Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Response to Fred Mangels' No Confidence Critique

I regret that it has taken me so long to address comments by Fred Mangels posted to his blog on March 15. I told Fred I would respond as soon as I could and this is it. I appreciate any opportunity to publicly discuss concerns about the No Confidence Resolution.

Fred says: "This campaign reform stuff really irks me, no matter who I hear it from." The No Confidence Resolution calls for: "clean money laws [to] keep all corporate funds out of campaign financing." Fred's resistance to the specific of the resolution seems to be pre-empted by his more general opposition to the notion of reform. He writes:
All these proposed campaign reform laws just make it harder for people to run for office. The big money types will always find ways to get around the laws and it amazes me that some people think if they just regulate the way their, or some other candidate, accepts money, all of the sudden the candidate will be squeaky clean.
Squeaky clean may be an unattainable goal, but it is also not one I explicitly set forth. "Big money types" most certainly will continue seeking and finding ways around laws but this is no justification for making them our leaders, let alone allowing our "system" to permit their devious and surreptitious assumption of control.

Regarding regulation, simply presenting it that way is a glass half empty perspective. It is just as easy to view clean money laws as de-regulation - removing the legal obstacles that keep qualified people off the ballot because they can't afford to run a campaign. Either way, it is not the most effective or relevant frame and does not stem from the language of the resolution.

As for making it harder to run for office, this may only be true for people accustomed to the unfair and unethical advantage of corporate sponsorship. For the qualified lower or middle class candidate, not having to raise as much money will certainly make it easier to run for office. More diverse candidates should invariably mean more and better ideas.

In the 1969 Supreme Court case Red Lion v. FCC, the Court spoke of "an uninhibited market-place of ideas" and declared its preservation to be the very purpose of the First Amendment. I've always loved that quote because it sounds to me like the same free market notion that is supposed to drive capitalism (idealistically, in a vacuum) is also supposed to apply to democracy, with ideas as the currency. I see it as Darwinian - let's see how all our best ideas fare in the free market-place and through survival of the fittest ideas we can identify and support our truly most desirable leaders.

Fred's comments also address the current #4 reform in the No Confidence Resolution (there is no significance to the order of the reforms listed) which calls for a national holiday for voting and also limited federally determined criteria for absentee voting. I have no problem with Fred's suggestion that a voting day holiday should be combined with another holiday. I also don't care if this constitutes suggesting that election day be moved from its Constitutionally mandated date - the Constitution was suspended five years ago and we have to stop pretending like it wasn't.

It is "scary" to Fred to contemplate federal criteria for absentee voting. This is an unsurprising position for a Libertarian. I'm none too eager myself to give any control, power, information, etc. to federal entities. To the extent that any of this is realistic, I don't see how it happens while maintaining our current federal structure. It would be worthwhile to discuss in greater detail what the country, or at least the land mass we live upon, would look like. I've said all along that this is part of the No Confidence Movement that would begin to take place across the network of communities that had passed the resolution.

So regardless of what the federal entity might look like or be, it still may be scary to consider a central body for determining absentee criteria. Really, that reform bullet point is written that way as a means of circumventing writing what those specific criteria would be. This would invite debate over too much minutia and impede building broader support. The criteria have to come from somewhere. What is important to me, and has been the point of emphasis in the resolution, is that we limit the security risks related to ballot storage over time, secure the chain of custody over the ballots, and just generally create conditions where most people find it preferable and worthwhile to vote at the poll. Perhaps if Fred and I can agree on these objectives, we could easily see what absentee criteria would serve everyone's needs?

Last, there is a brief reference to public vote counting in which Fred suggests that this should be happening everywhere already. We know this isn't the case, however, in instances of paperless electronic voting. Then there is no public OR private vote counting, just bits and bytes eating away at democracy like electronic parasites. There were also instances in November 2004 where election officials barred the public and the media from observing.

Locally, Voter Confidence Committee member Mark Konkler proposed to the County Board of Supervisors that they form an election reform task force, part of whose mission would be to witness vote counting. It is beyond important that the voting process allow the voter to confirm the record created by their act of voting, that this record then be handled publicly with witnesses, and ultimately be kept available for a recount if necessary.

These are some of the steps that will be necessary for the creation of a new basis for confidence in U.S. federal elections. Ultimately, this has to be the criteria we use to determine what aspects go, stay or get added to our elections process. If this does not become the litmus, if we don't contemplate whether we have a basis for confidence or a reason to believe, we will continue right along with a baseless sense of false confidence, seeing what we want to see, accepting the lies, convincing ourselves they're true. Not me.



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