House, nothing substantive gets done. To identify a problem, we must always look at the source.

The current election system doesn’t offer the tens of millions of Americans who currently feel completely disenfranchised or disenchanted by the process any real hope that the hyper-partisan environment in Washington can change.

Over 90 percent of all elections in the United States are not competitive, meaning they are decided in the primary stage of the election process. The reluctance by House leaders to do anything that might anger their party’s base is out of fear that they will lose their power and be primaried out (like former U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor) because the most partisan voters are historically the ones who vote in primary elections.

In most states, voters outside the major parties are either not allowed to participate in the first round of voting or they are forced to choose between Republican and Democratic ballots without the option of voting for someone outside the party they choose. For decades, most laws related to elections, from campaign finance to gerrymandering to ballot access (for both voters and candidates), have been implemented to maintain the two-party system created by the Republican and Democratic parties.

The result? “Hope” and “change” have been nothing more than convenient campaign slogans for major-party candidates looking to capitalize on mass dissatisfaction with the other party.

Voters should participate in the election process, but history teaches us that many voters need an incentive to vote. For many, part of this incentive is the feeling that they can make a difference and that change is possible. Perhaps more Americans than ever before are realizing that real change is nothing more than a fantasy under the current system.

Where The Power Lies

Why Political Parties Control Elections

Learn More

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Devaluation of Dollar Continues to Threaten U.S.’s Global Standing http://ivn.us/2015/02/27/devaluation-dollar-continues-threaten-u-s-s-global-standing/ http://ivn.us/2015/02/27/devaluation-dollar-continues-threaten-u-s-s-global-standing/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 17:55:51 +0000 http://ivn.us/?p=23295659166 Devaluation of Dollar Continues to Threaten U.S.’s Global Standing

The United States' preeminent place on the global stage has undergone significant changes in the last 50 years. A report by Business Insider in 2014 showed China has now overtaken the U.S. in terms of Gross Domestic Product when adjusted for purchasing-power.

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Devaluation of Dollar Continues to Threaten U.S.’s Global Standing

The United States’ preeminent place on the global stage has undergone significant changes in the last 50 years. A report by Business Insider in 2014 showed China has now overtaken the U.S. in terms of Gross Domestic Product when adjusted for purchasing power.

Several factors have contributed to the decline of the U.S. dollar, which has been on a steady trend for some time now. Online Accounting Schools explains the strength of the currency as it relates to three aspects: globalization, inflation, and credit rating.

Globalization:

Switzerland’s economy has grown considerably since the early 1900s and now has an official GDP of $646.2 billion (U.S. dollars). Additionally, the Swiss franc is currently worth 5 percent more than the U.S. dollar.

Inflation:

Inflation occurs when the general price of goods rises over time. Since 1970, the U.S. dollar has been inflated by 602 percent. Today, the average home costs 520 percent more than it did in 1972.

Credit Rating:

Another major point to pay attention to is the United States’ credit rating in comparison to other countries. S&P, or Standard and Poor’s, is a rating service that evaluates how reliable an obligor is in regards to credit.

An AAA rating is the highest status. This rating translates to a guarantee that if a nation borrows money from one of its citizens — for example in the form of a bond — then that money will be paid back.

The United States possessed an AAA rating for 70 years straight from 1941 to 2011. However, S&P downgraded the U.S. to AA plus on August 5, 2011, just days after a debt ceiling showdown ended between Republicans and Democrats in Congress.

In 2011, the Pew Research Center Global Attitudes Project polled citizens of 22 nations to gauge whether these countries thought the United States could still claim to be the world’s leading power. The project found that people in 15 countries believed that China will replace or already has replaced the United States as the leading power. The root cause of all of this is the devaluation of the U.S. dollar.

Fall-of-the-Dollar

Source: Online Accounting Schools

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Why Americans Should Reject a Professional Political Class http://ivn.us/2015/02/27/does-america-need-a-political-class/ http://ivn.us/2015/02/27/does-america-need-a-political-class/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 14:45:57 +0000 http://ivn.us/?p=23295657763 Why Americans Should Reject a Professional Political Class

The term "career politician" has a negative connotation to it. It is often used on the campaign trail to cast a negative light on an incumbent. Sometimes, it works, and sometimes it doesn't. The accusation against lawmakers referred to as the "establishment" has reshaped Congress in a major way, and big names like former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor have lost their seats.

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Why Americans Should Reject a Professional Political Class

NATIONAL — The term “career politician” has a negative connotation to it. It is often used on the campaign trail to cast a negative light on an incumbent. Sometimes, it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. The accusation against lawmakers referred to as the “establishment” has reshaped Congress in a major way, and big names like former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor have lost their seats.

However, Is being a career politician really a bad thing?

The “establishment” is often composed of people who come from a certain background, were brought up a certain way, received a similar education, and have spent most of their lives in politics, ascending from local office, to state office, to federal office. We might think of these people as part of a “political class.”

Today, there is considerable media hype nationally about the 2016 elections and the potential presidential candidates. Since Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton are potential presidential candidates, this raises the question of having another person from one of these political families in the White House again.

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Jeb Bush has been in politics since the late 80s. He served as Florida’s secretary of commerce and was the state’s governor from 1999 to 2007. His brother, George W. Bush, was the 43rd president, and his father, George H.W. Bush, was the 41st president. His son, George P. Bush, was elected general land commissioner in Texas in 2014, and is expected to have a big future in Texas politics.

Hillary Clinton served as first lady from 1993 to 2001 during her husband’s administration. Her husband, Bill Clinton, was the 42nd President of the United States. From 2001 to 2009, Hillary served as a U.S. senator from New York, and served as secretary of state under the Obama administration from 2009 to 2013.

The Bush family and the Clintons are, without a doubt, part of the professional political class. They have even established what the media often calls “political dynasties.”

Why do Americans keep re-electing professional politicians? One reason is these politicians have the financial and political clout that fresh new candidates don’t. Unfortunately, money has become the single most important factor in getting elected to national offices. Candidates in the professional political class are in a much better position to raise large sums of money to get re-elected.

Professional politicians do not always give the American people the best results. We might have seen that 50 or 60 years ago, but not today. In recent years, we have seen numerous scandals and reports of corruption coming from the professional political class who run our government at the national level. This includes bureaucrats or executive managers who manage large government agencies as well.

We have a negative political climate in America today. We have candidates from the two major political parties running for Congress or the White House who can be bought by political action committees. Quite often, large corporations make up the core of these political action committees and are willing to buy candidates and their campaigns.

