Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Preparing America for Democracy

Like everyone else in the world, I am waiting to see what the results will be of the 2008 elections in the United States of America, elections that the media never tire of reminding us are historic. I cannot help hoping the way the elections were conducted this year will soon be history—something we tell our grandchildren about someday but that we never again have to experience.

When I voted, there were six candidates for president on the ballot, three of whom I had never heard of. Of the three I had heard of, all were clamoring for some kind of change. Clearly America loves to see itself as a nation that is ready for change. Here is one change I am ready for: I am ready for democracy to come to America. I do not think that will happen until a few other changes are made. Here is a short list of those changes:

  • No more paid political advertisements! Every newspaper, television and radio station should be required to donate an equal amount of time and space to every political party fielding a candidate. If that arrangement would be too onerous on the media, then let the government compensate all the media outlets for the time or space used. What is essential is that every citizen be given a chance to hear what every candidate has to say and that no candidate be advantaged by having access to a large amount of money or disadvantaged by a lack of money. Ideas and principles should determine elections, not money.
  • Voting should be done on a holiday. Elections should take place either on a weekend, or election day should be declared a federal holiday, a day on which no one, except for operations considered vital for maintaining an orderly society, is required to work or to lose pay for not working. Again, if the expense of paying workers for a holiday is too burdensome for corporations and small businesses, the government should provide funds. The point is that no one should miss the opportunity to vote because of fear of losing wages, missing a class and being punished for failure to show up for work or class.
  • Child care should be provided for voters with children. There is no reason a single parent should miss an opportunity to vote because of having children to mind. A parent should be able to spend a modest amount of time standing in line and voting without worrying about his or her children. The expense of qualified child care at voting sites should be provided by the government.
  • All voting should be done on paper ballots and counted manually. There is no reason people need to know the results of an election on election day itself. Newly elected officials do not take office until about ten weeks after election day. If it takes three weeks to tabulate the results, nothing is lost. Manual counting of paper ballots is much less likely to be tampered with than any form of electronic counting of ballots cast on electronic voting machines or marked on paper ballots and then scanned.
  • All federal elections should be scrutinized by United Nations observers. This is routine in fledgling democracies and in areas of the world where there is a history of corruption and fraud. If Americans prove that they are capable of holding free and fair elections, then the scrutiny could be relaxed in years to come.
  • Automated telephone calls should be banned. This ban should be put in place not only during election season. No one should ever be put in a position of answering a telephone and having to listen to a recorded message. Recorded messages are dehumanizing.

These recommendations hardly exhaust the changes that must be done in order to pave the way for a meaningful democracy in the United States, but they would be a start. (In a previous posting I recommended that no person be allowed to vote until he or she has passed the same citizenship test that naturalized citizens are required to take. So far this recommendation has been ignored.) If this blog has any readers, and if any of those readers have further ideas, please post further suggestions as comments to this posting.

Now I am ready to watch the farce of this year's election unfold.