The three (or four) steps essential to a democratic republic: Part One

I have found that there are three major essentials for as democratic republic to succeed. (or four, depending on whether one argument I have is considered to be two separate arguments. Just semantics.) Today, I want to concentrate on the first step: fair and open elections.

Pretty simple, huh? Well, yes and no. There are three impediments to fair and open elections in the United States that must be solved. I’ll start with the most obvious one:

1. Overturn or otherwise negate Citizens United. The easy part is that everyone of every political stripe I’ve spoken to agrees; the hard part is making it happen with our current U.S. Supreme Court. Citizens United is a completely misguided application of judicial precedent; the majority opinion blithely treats the case as a natural extension of a conclusion reached almost a century ago in the case Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad. While it is true that the decision in that case was that a corporation was a person, that is taking the ruling out of context. The ruling there was simply to give Southern Pacific the same rights in a civil court case as a person or non-corporate group so that there would be a more even playing field. I agree with that decision, but the leaps in logic that eventually led to Citizens United are so preposterous that I cannot even produce an appropriate metaphor. That leads us to

2. Not only avoid unfairness, but avoid “even the appearance of impropriety.” The case above is the most egregious example, because certain justices (in particular, Scalia) have made $thousands in speaking fees advocating their political viewpoints. It has been pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court is the only federal court that lacks a written set of ethics, largely because it was expected that anyone of the stature needed to be appointed to such a high office would have the ethical good sense to know how to behave.

Kathleen Walker in the year 2000 is another easy example to use. As the head of the elections for the State of Florida, what business did she have simultaneously heading George W. Bush’s Florida campaign? I happen not to believe that she did anything illegal, but the very appearance of a possible conflict of interest cast a horrific shadow of doubt over the election results in Florida. She should have recused herself or, better yet, not have become involved in Bush’s campaign to begin with.

3. The final problem was pointed out in the 2000 Florida debacle:  even federal elections are controlled by the individual states, and many states are unprofessional. Neither Florida nor any other state has any business running an election unless the balloting methods are uniform across the state and unless there is a paper trail that can be consulted to see if a voter’s intentions were those recorded.

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