The Supreme Court’s decision in the 2010 Citizens United case allowed this corrupt practice to continue.

Members of the political establishment — Republican and Democratic —  have led to the lowest approval ratings for the U.S. Congress in American history. They have created the political gridlock in Congress which has earned them the name, “Do Nothing Congress.”  The good results from the political professional class have been missing in Washington, D.C. for quite some time.

The professional political class is not providing the representative government that Americans deserve. Americans need to prevent politicians who only represent special interest groups from getting re-elected term after term.

We need open primaries nationwide to avoid this scenario. If we have open primaries, then we will hopefully see qualified independent and third-party candidates who can represent their communities and states in an appropriate manner.

If American voters want representative government, the bottom line is that we need to start by overturning Citizens United. Let’s eliminate the big corporate political action committees and the professional political class from stealing our freedom and our national government.

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Should Politicians Be Required to Pass a Test before Taking Office? http://ivn.us/2015/02/27/politicians-required-pass-test-taking-office/ http://ivn.us/2015/02/27/politicians-required-pass-test-taking-office/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 13:49:24 +0000 http://ivn.us/?p=23295659024 Should Politicians Be Required to Pass a Test before Taking Office?

If a lawyer wants to practice law in a state, he or she must first pass the state's bar exam. If a teacher wants to work in a school, they are tested to be credentialed. Before entering the police force, applicants go through a rigorous training and screening process. Before becoming a doctor, medical school graduates must pass a licensing exam.

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Should Politicians Be Required to Pass a Test before Taking Office?

If a lawyer wants to practice law in a state, he or she must first pass the state’s bar exam. If a teacher wants to work in a school, they are tested to be credentialed. Before entering the police force, applicants go through a rigorous training and screening process. Before becoming a doctor, medical school graduates must pass a licensing exam.

And yet, aside from needing a proper image and campaigning, there is not a formal test for those seeking public office. Perhaps there should be, considering recent events in several state legislatures:

Idaho state Rep. Vito Barbieri, during a hearing regarding HB154 — a bill that would ban doctors from prescribing abortion-inducing medication through ‘telemedicine’ — asked whether a woman can swallow a small camera for doctors to conduct a remote gynecological exam. Dr. Julie Madsen, who was testifying in opposition to the bill, replied that it would be impossible because swallowed pills do not end up in the vagina.

It is pertinent to note that Barbieri sits on the board of a crisis pregnancy center in northern Idaho.

In neighboring Nevada, state Assemblymember Michele Fiore, speaking in favor of easing health care rules, advocated for an interesting medical procedure:

“If you have cancer, which I believe is a fungus,” said Fiore, “we can put a pic line into your body and we’re flushing with, say, salt water, sodium cardonate [presumably she meant bicarbonate] through that line and flushing out the fungus. These are some procedures that are not FDA-approved in America that are very inexpensive, cost-effective.”

Perhaps one of the reasons why the FDA has not approved the proposed treatment is because the premise that cancer is a fungus is a debunked theory that defies basic facts of oncology and microbiology.

Of course, it is unreasonable to expect every lawmaker to know everything about every subject. That said, these are the people who vote on legislation that greatly impacts their constituents. If public officials are to truly and faithfully discharge the duties of their office, does it not make sense to require some knowledge of the subjects new laws are about? Is it unreasonable to have a test for politicians?

What do you think? Should there be a test for politicians?

Photo Credit: Constantine Pankin / shutterstock.com

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Breaking the Cycle of Rumors, Hoaxes, and Urban Legends http://ivn.us/2015/02/26/breaking-cycle-rumors-hoaxes-urban-legends/ http://ivn.us/2015/02/26/breaking-cycle-rumors-hoaxes-urban-legends/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 19:37:08 +0000 http://ivn.us/?p=23295658917 Breaking the Cycle of Rumors, Hoaxes, and Urban Legends

The problems of America won't be solved until people are willing to cast off these faulty paradigms, and not indulge in the basic emotions of outrage and shock value that these rumors, hoaxes, and urban legends thrive upon.

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Breaking the Cycle of Rumors, Hoaxes, and Urban Legends

Americans love a good story, regardless of whether or not it’s true.

P.T. Barnum dazzled early American audiences with what he often advertised as genuine fakes — and the public ate it up.

Throughout the 20th century, urban legends and hoaxes abounded. From the great cabbage hoax to moon-landing conspiracies, commonly believed falsehoods entered the collective “knowledge” of humanity.

But studying and debunking these falsehoods has been around just as long, even being one of the first studied phenomenons within the modern field of psychology.

Credible journalism has occasionally taken a stand against these collective falsehoods. The Boston Herald published a front-page weekly article throughout the 1940s debunking popular rumors and stories of public interest.

With the invention of the Internet, spreading false information has become epidemic.

Even when thoroughly debunked, many rumors, hoaxes, and urban legends still remain and spread, often with people belligerently and defiantly defending them, even when faced with overwhelming evidence.

Why Breaking the Cycle Matters

Some falsehoods are harmless, others are outright dangerous; some are made up for fun, others deliberately perpetrated to cause harm, outrage, or embarrassment.

Gordon Allport and Leo Postman were the first psychologists to examine the mechanics behind falsehoods in 1947. America was entering the Cold War; the deliberate spreading of falsehoods was considered a matter of national security.

Allport and Postman’s research found what they called the Law of Rumor. The strength of a falsehood was created by two factors: the importance the recipient places on the falsehood and the ambiguity of evidence relating to the topic.

In general, people don’t remember rumors (or other falsehoods) about things they don’t care about — the mind just purges the information like any other data that is perceived as nonessential.

The stronger a person’s feelings on the subject, the stronger the falsehood is remembered.

Later researchers found that believability is based on a person’s inherent knowledge on the subject, their own confirmation bias, and whether or not believing the falsehood satisfies an emotional need.

This is at least part of the reason that political falsehoods (e.g. birther conspiracies, etc) are so popular; people deeply hold the opinions and there are always shades of gray when it comes to political facts.

But this is also why we should place an interest in thoroughly debunking and vetting our opinions — because these falsehoods often create within us powerful impressions that motivate us to action.

The great cabbage hoax is one of the oldest political hoaxes still perpetuated.

