This Agenda for Political Reform outlines a comprehensive response to root causes of widespread public concern about the condition of American politics and government. It endeavors to identify subjects of, and suggestions for, reform, inviting discussion and refinements. Every proposal is contentious in respects but no less deserving of an effort to define issues and refine proposals as part of an agenda for action. The Agenda reflects history and its lessons from another time and politics. The scope is wide, local, state and federal, all branches. The Agenda is meant to respond to the public discontent with a realistic agenda for action before the cycle takes another downward turn. Comprehensive reform requires an action plan which citizens and organizations can support without agreeing on every detail; it is a platform for reform. What follows is a sketch of issues and reforms for the Agenda - a platform and call to action. These issues are institutional. They address the institutions of government and politics which make and implement public policy and enforce the law. Please share your comments and suggestions: email@example.com
- Campaign finance. Partial public financing for qualifying presidential and congressional candidates with limits on their receipt of contributions. Full public disclosure of donors and their contributions. Shorten campaigns (methods to follow) and reduce number of elected offices to drain money from politics. Revisit Citizens United case in court. Revitalize the Federal Election Commission, including five members, to enforce campaign finance laws.
- Reform selection of judges. The US is the only nation reported to elect judges, outside Bolivia. 39 states elect judges. Studies demonstrate that elections can effect the behavior of elected judges. Numerous proposals exist for appointment of judges from vetted lists of qualified candidates. In addition to eliminating campaign contributions while enhancing the quality of state and local judiciary, the ballot would be shortened in most states.
- Reduce elected offices and streamline organization of local government. Are constitutional, elected officers needed to issue license plates, etc.? Local offices could be eliminated or consolidated, including school districts. Ballots are so long in many, if not all, states conscientious citizens cannot be expected to know qualifications of all candidates for all offices and understand all referendums. Reducing the number of elected officials would also drain money from politics.
- Facilitate ballot access, ease of voting and accounting. Following the Supreme Court's Shelby County v. Holder decision in 2013, many states put voter restrictions in place that made it more difficult for minorities and youth to vote. Purging of voter rolls is a challenge in some states. The protections of the Voting Rights Act need to be reaffirmed. Voting procedures and mechanics could be improved by national standards and new technologies which conversely have been utilized to distort election results. Technology must assure accurate counts and address threats from foreign as well as internal sources of corruption.
- Strengthen party organization and leadership. Give voters the option of again voting a straight party ticket. The great presidents post civil war were nominated in conventions, the delegates predominantly party and public officials with knowledge of the candidates, the issues and the demands of public office. Conventions debated transcendent issues. Now they are media events. Primary elections were formalities until recently. Governor Stevenson entered no primaries in 1952; his nomination for President cost nothing. Increase the number of ex officio delegates (party and public officials) to conventions. Democracy is fragile. Chastened by its history, the founders created a representative form of democracy now in need of reform and much forgotten.
- Reform redistricting of congressional and state legislative districts. Much work has been done on this subject in the states. End the gerrymandering with districts for Federal and State Representatives drawn up by non-partisan commissions. Four year terms for Members of Congress would end the perpetual campaigning and afford Representatives more time for their duties. Substitute for winner take all elections, districts with multiple representatives to create opportunities for minority representation. Cumulative voting in Illinois House districts once enabled minority representation while attracting qualified candidates. Ranked Choice Voting would assure proportional representation in multi member and single member districts.
- Enact federal legislation to require that all primary elections be held on one of three dates in June, July and August thereby shortening campaigns, reducing costs and forcing candidates for the Presidency to address national/international issues.
- Democracy requires an informed electorate. Restore the fairness doctrine, enforce the Federal Communications Act. The public's airwaves should be used for the public's benefit, not its exploitation. Mainstream print media is stressed. Television media seeking ratings and, protected by the FCC, effectively financed and created Donald Trump, the candidate for his party's nomination. Support public broadcasting which in the new politics must use valuable air time to sell advertising. Criminalize the knowing distribution of "fake history" and other slanders with consequent damages for individuals and the public interest.
- Revisit the system for conducting presidential debates to require time for discussion of complex issues and qualified mediators. The Lincoln Douglas debates (for the Senate) required three hours each for seven debates and were focused on one issue, slavery in the territories. The objective should be to inform the public, not to "win" the debate.
- Electoral college reform. In most states, the winner takes all its electors. Large states are under-represented in the electoral college. Assure that presidents and vice presidents are elected by a majority of the American people by requiring proportional representation or that a state's electors vote for the winner of a national popular majority. Recounts should be mandated for close elections in states..
- Congress. Restore the regular order. Reform cloture in the Senate to give the minority a reasonable hearing but no more - as in the past. In the old Senate, "mark up" sessions to write legislation were held behind closed doors and engaged the Senators with staff in line by line writing of legislation. Doors were opened by the reformers to let in the "sunshine;" and they let in the lobbyists - and money. Legislating was delegated to staff as Senators and Representatives spent more time raising money. Consider helping the public to be represented by closing mark up session doors, much as did the founders at the constitutional convention of 1787. Reforming the lower house has always been a greater challenge than in the Senate but would be effectuated in part by other reforms in this Agenda, ie 4 year terms.
The Agenda is a work in progress. The Stevenson Center on Democracy is attempting to stimulate a broad movement which seizes the moment, joins reformers in an agenda for action and challenges candidates and office holders. It is organizing a non-partisan coalition for reform of our politics with shared responsibilities and leadership. Reform today requires unity of purpose and organization. America responded in the past. It can again by uniting organizations, citizens, officials in an Agenda for Reform.