Saturday, November 22, 2008

Local representation

In this country, we have or are supposed to have a representative democracy. I have heard over the years a few ideas on how the amount of representation can be improved. Most of these ideas generally focus on the federal level of government. I would prefer to drown the federal government in the Cuyahoga River while it is on fire. However, some of these ideas could be transfigured for a local legislative branch, like the county council. I don’t know if this would be any better or worse, but what the heck, I’ll throw it out here:

Basically, to increase representation in the county council, anyone who wants be a council person can be one. Anyone who identified themselves as a council person could vote on legislation as the council does now, but they cannot introduce new legislation. If you would rather select someone else in your district to represent you as your council person, you could do that and your representative would get your vote in addition to their own. You could change your representative at any time as often as the technology will allow us to keep accurate records. Therefore, there would no more regularly scheduled elections for council members and no term limits. There would have to some kind of secure website to keep track of votes and who each resident selected as their council person. If we can put a man on the moon, I am sure this can be figured out in a way to eliminate fraud. In each of the 5 districts, only the person who represented the most people in their district could introduce new legislation and get to sit in the front of the room while attending council meetings. These would be the only council members who get paid a salary. To keep things simple, we would do away with funding disclosures all together and instead hope that competition for votes would produce voluntary disclosure for those members with the most votes.

Each of the 5 districts would have a total amount of votes based on the number of registered voters in that district. A decision would have to be made about whether or not the voting power of each of the five districts could be forced to be equal as it is currently (like an electoral system), or if there would just be a popular vote.



Trevor said...

Not a half bad idea, but I'm a little concerned about the amount of technology and/or oversight it would take to maintain the representation system. (Your comparison with putting a man on the moon helps my point here. Can anyone deny that that particular venture was a colossal waste of tax dollars? We now apparently have private individuals and corporations interested in running their own space program--I say, let them have it.) I voted against the ballot issue to allow early voting in MD for the very reason that I think we're better off keeping our electoral process as simple as possible. More flexibility means more record-keeping measures, more processes, and more frequent activity--all of which puts our votes in the hands of more bureaucrats and contractors, for more time, with more opportunity for waste and fraud.

For national elections, I like the idea of small districts, simple ballots, and public hand-counting by volunteers from the community. To the extent that voting means anything, it ought to be something we all take a good deal more seriously as a local community event.

Maybe there's a simple solution. We could all pull the RFID chips out of our recycling bins and use them as voting currency. If I want to use my own chip to vote, I can do that. If I want to hand it to someone else, that's my prerogative. It's still too much technology, but at least it's already paid for :-)

Or maybe some kind of a parliamentary system. If anyone wants to hold other voters' proxies, they must register a party (which should be a simple process). Voters can change their party affiliation at any time, but in this case, they're more delegates than members, since they all have direct voting authority. Only the party leaders and independent voters cast their ballots on an issue, and the parties are weighted according to the current number of registered delegates.

But maybe tracking party membership would be the same problem anyway. I don't know.

Freemarket said...

I hear you on the technological difficulties, Trevor. However, I think the technology is here already, and not as complex as it may seem at first. My bank does not have difficulty knowing who I am when I log in and transfer money from one account to another. Nor does my online brokerage have a problem executing my orders via a secure online transaction. If these types of transactions can be done without any problems, I am sure there is a way to make the data tracking work.

Trevor said...

Presumably those institutions want to get your transactions right. (At least because, if they messed them up, you'd take your business elsewhere.) But because our electoral system operates by secret ballot, no one's going to produce a statement (you hope) that shows whom you voted for. Further, it's doubtful that voting could be set up in such a way that you had freedom to choose a vendor for logging your vote. So you're submitting a transaction that will happen in secret to an entity that may or may not consider it a benefit to have your vote recorded accurately, usually via a proprietary system that belongs to some other entity that also may or may not consider it a benefit to have your vote recorded accurately.

At least, that's the problem with our current national elections as handled electronically. Now, in the system you're advocating, I suppose votes could be public. But there are still similar problems. I don't need to know the cumulative effect of all the deposits at my bank to verify whether or not they're recording properly what goes on with my particular account. But even a system that can provide me with an accurate statement of my particular votes can leave unclear how those recorded votes relate to the totals. Granted, there could be a process to check the accuracy, but it would have to be a large operation in itself--considerably larger than individuals balancing their own checkbooks every month.

Anonymous said...

What is meant by 'funding disclosures'?

Freemarket said...

By “funding disclosures” I meant disclosing who gives you money to solicit people to select you as their representative (campaign contributions). I don’t think it will be necessary to require disclosing who pays you money to promote yourself because of two reasons: First, it does not work currently as evidenced by the fact that donations are made through shell entities to exceed the $4K limit, and the politician simply plays dumb and pretends that he or she does not think this violates the intent of the law. Secondly, if the person you want to be your representative will not tell you who is donating money to them, you can tell that representative to piss off and pick someone else who will tell you (there is actual competition and no winner take all problems). I always assume politicians are bought anyway, but that’s just me.

One thing that this general concept may do is to weaken the major political parties. With this system, selecting a third party candidate or an independent to represent you is not a waste at all.

Anonymous said...

This method of selecting representation would definitely be better than what we have today, except for the money part.

As you said, we do have politicians who "play dumb" at who is giving money and we do not have voter telling them to "piss off". Therefore, allowing covert contributions would not get to your goal(s).

The remainder is a very good idea. I really think it could be done here.

Freemarket said...

I don't have a problem with requiring the one council person from each district who is getting paid a salary by the taxpayers to have to disclose their funding, but I would be against requiring the people who represent only a few hundred people from having to disclose anything. There would too many unintended consequences to fall out from that.

Anonymous said...

Pls elaborate on the unintended consequences.

Freemarket said...

By unintended consequences, I mean that administrative burden of reporting amounts received from constituents may make some people shy away from participating as a council member. For example, people who choose to be council members should not have to worry about violating some arcane campaign finance law by accepting a dinner from someone or reporting in-kind campaign help or even small donations. Keep in mind that telling a candidate to piss off under the proposed system actually means something, as opposed to it being an empty threat under the current system.

Anonymous said...

Again, I like this idea but the money item would lead to corrupt buying of elected positions as the participants move up through the political system as they tend to do.

By some estimates, 80% of voters are not politically engaged on a daily basis. This 80% does not vote incumbents out of office ("piss off"), and view incumbency as "valuable experience", so once a candidate (prior council participant) pays enough to have a position of power, they get to keep the power by collecting money from those who benefit from their decisions. Voters are none the wiser if the money source is a secret.

At least today we can check into who bought whom, though that is still an unacceptable situation.

The neighborhood representation sitting on the council is an excellent idea, but let's be totally free about the representation and not constrict those without secret money from participating to fully represent taxpayers.

Having people from all occupations and backgrounds in Howard County voting on council bills is an excellent idea. How do we start?

Freemarket said...

I disagree about the funding disclosures. A bunch of arcane regulations will only discourage smaller participants in favor of the major party whores. At least those who represent fewer than 100 people should not have to disclose anything.

Anyway, I don’t know how to implement this idea but the most opposition will come from Democrats, since they are the strongest political party in this county and therefore have the most power to lose.

Anyone who thinks that they can take the idea farther than this blog is welcome and encouraged to do so. Consider it my gift to whoever wants it.

jim adams said...

this idea of local representation,
would get my vote, for what ever that is worth.