It takes different forms, but almost all of them are something like this:

Pythagorean theorem: 24 words
The Lord’s Prayer: 66 words
Archimedes’ Principle: 67 words
The Ten Commandments: 179 words
The Gettysburg Address: 286 words
The Declaration of Independence: 1,300 words
The U.S. government regulations on the sale of cabbage: 26,911 words

This hoax has been traced by researchers back to at least the 1950s during the price-stabilization policies, but others contend that it came out of the rationing laws of the 1940s.

In general, though, this hoax follows the model: people had a vested interest in perpetuating it (anger at government intervention, harm done by rationing, etc.) and — during this time period — government laws and regulations were not easily accessible by the average person.

But many organizations have fallen victim to this hoax, including Mobile Oil, who featured the “facts” of the hoax in an advertisement complaining about government regulations.

Even after CBS News debunked the hoax in 1977, the hoax still spread.

The actual government regulation is quite a bit less verbose — only 1,249 words.

While this is definitely a “fun” hoax, the damage it does to our psyche is clear. It reinforces a confirmation bias in that we “know” that the government excessively regulates, makes complicated laws, and doesn’t mind its own business.

Debunking 101

The absolute greatest falsehoods are hidden within a kernel of truth. Almost all political rumors and hoaxes rely on this central tenet.

The key to making propaganda work is to produce a product that most people will automatically believe, and not spend the time or effort to verify.

Snopes has made a reputation as the “go-to” online source for debunking, but their research into topics occasionally gets called into question.

What steps can we personally take to debunk our daily diet of media and information?

1. Accept that everything you hear, even from your favorite, most trusted source is not completely true.

2. Be willing to listen to opposing view points. If your opinions solely rest on single sources, books, or organizations, you are likely to fall for falsehoods.

3. Go to the source! Especially with political material.

4. Don’t automatically share or forward in social media without actually reviewing the facts — respect your reputation!

In April 2009, the Department of Homeland Security released a report titled, “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment.”

Within minutes of its release, social media and the press were buzzing with rumors of the Obama administration classifying veterans as terrorists — hundreds of memes on the Internet have highlighted this claim.

Many sources, including a report from Fox News, characterized the report as unjustly singling out right-wing values (including abortion, immigration), ignoring Islamic terrorism threats, and characterizing veterans as terrorists.

So what is entailed in actually debunking these claims?

The DHS report is freely available online from numerous sources, and is only nine and a half pages long. The average American reads at a 300 wpm pace, meaning that this report would take a little under 10 minutes to read with comprehension.

In constrast, the Fox News segment was about 5 minutes long; it doesn’t take that much time to actually verify the facts!

Claim #1: Unjustly singling out conservatives:

The first full sentence of the report reads:

“This product is one of a series of intelligence assessments published by the Extremism and Radicalization Branch to facilitate a greater understanding of the phenomenon of violent radicalization in the United States.”

This should immediately alert the reader that there are more reports about different subjects.

In particular, one of these reports was issued four months earlier, titled “Leftwing Extremists Likely to Increase Use of Cyber Attacks over the Coming Decade.”

This report singled out environmentalists, animal rights activists, left-wing economic extremists, and anarchists, all of whom are increasingly using cyber-attacks to electronically “shut down” their target’s operations.

While these attacks are seen by their perpetrators as “non-violent,” the economic destruction they create is immense, damaging businesses, workers’ salaries, and consumers.

Interestingly, none in the media cried foul about the left-wing extremist report when it was released.

Claim #2: Unjustly attacking right-wing values:

Abortion, for instance, is only mentioned twice in the report — both instances with similar context:

“Rightwing extremism in the United States can be broadly divided into those groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups), and those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.”

The highlighting of single-issue terrorists was hardly unjustified.

Just over seven weeks later, Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider, was assassinated at his church in front of friends and family by a member of several right-wing extremist groups.

Likewise, the report was correct in predicting a spike in anti-immigration violence and murders (See this case).

Claim #3: Ignoring Islamic extremists:

This claim is borderline absurd; almost all of our efforts in combating terrorism are focused on the current Islamic extremist threat, and has been for the past 14 years.

But from the very first page, the report makes it clear that this series was only focusing on domestic terrorism, something we also need to focus on.

While the 9/11 attacks took more lives than all other attacks in America combined, there have still been hundreds of attacks carried out on American soil, with over 90 percent being non-Islamic and domestic in nature.

Claim #4: Veterans are being classified as terrorists:

Wording is everything, and looking at the report gives a much different view:

“Returning veterans possess combat skills and experience that are attractive to rightwing extremists. DHS/I&A is concerned that rightwing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to boost their violent capabilities.”

The report isn’t saying that veterans are terrorists; the report is saying that veterans are one of the targets of extremist groups for exploitation.

This claim is not without precedent. In 1995, the single largest act of domestic terrorism was perpetrated by a highly-decorated veteran who had been befriended and radicalized by extremist groups.

This example highlights the absolute need to go to the source when someone states that a report (or anything else) says something “outrageous.”

Social media is an awesome tool for spreading uncensored information across the globe, but its growth places the responsibility on the individual to substantiate claims before spreading information further.

A large chunk of the partisan divide is caused by faulty paradigms of the other side’s actions and beliefs (e.g. tin-man conservatives or straw-man liberals).

The problems of America won’t be solved until people are willing to cast off these faulty paradigms, and not indulge in the basic emotions of outrage and shock value that these rumors, hoaxes, and urban legends thrive upon.

We won’t always see issues that America faces the same. But we should at least be looking at real issues, and not made up stories.

Photo Credit: PathDoc / shutterstock.com

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FCC Passes New Regulations on ISPs to Enforce Net Neutrality http://ivn.us/2015/02/26/fcc-passes-new-regulations-isps-enforce-net-neutrality/ http://ivn.us/2015/02/26/fcc-passes-new-regulations-isps-enforce-net-neutrality/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 18:17:07 +0000 http://ivn.us/?p=23295659043 FCC Passes New Regulations on ISPs to Enforce Net Neutrality

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Thursday approved new rules that will reclassify the Internet as a utility under Title II of the Telecommunications Act so "net neutrality" policies can survive judicial scrutiny.

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FCC Passes New Regulations on ISPs to Enforce Net Neutrality

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Thursday approved new rules that will reclassify the Internet as a utility under Title II of the Telecommunications Act so “net neutrality” policies can survive judicial scrutiny. The vote fell along party lines, with the 3 Democratic commissioners voting in favor of the 332-page plan and the two Republican commissioners voting against it.

