Why Democrats Need to Focus on Electoral Reform

It’s been  years since Bush v. Gore, and we still haven’t seen REAL comprehensive reform of our electoral systems and processes. The legislation that was finally passed in 2003, the Help America Vote Act or HAVA, has in this blogger’s opinion, made things worse rather than better, by reigning in a new regime of flawed and hackable electronic voting machines and paving the way for onerous and problematic voter identification requirements. Granted, the new law and regulations did improve access to voting to the disabled, and also made some improvements in the provision of provisional ballots, but overall, the cure may have been worse than the disease.

Another problem with HAVA? An overreliance on states to develop and implement new electoral plans that comply with HAVA in order to be eligible for federal funds, as HAVA imposed new federal requirements on the states in such areas as provision of voting machines, provisional ballots, voter registration, voter identification, and poll worker training. (HAVA consolidated many of the responsibilities and duties that counties were originally charged with in the states).

Unfortunately, the recent recommendations of the Carter-Baker Commission have not really advanced the cause of electoral reform very much, as these proposals would do little to reform problem areas in our electoral process and systems.

Republicans have now taken the lead on election reform, but their proposals, including the Hyde Voter ID bill (the “Federal Election Integrity Act of 2006″…sheesh) which passed the House 228-196, would disenfranchise and stymie would-be voters, rather than make it easier to vote, in the name of election “integrity.” For more on this bill, Dan Tokaji has a great post on just how problematic this legislation will be in terms of its impact on voting rights.
I contend that Democrats are missing out on a golden opportunity to frame the issue of voting rights and election reform as the fundamental issue of the upcoming midterm elections, but unfortunately, many don’t view it as a salient or central issue, or if they do, not central enough to make it on the infamous “Six for ‘06″ platform. I say to Democrats that we make this issue THE central issue of this campaign. Before we worry about a host of other issues, shouldn’t we ensure that everyone can actually vote to begin with? By drawing close attention to GOP measures to restrict the vote, Democrats can demonstrate that they are the more inclusive party.

The way I see it, there’s three priority items that Democrats need to focus on in articulating meaningful election reforms:

1. Motor Voter/Registration Issues: HAVA did little to resolve problems with the system of voter registration, and in some cases, actually made registration and proving registration more difficult. Democrats need to campaign on a system of automatic national voter registraton that travels with voters wherever they move AUTOMATICALLY. Democrats should propose creating a national federal database of voters that is tied to the U.S. Postal Service’s database of addresses. As this article suggests, moving is a major obstacle to voting, as many who move often fail to re-register in their new jurisdiction. (See also Wolfinger and Rosenstone, 1980). When someone changes their address, their voter registration would reflect that change. Simultaneously, and ideally in conjunction with the next census, a major effort should made to identify voters who do NOT have physical addresses to add to the federal database.
2. Reform Electronic Voting: I’m not a big fan of e-voting, but if we do use these systems, we should use a common-sense failsafe mechanism. Provide voters with receipts (in duplicate) indicating who they voted for electronically–voters would keep one copy, and the second would be put in a separate “lockbox.” If the receipts did not reflect the voters’ choices, the person in charge of the poll would then “Cancel” the vote and offer the voter a provisional ballot which would then go in yet another box.
3. Taking the States Out of the Equation: States have not had the best record when it comes to administering federal elections (and that’s putting it mildly). Hold state elections on a separate date from federal elections, and let the states run their own elections. And don’t rely on a system of federal requirements imposed on states–”federalize” federal elections entirely. We’re not talking about our interstate highway system–we’re talking about the right to vote–and that’s a FEDERAL right, not a state right. (At least after the passage of the 14th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act). The only way to prevent a repeat of Bush v. Gore is to avoid having the feds and the states sharing responsibilities in a muddled and confused patchwork of election laws.
So there you have it. If I was a candidate running for Congress right now, I’d make election reform my top priority (heck–I’d make it the centerpiece of my campaign). What can be more important than making sure that all citizens have access to voting rights? And yet the Democrats have failed thus far to propose and articulate a clear and coherent program on this issue, or if they have, have done a pretty lousy job of articulating it in their national policy statements, addresses, and messages.

Democracy has no place in art

Democracy has no valid place in art or the art world at all.  A true piece of art is not intended to be appreciated by masses. The whole point of a piece of art is the individual expression of the artist to convey his own feelings or opinion and that is precisely why democracy cannot be a part of art.

When we think of art we often con-notate the word “art” with paintings or sculptures but what we often forget is that music is also art. In recent years there has been the rise of talent shows where contestants must sing to win votes and a record deal. This is totally wrong as what one thinks is good another may think as awful… It is all subjective you see.

But these attitudes of finding out who is best through a democratic voting system.. and also following attitudes where by only the artists who are cool with the masses succeed is not what art is about and is killing art and creativity altogether.

