Beyond Masks and Mail-in Ballots ~ Rebuilding American Representation

Tuesday 5 January 2021 - Filed under Default

Today’s Senate runoff in Georgia stands to end an historic election cycle in America, one perturbed by the effects of the pandemic on voting process, and the high-stress state of the union as a whole. Under the hood is a democratic engine that has been deteriorating for decades. When voters finally sit down for a well-deserved breather it’s the perfect time to consider how to fix what’s broke.

When it comes to 2020, the consensus is good riddance. The pandemic response damaged the economy, triggered national nerves around personal freedom, and threw the campaign season for a loop. Political rallies become either invite-only insider drive-ins or revivalesqe superspreader events. When it came to the actual vote, mail-in ballots took center stage as the best way to have your vote counted and your death not.

Photo by Tiffany Tertipes on Unsplash

Mail-in ballots are an interesting subject for me. You shouldn’t have to risk your health to vote, but I’m suspicious of the coercion that’s possible when ballots are filled out anywhere but the privacy of an election center booth; Domestic abusers likely enjoyed significant representation this cycle. I suspect that problem a global scale would take multiple cycles to manifest though wonders never cease.

Lo, this essay isn’t about mail-in ballots. For decades there’s been an erosion *cough* corruption of the process by which the American People are represented. The looming threat of can’t-happen-here political instability in Washington is sobering. It’s time to visit the real issues.


Both parties do it and in this respect both parties are committing election fraud at system level. A better process for redistricting trades incumbent party operatives for independent panels or even an open-source free software algorithm.

Campaign Finance

Candidates, even elected officials, spend an inordinate amount (30-50%?) of time raising money for their elections. That’s time denied to constituents, effectively sold to the highest bidder. Rather than fret about Citizen’s United and SuperPACs, we can ensure candidates don’t need their help by supporting ideas like Democracy Dollars, where government empowers citizens to direct funding to their candidate of choice.

Opposition is fierce on this but lacks any compelling argument. Seattle is a model. Albuquerque tried it and opposition put it down, but there is hope that in our recoil from the crises of 2020, we’ll return to first principles and support innovation, math, and science in governance. What better way is there to spend tax money than on improving representation?

Secret Ballot

This is the most counter-intuitive issue of all. The benefits of the secret ballot are so obvious, the practice so taken for granted, that it can be destroyed without a whimper. In the 1970s, an inflection point in many metrics of bureaucratic health, the secret ballot was eliminated from the United States Congress, a change defended under the idea that you can’t trust politicians so you need to see how they’re voting to make sure they’re voting in your interests.

The issue is we the people aren’t the only ones watching and we don’t have the time or money to be heard in congress. That’s what lobbyists are for silly. Congressional alums pine for the wiggle room they once had to vote their conscience despite the popular narrative. If sunlight is the best disinfectant, lobbyists have been conveniently hiding in the shade. Lobbying used to be illegal in California. Wonder why.

But wait, there’s more

In closing, there are two other issues of note, one being the spoiler factor aka tactical voting, wherein a voter might choose a front-runner for their party out of fear that a vote for the runner-up whom they have intense alignment would gift the election to the opposition. Prospective solutions there include ranked-choice or approval ballots. Last is the burden placed on voters when they must decide on deep technical topics or even that ballots are just too-damn-long. Hint: deliberative polling.

If you want to learn about all of the above and have HOPE again for this nation and it’s governance, I’ll again recommend the book They Don’t Represent Us. It’s full of ideas that are being tried now and could use your support whether or not you experience any sort of post-electoral bliss.

2021-01-05  »  David Sterry