While the new FCC rules are expected to fare better against legal challenges, the issue has become highly politicized, meaning Republicans are not likely to give up the fight. The New York Times reported Tuesday that party leaders in Congress have conceded the fight for now, acknowledging that they will not be able to pass a legislative response, but that does not mean they will not revisit the issue later.

In November, President Obama made an unexpected move by coming out in favor of Title II reclassification, arguing that it would better protect consumers and encourage competition. The president says reclassifying the Internet will prevent Internet service providers from blocking content they view as bad for business interests, throttling connection speeds, or sticking companies in the “slow lane” if they do not pay extra fees.

Some political commentators have argued that Obama coming out in favor of net neutrality was a political strategy to force Republicans to come out against a popular policy. It also happens to be a wedge issue within the Republican Party, much like immigration or the Cuba embargo. The politicization of net neutrality has irked some supporters because they believe it should not be a partisan issue.

As soon as President Obama came out in support of new net neutrality rules, some Republicans immediately came out against it. U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), for instance, tweeted that net neutrality is “Obamacare for the Internet,” a remark that elicited broad criticism on social media.

U.S. Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) called the FCC’s approach to net neutrality a “power grab by the federal government” after FCC Chair Tom Wheeler announced that he would embrace the proposals advocated by President Obama. Thune said the FCC “finally succumbed to the bully tactics of political activists and the president himself.”

“The internet must be fast, fair and open. That is the message I’ve heard from consumers and innovators across this nation. That is the principle that has enabled the internet to become an unprecedented platform for innovation and human expression. And that is the lesson I learned heading a tech startup at the dawn of the internet age,” Wheeler said in an op-ed on Wired. “The proposal I present to the commission will ensure the internet remains open, now and in the future, for all Americans.”

Rasmussen Reports conducted a survey that asked respondents to weigh in on the issue of net neutrality, asking them if the Internet should be regulated like radio and television. Because of how the questions were worded, Rasmussen reported that an overwhelming majority (61%) of Americans do not support net neutrality.

Yet, advocates of net neutrality are quick to point out that net neutrality has nothing to do with regulating the Internet. New federal rules would regulate ISPs to protect consumers from unfair business practices.

As previously explained on IVN, net neutrality “is the principle that the Internet should be free and open. That’s it, plain and simple. It is the belief that people should be able to access and share information online without interference from a third party — whether that be the government or corporations.”

Once people start talking about censoring the Internet or regulating its content in any way, the conversation is no longer about net neutrality. If the FCC passes rules that regulate content at all on the Internet or gives the commission authority to do so, then the proposed rules are not about net neutrality.

The Daily Caller on Monday reported that the FCC’s Republican members asked Wheeler to delay the vote on the new regulations and release the plan to the public. They suggested that the public be given 30 days to review the plan first to promote transparency. The FCC traditionally does not release new regulation proposals before the commissioners have voted on them.

Legal challenges over the new regulations are expected, meaning the fight over net neutrality will likely be dragged out for years. While many Republicans in Congress will continue to oppose the new regulations, it is highly unlikely that they will be able to do something during the current session since they will not have the whip count to pass legislation or override a presidential veto.

Photo Credit: 2nix Studio / Shutterstock.com

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Despite Claims of Progress from VA Officials, Not Much Has Really Changed http://ivn.us/2015/02/26/despite-claims-progress-va-officials-not-much-really-changed/ http://ivn.us/2015/02/26/despite-claims-progress-va-officials-not-much-really-changed/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 15:57:15 +0000 http://ivn.us/?p=23295659106 Despite Claims of Progress from VA Officials, Not Much Has Really Changed

Earlier this month, VA Secretary Bob McDonald got into a heated argument with a member of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee while defending his efforts to turn around the scandal-ridden agency. Specifically, he called out U.S. Representative Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), a veteran of both Iraq wars, over his comments regarding McDonald's tenure.

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Despite Claims of Progress from VA Officials, Not Much Has Really Changed

NATIONAL – Earlier this month, VA Secretary Bob McDonald got into a heated argument with a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee while defending his efforts to turn around the scandal-ridden agency. Specifically, he called out U.S. Representative Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), a veteran of both Iraq wars, over his comments regarding McDonald’s tenure.

“[The VA] is a department mired in bureaucratic incompetence and corruption. I fundamentally believe … when this president ends his term, you will not have made a dent in changing the culture of VA,” Coffman told McDonald.

McDonald took exception to this statement, calling it “highly offensive.”

During the impassioned exchange, and much to the shock of those in the room, McDonald said, “I’ve run a large company, sir. What have you done?”

“I’ve been here six months. You’ve been here longer than I have. If there’s a problem in Denver, you own it more than I do,” McDonald said, referring to the hospital being built there that is currently over budget, significantly delayed, and has become the lightning rod for all things wrong with the VA.

Coffman did not respond to McDonald’s dig at the hearing, but later said, “I have never run a federal agency that tolerates corruption the way the VA has. I’ve never built a hospital that’s years behind schedule and hundreds of millions over budget. And I’ve never been a shill for inept bureaucrats who allowed American heroes to die on a medical waiting list.”

But a key question remains: what has Bob McDonald done to correct the mistakes of his predecessors?

In an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press McDonald said, “We’re making fundamental changes in the department… 900 hundred people have been fired since I became secretary. We’ve got 60 people who we’ve fired who have manipulated wait times, we’ve got about 100 senior leaders who are under investigation now… so we’re holding people accountable.”

Further he notes that wait times are down 18 percent nationally.

In November, the VA instituted a program, called the Veterans Choice Program, to reduce these wait times even more. McDonald touts the program as one of his successes, but some veterans disagree.

Under the program, veterans that meet certain criteria are issued a card that allows them to see civilian providers in their local communities on the VA’s dime. But The Washington Post reports that while “the card gives veterans who have been waiting more than 30 days for appointments or who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility the chance to see a private doctor,” there seems to be some discrepancy as to how that 40 miles is calculated.

According to the Post, “some veterans say that when they attempted to use their card, the VA told them they had to live more than 40 ‘miles in a straight line, or as the crow flies,’ from their VA rather than Google maps miles, which makes the card harder to use.”

Despite McDonald’s fiery defense, there is further evidence that the department is still in disarray. Choice cards have even been issued to veterans who had already died years earlier, painting the picture that it’s business as usual at the VA.

"Choice cards have even been issued to veterans who had already died years earlier, painting the picture that it's business as usual at the VA."Wendy Innes, IVN contributor
USA Today reports that delays continue at the Phoenix VA Hospital, the facility that blew the lid off the wait time scandal.