I say this because the music or piece of art will loose all creative individual expression and instead is based upon a synthetic opinion revolved around pleasing the masses.

Pleasing the masses gains the artist more record sales however in my opinion they loose the right to call themselves an artist. You only have to listen to music on the radio today to know that the music industry is using what works in other words often new music will have parts or remixes of old songs that where a hit thrown into a new record as the music bosses know it is a safe option.

Art and music shouldn’t be about other people…

The way music is heading I wouldn’t be surprised if music in the future will just be purely computer generated using a formula that puts pieces together that all people like… Would you listen to something that has had no creative input put into it at all? How is the listener meant to find meaning in a piece that has no meaning?

A counter argument for this would be that the listener puts their own meaning to the song and relates it to their own life? But how can you put meaning to a shallow and commercial song or art piece?

Often nostalgia is one of the biggest things in art, Nostalgia makes art not about the artists opinion and why he made it but helps you create your own opinion on that piece of art based on your experiences…but how much is this down to the artist and how much is it down to the individual? This is another reason why democracy just doesn’t work with art because everybody maybe born equal but we all have different unique experiences that influence us and our opinions…and to say we can all like one thing best on the same opinion is wrong because all opinions are founded upon experience.

Art should be something that is totally separated from commercialization and democracy, when creative thinking blurs into a democracy this destroys individual thinking and actually resembles something that would probably be found in a communist country ruled by dictatorship where every has the same ideology?

Democracy is all about equality but take for example the talent shows does it mean that the singer’s who looses are not as good as the one that won the competition? Does it mean that the people who voted for the losing artist’s subjective opinion is therefore wrong?

We all have reasons of liking a piece of music or art but does it really mean that a unique individuals perspective and view of why they like one piece of music is lesser important compared to the collective masses opinion who all have the same opinion…

Can you really call a mass opinion a subjective opinion at all? As you could argue that each individual who is supporting the mass opinion has just been influenced by the crowd and the opinion had to start somewhere either by an individual (you could even go as far to say by the music label)…. so does that mean that the idea is just a subjective opinion of one person that has a mass following?

What do you reckon do you think that democracy has a place within art or not?



Hearts and Minds: the Vietnam-Iraq parallel

I had the chance to watch Peter Davis’s important documentary on the Vietnam War, “Hearts and Minds,” tonight at the India Habitat Centre in Delhi, and though I had seen clips of it before, I had never watched it entirely. It is truly a sad yet powerful movie which chronicles the sad state of American foreign policy in Southeast Asia, how a string of presidents from Truman to Nixon lied repeatedly about our actions there, and how senseless the American occupation of Vietnam was in its savage bombing, napalming and massacring of countless innocent civilians.

What I was struck by was the parallels between Hearts and Minds and Michael Moore (who was no doubt influenced by Davis) and his Fahrenheit 9/11 movie. Davis interviewed many pilots and soldiers who initially talked with great excitement about fighting in Vietnam, though by the end of the film, (and chronilogically much later in the war), you begin to see these young soldiers realizing how violent, how savage and vicious the realities of war are. At one point, Davis interviews some of the pilots who carpetbombed much of Vietnam, and they indicate that initially they enjoyed doing this and seeing the bombs they drop explode. In Fahrenheit 9/11, I recall that Moore captured a similar sentiment from some young marines who said they would listen to heavy metal as they rode through Iraq in their tanks and thought it was fun and like a video game. In both documentaries, it is quite interesting to note how the experience of war transforms soldiers, leaders and people at home.

The racism and insensitivity toward the Vietnamese people in the U.S. during this period was quite horrible, and the cruelty of the American presence in Vietnam was staggering. I wondered why we as a country today have failed to heed the lessons of this earlier war. While I know many of you readers deny the parallels between these two wars–here are some interesting points worth considering:

In a sense, both wars were invasions and occupations of a foreign country. In Vietnam , the US initially backed the French colonial regime, then sent their own troops to effectively try to back an anti-democratic regime, despite multiple letters from Ho Chi Minh (sent early on) requesting and proposing that the US work with his government! In Iraq, the US toppled a dictatorship through attacks and began their occupation through invasion.

And in both wars, the death toll among civilians was absolutely staggering and senseless.

Both wars were met with initial apathy among Americans, though the tide later turned against war (though one wonders how long this process will take with Iraq).

Finally, both wars were started on the basis of fictitious information–the Gulf of Tonkin was yesteryear’s analog to today’s “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” and both wars were largely waged in the name of ideology, instead of actual intelligence or real national security issues.

If you haven’t seen Hearts and Minds, I recommend watching it, though it’s not for kids. It’s also a downer of a movie, but given our current predicament in Iraq, an important one.