There are many ways to help local, state and national elections reflect the will of the people. These are some of the ways to achieve that goal.

Support public funding. When the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United, they opened the floodgates to massive, unlimited and unaccountable corporate funding, foreign and domestic, of American elections. Justice John Paul Stevens’ dissented, and wrote the Court’s ruling represented “a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government.” Maine Clean Elections is a model of public funding for state and national elections.

End gerrymandering. The key to fair elections is nonpartisan state representative districts. Many district maps look like snakes, drawn to ensure the party in power stays in power. Nonpartisan districts drawn by an independent commission without regard to political affiliation will ensure every vote counts.

Hold open primaries. Everyone has the right to vote; creating artificial barriers such as membership in a private political organization to exercise that constitutional right threatens everyone’s right to vote. Allowing independents to vote in a party primary of their choice produces a stronger party nominee, one who has the support of a more significant segment of the population. Allowing parties to exclude independents from voting is government of, by, and for the party.

Nominating party candidates. Political parties began losing control of nominating party candidates in 1912. President Theodore Roosevelt won 90% of the primaries, but the Republican Party nominated William Howard Taft instead. Roosevelt then called for “Nation-wide preferential primaries for candidates for the Presidency.” Today, party nominees and presidents are elected primarily by popularity, a good thing if it doesn’t go too far. The election process, and the stability of our country, would benefit if the parties selected three or four primary candidates each, and the public’s primary vote decides the nominee.

Use ranked-choice voting. Ranked choice is an election system that only elects candidates who earn the majority of the vote, regardless of political party. Applying ranked-choice voting to all elections from the president to local elections will mean those elected will represent the direction a majority of people want their state and country to take.

Follow the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Electoral College, Justice Robert Jackson dissented and wrote, “The demise of the whole electoral system would not impress me as a disaster. At its best, it is a mystifying and distorting factor in presidential elections which may resolve a popular defeat into an electoral victory. At its worst, it is open to local corruption and manipulation, once so flagrant as to threaten the stability of the country. To abolish it and substitute direct election of the President, so that every vote, wherever cast, would have equal weight in calculating the result, would seem to me a gain for simplicity and integrity of our governmental processes.”

The Constitution grants states the right to appoint electors as the Legislature directs, and 58% of voters want to elect the president by popular vote. States holding a total of 196 electoral votes have committed to using the national popular vote to decide who gets their delegates. Once that total reaches 270, presidents will effectively be elected by the popular vote.

Institute term limits. According to Nick Tomboulides, executive director of U.S. Term Limits, 82% of Americans want term limits. We don’t have what the people want because term limits, he says, are “being blocked purely by the self-interest of Congress.” 

Tomboulides says that opponents argue if congressional members can stay in office indefinitely, “they will become such (policy experts) that all our problems will be solved!” However, he says, “in hindsight, that was one of the worst predictions ever.”

And while theoretically voters can term limit any politician at the ballot, in reality, Tomboulides says, “Congressional incumbents have a 98 percent re-election rate,” and challengers face “the nearly unbreakable power of incumbency.” Incumbents, he says, enjoy “free media, and name recognition politicians naturally get just for being in office. The incumbent advantage creates barriers to entry for everyday Americans without the connections to fund a campaign.”

These ideas help promote government of, by, and for the people. When people know their vote counts, more people will vote.

Tom Waddell is president of the Maine Chapter of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. He welcomes comments at [email protected]

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