As recently as January 29, The VA’s inspector general found “[t]he urology department for the Phoenix VA Health Care System remains understaffed and ‘hundreds of records behind’ in processing in-coming tests results from private doctors paid to examine veterans.”

This is not the end of the problems in Phoenix, where the investigation into the delays has been interrupted.

“The Department of Veterans Affairs, which for months delayed an investigation of Phoenix VA hospital officials to ensure the probe was carried out properly, has seen its inquiry disrupted because national leaders appointed a key investigator who had a conflict of interest,” the Arizona Republic reports.

While McDonald claims 900 people have been fired, he has reportedly done his best to delay investigations and firings.

“In October, VA Secretary Robert “Bob” McDonald told Military Times that culpable VA bosses were not being fired or punished promptly because criminal probes were still underway,” the Republic further reports.

However, the House Veterans’ Affairs committee upped the ante on the VA “by obtaining DOJ approval for the VA to fire and discipline administrators while criminal probes were underway.”

Yet just a month later, McDonald borrowed a page out of his predecessor’s playbook by telling a different group of reporters that “[t]erminations must be carried out according to strict legal rules. Our Constitution provides for due process, and we are following due process.”

In the Senate, Colorado lawmakers are demanding further federal investigations into the boondoggle that is the Denver VA hospital replacement.

According to the Aurora Sentinel:

“The U.S. Civilian Board of Contract Appeals found that the VA failed to meet its contractual obligations and had designed a project costing more than $1 billion, $400 million more than the original design price. The Board also found that the VA did not have sufficient funds to pay for the construction, had no plans to request additional resources.”

The report also said that the VA owed the contractor $157 million for costs already incurred.

“Colorado’s veterans deserve better than the mismanagement of the construction of the VA hospital in Aurora. A Veterans Affairs Committee hearing in Denver would help our colleagues better understand the issues and the urgent need to find a solution that will lead to this project’s completion. Our veterans have waited long enough, and we will do everything needed to hold the VA accountable,” U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D) said in a prepared statement regarding a potential field hearing.

"Our veterans have waited long enough, and we will do everything needed to hold the VA accountable."U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.)
In Pittsburgh, where several veterans succumbed to Legionnaire’s Disease contracted at the hospital, the behavioral unit was shut down and admissions were suspended earlier this month due to a Norovirus outbreak. These incidents prompt more concerns about the sanitary conditions at the facility.

“Nineteen patients who fell sick in the unit over 13 days have recovered,” VA Pittsburgh spokesman Mike Marcus told the Tribune Review.

Perhaps the national wait time average is down by 18 percent, but that doesn’t help veterans in places like Pittsburgh, Phoenix, and Denver who are having their care delayed and, in some cases, contracting an institutional infection.

While McDonald’s indignation served to make an otherwise mundane hearing more entertaining, his combative attempt to pass the buck and insult a combat veteran, one of the very people he is supposed to be serving, demonstrates that the VA is operating its business as usual. Senator Bennet’s assessment seems to be correct and could be applied to veterans nationally.

These events are merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the culture that McDonald claims is changing. Just this week, new whistle-blower reports have surfaced detailing the mishandling of disability claims. The report claims that several facilities have, once again, dealt with an extreme backlog of disability claims by simply destroying any record of those veterans’ claims. Inquiries into these reports are ongoing.

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Report: 2014 Elections Officially Most Expensive Midterm in U.S. History http://ivn.us/2015/02/26/report-2014-elections-officially-expensive-midterm-u-s-history/ http://ivn.us/2015/02/26/report-2014-elections-officially-expensive-midterm-u-s-history/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 14:05:46 +0000 http://ivn.us/?p=23295659045 Report: 2014 Elections Officially Most Expensive Midterm in U.S. History

The 2014 midterm elections were a huge victory for Republicans; they regained control of the Senate and increased their majority in the House of Representatives. But there was another winner in the election cycle that hasn’t been talked about much: money.

Debbie SharnakIVN.us - Independent Voter Network: Unfiltered News

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Report: 2014 Elections Officially Most Expensive Midterm in U.S. History

NATIONAL — The 2014 midterm elections were a huge victory for Republicans; they regained control of the Senate and increased their majority in the House of Representatives. But there was another winner in the election cycle that hasn’t been talked about much: money.

According to a report released by the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), the 2014 midterm election is officially the most expensive midterm in U.S. history, costing a total of $3.77 billion.

Since the Citizens United ruling in 2010, more money has entered politics than ever before. In the decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations. In this respect, money was seen as a form of political speech and could not be prohibited.

The effects were evident in the amount spent this past electoral cycle. Not only was more money injected into the campaigns, but less people contributed, stopping a 15-year trend of more people donating and getting involved in politics. With less people and more money in the elections, the average campaign contribution from an individual increased from $1,936 in 2010 to an all-time high of $2,639 in 2014.

From 2010 to 2014, the number of donors who contributed to outside groups decreased by 3,680. However, the average donation from an individual went from $1,800 in 2010 to a whopping $8,011 in 2014, a nearly 445 percent increase. These groups are also expanding their influence in elections.

CRP estimates that 14.9 percent of all spending in the 2014 midterms was donated by outside groups. This is a jump from 2010 when only 9 percent of spending was contributed by these groups.

Both parties, however, were culprits in this new emerging pattern.

The CRP said Republicans and conservative groups spent $1.766 billion and Democrats and liberal groups spent $1.722 billion — the difference was approximately $44.4 million, which is a relatively small margin when looking at how much spending has increased.

This does not mean all citizens are happy with these changes. Among other groups, Issue One is an organization dedicated to addressing the problem of money in politics. which the group calls the “biggest issue affecting democracy today.”

Issue One believes that money has gained overwhelming influence over the U.S. political system. The organization is attempting to create a bipartisan coalition to limit this trend. The group was created after two of the most prominent campaign finance organizations, Fund for the Republic and Americans for Campaign Reform, joined forces to increase their impact.

There are several other organizations that are working toward this goal as well, including dozens of petitions on Change.org committed to this issue. In 2014, Congress put forward a proposal for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United ruling, although Republicans filibustered the vote in the Senate.

As the costs of elections continue to rise, many predict 2016 will be the most expensive presidential election in U.S. history, topping historic spending in 2012. The Koch brothers’ political network alone has budgeted almost $1 billion for the election cycle.

Meanwhile, candidates outside the major parties are faced with a tougher monetary hurdle to clear, which could hinder their ability to even enter races. With voter turnout at historic lows nationwide, the greatest influence on elections is not the voter; it is money.

Photo Credit: suravid / shutterstock.com 

Debbie SharnakIVN.us - Independent Voter Network: Unfiltered News

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McConnell’s Acceptance of ‘Clean’ DHS Funding Bill Creates Tension in GOP http://ivn.us/2015/02/25/mcconnells-acceptance-clean-dhs-funding-bill-creates-tension-gop/ http://ivn.us/2015/02/25/mcconnells-acceptance-clean-dhs-funding-bill-creates-tension-gop/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 00:02:27 +0000 http://ivn.us/?p=23295659061 McConnell’s Acceptance of ‘Clean’ DHS Funding Bill Creates Tension in GOP

The Hill reported Wednesday that the U.S. Senate voted to open debate on a DHS funding bill, breaking the stalemate between members of the Republican and Democratic parties. The 98-2 vote came after both sides in the Senate agreed to debate a funding bill that does not include provisions that would reverse President Obama's executive actions on deferred deportations.

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McConnell’s Acceptance of ‘Clean’ DHS Funding Bill Creates Tension in GOP

CAPITOL HILL — The Hill reported Wednesday that the U.S. Senate voted to open debate on a DHS funding bill, breaking the stalemate between members of the Republican and Democratic parties. The 98-2 vote came after both sides in the Senate agreed to debate a funding bill that does not include provisions that would reverse President Obama’s executive actions on deferred deportations.

Congress has until February 27 to pass a bill or the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will partially shut down. This includes the Transportation Security Administration, the Secret Service, Customs and Border Protection, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

“We look forward to working with our Republican colleagues in the next 24 hours to get this done. All eyes now shift to the House of Representatives,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said.

So far, House leadership has been mostly quiet on the prospect of voting on a “clean” DHS funding bill. However, this has not stopped other House Republicans from speaking up.

U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) said there is “no way on God’s green earth” he would vote for a bill that did not include the amendments to defund Obama’s deferred deportation programs. U.S. Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) said McConnell’s actions were not necessary.

“We’ve got the courts on our side,” he said. Poe is referring to a Texas judge’s decision to temporarily block Obama’s executive actions. The judge rejected a request from the U.S. Department of Justice to put a hold on this decision.

Politicos speculate that the clean DHS funding bill will easily pass the Senate now that both sides have agreed to debate the bill. However, its fate in the House is uncertain. Congress has a little over two days left to pass a bill that will survive a presidential veto.

The Political Drama Continues.

Senate Democrats Take Center Stage in Political Drama over DHS Funding

Learn More

Photo Source: AP

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What America Should and Shouldn’t Do to Implement Proportional Representation http://ivn.us/2015/02/25/america-shouldnt-implement-proportional-representation/ http://ivn.us/2015/02/25/america-shouldnt-implement-proportional-representation/#comments Wed, 25 Feb 2015 14:00:04 +0000 http://ivn.us/?p=23295658597 What America Should and Shouldn’t Do to Implement Proportional Representation

There is no doubt that there are some IVN readers who support some form of proportional representation, often seen as a voting scheme that maximizes representation and makes every vote count. But the real question is, what would be the avenue to implement proportional representation nationwide? What are the roadblocks and potential legal challenges?

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What America Should and Shouldn’t Do to Implement Proportional Representation

NATIONAL — There is no doubt that there are some IVN readers who support some form of proportional representation, often seen as a voting scheme that maximizes representation and makes every vote count.

But the real question is, what would be the avenue to implement proportional representation nationwide? What are the roadblocks and potential legal challenges?

To answer these questions, we have to examine the history of how we got to our current two-party voting system.

History of Current Voting Laws

Between 1890 and 1910, candidates outside of the Democratic and Republican parties captured over one-fourth of the total vote for state governorships, U.S. House, Senate, and the presidency in Alabama, California, Georgia, Idaho, Montana, Minnesota, Nevada, Texas, and Washington.

Between 1930-1960, no candidate outside of the two-party system ever collected more than 25 percent of the vote in any state for those races.

Three reasons are usually presented for this: the passage of anti-fusion laws, direct primaries, and the New Deal platform of the Democratic Party.

A brief overview of the American voting system, along with many of the historical reasons for switching to the modern system can be found here.

Prior to anti-fusion laws, it was common for candidates to run under multiple party platforms, and the “third-party” system thrived.

A candidate might run under both the Democratic and Progressive parties, for instance, with votes for each counting toward their tally.

This also eliminates the “spoiler” feature of independent or third-party candidates — voters could pick major-party candidates who promised to adhere to the ideology of the third party, thereby giving the voter a clear-cut ideological basis for voting for a major-party candidate.

This form of voting severely undermined the power of the two-party system, as the parties had less control over the ideologies of its candidates. Beginning in the 1880s, this voting format became the target of state laws prohibiting fusion voting

Forty-two states plus the District of Columbia prohibit fusion voting. The Supreme Court upheld Minnesota’s anti-fusion law in 1997, setting the legal precedent to justify the existence of these laws.

A very interesting case study on potential state-level constitutional issues for challenging anti-fusion laws in New Jersey can be found here.

The obvious outcome of primaries is the creation of general elections that are comprised of one candidate from each political party.

While this seems normal today, during much of our history this was not the case; especially, when coupled with fusion voting — a party might be represented by multiple candidates.

This, of course, was seen by the party leaders as a dilution of their base, splitting their ideological vote among multiple candidates.

Direct, closed primaries also create a system where taxpayers are funding the candidate selection proceedings of supposedly “private” organizations.

By claiming to be private organizations, these groups can pick and choose their rules, as well as who can vote in the primary process. This creates a system of cronyism and abuse, the worst blend of public politics and private pandering.

In states with partisan primary systems, all voters have to pay for primary elections, regardless of whether or not they are actually allowed to participate.

A coalition of individual voters and nonpartisan organizations are challenging the constitutionality of the closed primary system in New Jersey. The U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals has calendared oral argument for March 17, 2015, but has not actually decided to grant the oral argument.

Meanwhile, major parties nationwide are trying to close their primaries or keep their primaries closed, arguing that nonmembers are influencing or would influence their elections.

From the 1900s through the 1960s, countless governments worldwide were felled by communist, socialist, or fascist revolutions.

The depression felt by much of the world struck the Western industrial powers when the stock markets collapsed in 1929.

America faced a choice: take the chance of a widespread revolution or implement sweeping social changes.

Widely known is that President Franklin D. Roosevelt campaigned on a platform of cutting Americans a “New Deal,” but lesser known was his promise to include ideas from the various progressive parties into the New Deal.

It was the New Deal that created the modern political terms “liberal” and “conservative.” Conservative Republicans were against the program, while liberal Republicans joined with Democrats to support it.

The New Deal created a significant power shift in America. The presidency was claimed by Democrats in 7 out of 9 elections from 1932-1968, and the party mostly controlled Congress for half a century.

This powerful collaboration to produce the New Deal is seen by some to be one of the most significant reasons for the decline of the third-party system, as the majority of those parties were seeking significant social change in America and chose to join forces with the Democratic Party to create the New Deal.

While this view is certainly debatable, the inclusive nature of the Democratic Party gives it plausibility, as well as many third-party candidates taking shelter from the anti-communist witch hunts in an established political party.

The key takeaway from this is that our modern two-party system is not the voting system that has always existed in American politics, but instead is only a little over 100 years old. Even sacrosanct principles like the secret ballot are relatively new principles; we can and do change voting systems and laws in this country.

Perhaps we are ripe for a change in today’s system of entrenched partisanship, where independents now make up almost half of the total vote.

The Modern Two-Party System

For whatever reason, we are now left with a two-party system that actively attacks nonpartisan or third-party attempts to run for office.

The two major parties are well-funded, getting funds from the federal government, subsidies (in the form of paid primaries) from state governments, and almost limitless private contributions.

"Even with this considerable public financing, the parties hide behind the pretext of being private organizations, in an effort to keep alive the system of closed primaries."David Yee, IVN contributor
Even with this considerable public financing, the parties hide behind the pretext of being private organizations, in an effort to keep alive the system of closed primaries.

In general, the two-party system is not ideologically compatible (at least in terms of the parties’ behavior) with proportional representation. The two parties seem content to slug it out in battleground states, occasionally addressing a significant challenge in “safe states.”

Economics probably plays a large role in this — any system that makes every state a battleground state would make campaigning less centralized, would rely more on local ideologies and political support, and would cost the parties significantly more in campaign dollars.

In such a system, the two parties would not be able to only focus on a handful of battleground states; they would have to focus on all contests, or take the chance of significant losses.

This would represent a significant decentralization of American politics: from the hands of national party leaders to local organizers and grassroots movements.

In 2014, the Democrats faced one of the worst election maps the party has ever experienced in modern politics, and the Republicans were able to exploit the vulnerability and make considerable gains in both the House and Senate.

Likewise, in 2016, the Republicans face an equally challenging election map with over twice as many Senate seats up for grabs as Democrats — and in a presidential election year.

 

2016_Senate_election_map.svg

Does it really seem democratic for a party to live and die by the election map, instead of making every state count?

While proportional representation would probably benefit the voters, the party bosses will most certainly fight any proposed changes on a national level.

A Constitutional Amendment Is NOT The Answer

Any scheme that requires a federal constitutional amendment is likely to be doomed before it even starts.

There hasn’t been a start-to-finish amendment to the Constitution in over 44 years (the 27th Amendment was intended to be a part of the Bill of Rights in 1789).

The Constitution has been amended 27 times in America’s history since 1789.

Only three of the amendments took longer for ratification than the Bill of Rights (two years, two months), with the shortest being the 26th Amendment (3 months, 8 days) and the longest being the 27th (202 years, 7 months).

The 26th Amendment, setting the nationwide voting age at 18, came out of a Congress as bitterly divided and entrenched as today’s Congress. During the 92nd Congress, the House and Senate were held by a less than super-majority Democratic Party; yet the 26th Amendment passed both chambers overwhelmingly (94-0 in the Senate, 401-19 in the House).

The point is, constitutional amendments can and do pass even the most bitterly-divided Congresses, but there has to be exceptionally broad appeal to the content of the amendment.

Amendments with even the slightest hint of party platform or partisanship (or that threaten the current system) are unlikely to pass. This has been the historical norm, with the possible exceptions being Civil War-aftermath amendments and the 18th Amendment.

A voting scheme amendment would have practically zero chance of ever clearing congressional approval.

Even if an amendment was ratified, it doesn’t mean the Supreme Court would follow its intent.

In 1870, the 15th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified specifically protecting the right of former slaves and other races to vote:

“Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” – Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

This was the third amendment to the Constitution that granted Congress enforcement power, traditionally held by the executive branch or the states.

Almost 100 years later, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, in which Congress enforced the 15th Amendment in states that were reluctant to make good on its promises. At the heart of the legislation, these states could not change their voting laws without the advance consent of the federal government.

In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down a key portion of this law — namely, the formula to determine which states would have to seek federal approval to change their election laws — in a 5-4 vote. In particular, as Chief Justice Roberts said in the majority opinion, the majority believed that the Congress was not properly enforcing the Constitution by using an outdated law.

Justice Ginsburg wrote a scathing dissent, accusing the majority of not following the letter or intent of the 14th and 15th Amendments.

The lesson to be learned in all of this is that amendments are hard to ratify; they must be predominately nonpartisan, and even if passed, there is no guarantee that the courts will follow its letter or intent.

While state constitutional amendments, especially those by ballot initiative, are fairly easy to accomplish, they are almost always challenged in the federal courts.

This is the biggest danger to any sweeping movement of voter reform — the fact that creating a constitutional amendment is unlikely, which in turn makes federal court battles a significant likelihood.

The climate in the Supreme Court when it comes to voting rights is convoluted at best, and outright hostile to the individual at worst.

Rulings like the 2013 split-decision to overturn portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Citizens United decision of 2010, or even the contradictory voting rights decisions in 2014 on states changing voting deadlines and early voting rules, have created an ideological war within the Supreme Court on voting rights.

Local and State Grassroots Efforts ARE the Answer

If one truly believes that every vote should count — in every state and every contest — then the best place to start for voting reform is at the local level. This is not without danger because courts can and do rule measures as unconstitutional.

The benefit, however, is the ability to create a broad base of public appeal through grassroots efforts.

Currently, 27 states plus the District of Columbia have some form of voter referendum or ballot initiative available, with even more local governments and municipalities embracing this form of direct democracy.

These states should be the first battleground for implementing proportional representation, using the existing system of voter referendum or ballot initiative.

While the state-level would yield the biggest prize, supporters of proportional representation would be foolish to ignore the local and municipality levels of government. California’s top-two and the Amarillo Independent School District’s cumulative voting system make excellent case studies for how proportional representation can be implemented:

California’s nonpartisan, top-two system has had a rocky road to implementation, with 2012 being the first election under the new system.

The top-two system is not a true form of proportional representation. Under this system, all voters and candidates, regardless of party affiliation, participate on a single primary ballot. The top-two vote recipients in the primary then move on to the general election — again, regardless of party affiliation. This sets up the possibility of a general election between candidates of the same political party.

Even though it is not a true form of proportional representation, “Top-Two” is still widely seen by advocates as giving the voter a greater chance to be heard.

Prior to Top-Two and the semi-closed primary system that came before it, California had what is known as a blanket primary system. In this format, voters could cast a mixed-ticket ballot, meaning they could pick candidates from any party for individual offices, but the top vote-getter from each party would still advance to the general election. This system replaced California’s closed primary system, and was approved by a voter referendum in 1996 with a super-majority of votes.

In 2000, the Supreme Court struck down this version of the blanket primary system (used in 3 states) in California Democratic Party v. Jones. True to the past 100 years of our voting history, the major parties do not like anything that limits their power.

Justice Stevens wrote in the dissent:

“This Court’s willingness to invalidate the primary schemes of 3 States and cast serious constitutional doubt on the schemes of 29 others at the parties’ behest is an extraordinary intrusion into the complex and changing election laws of the States.”

Once again, the parties showed their true colors: the belief that they, not the voters, “own” the primary system.

In 2004, Proposition 62, a nearly-identical scheme to the current top-two system, failed to pass by a 46.1 to 53.9 percent margin.

In 2010, Proposition 14, the current Top-Two law, passed with 53.7 percent of the vote.

Proposition 14 was immediately challenged by political parties in the courts, but the law has so far survived each challenge. A history of the legal challenges can be found here.

What can be learned from this is that even with considerable challenges, the will of the people can be heard and voting systems can be changed.

While California voters relied on the ballot initiative process to implement Top-Two, the Amarillo Independent School District’s (AISD) battle over proportional representation was fought in the courts.

In response to under-representation of minorities in school district boards, 57 school districts in Texas switched to some form of proportional representation between 1991 and 2000 to resolve lawsuits involving the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Then Governor George W. Bush supported this effort and signed into law measures that made it easier for school districts to enact such policies.

The AISD had serious representation problems. Prior to the 2000 election, only one minority candidate had ever been elected to the school board, even though making up 22 percent of the electorate.

Shortly after the 1998 election, a lawsuit was brought against the AISD claiming systemic disenfranchisement of minority voters because of the single-district, winner-take-all system of voting.

Both sides agreed to implement cumulative voting as a realistic voting scheme to resolve the lawsuit. The AISD is the largest government-body in the United States to use a cumulative voting system.

After the first two election cycles with cumulative voting (2000 and 2002), the school board featured two Latino members, and one African-American. Forty-three percent of the seats were held by minority representatives — considerably larger than the demographics of the population at large.

The single greatest advantage to cumulative voting is that voters can specifically emphasize their preferences by giving candidates more than one vote.

There are several disadvantages to this system:

  1. It is not a true proportional voting system as demonstrated by the over-representation of minority school board members in the 2000 and 2002 elections in Amarillo.
  2. It requires huge amounts of political party involvement to ensure that the voting blocs stay in lock-step.
  3. Political parties have to “self-regulate” the number of candidates vying for the election — too many candidates from any one party has the potential to dilute the vote (i.e. the party receives the most ballots, but no individual candidate receives enough votes to win a seat).
  4. It would be unlikely for minor-party or independent campaigns to be able to organize sufficiently to capture a significant portion of the vote.
  5. It perpetuates the false paradigm that all independent or minority campaigns are representative of an entire bloc of voters. For example, Ben Carson and Barack Obama are both African-American males. However, regardless of the demographic groups they share, they are polar extremes politically. Neither one could possibly represent the entire African-American voting bloc. This creates a false sense of diversity and proportionality.

Nevertheless, the system did do what it was designed to do: it gave racial minorities a voice in the political process.

Professor David Rausch of West Texas A&M has conducted significant research on the AISD cumulative voting scheme. He found, contrary to critics, that the system was well understood by voters, and had lower error rates in balloting than in traditional voting methods. His study can be found here.

 

Proponents of proportional representation should be taking the fight to every level of government, using legislative measures, ballot initiatives, and even the court system to advance the cause of giving voters greater representation.

Proponents don’t need the big win of a nationalized voting scheme right off the bat; simply implementing the system municipality by municipality, state by state will sufficiently and effectively advance the cause.

Dr. Kathleen Barber, a retired political science professor, has two excellent works on proportional voting.

The first, Proportional Representation and Election Reform in Ohio, is a case study on the implementation, application, and subsequent fall of proportional voting in Ohio from 1915-1960.

In her analysis, she admits that proportional voting in Ohio may have fallen victim to being ahead of its time — falling prey to political party leadership, racism, and Cold War fears.

One of the “dangers” of proportional voting is the chance (and even likelihood) of unpopular ideas being represented in government. For instance, during Ohio’s experiment, several members of communist groups were elected to various positions within the government — definitely a faux pas of Cold War politics.

Her second work, A Right to Representation: Proportional Election Systems for the Twenty-first Century, provides a history and explanation of various systems, as well as ideas for implementing proportional voting in the 21st century.

While geared toward Canadian politics, Proportional Representation: Redeeming the Democratic Deficit, an academic journal article by Liz Couture, describes the necessary local, grassroots education that needs to be implemented to change politics nationwide successfully.

Strategic Voting and Coordination Problems in Proportional Systems: An Experimental Studya collaborative academic journal article, examines the principle of parties having to defend seats by offering less-than-full slates (and other strategies) in proportional systems.

This same pitfall was discussed in a past IVN article on the mechanics of three different proportional systems. In a more recent IVN article, Andrew Gripp offers a critique of the mechanics of California’s top-two system.

This is by no means a definitive list. There are hundreds of academic journal articles, as well as books and periodicals on the subject of proportional representation systems, highlighting the growing interest in the different types of systems and their benefits.

 

Photo Credit: Carolyn Franks / shutterstock.com

David YeeIVN.us - Independent Voter Network: Unfiltered News

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