Electoral reform trumps campaign finance reform

By Bruce Walker
web posted November 27, 2000

One positive result of the mess in Florida, Wisconsin, and Missouri is that the liberal shibboleth of campaign finance reform (which Mr. Gore has said would be "The first bill I will sign when it lands on my desk") has been trumped by a more obvious and essential reform: Electoral reform.

During the first one hundred years of our federal Republic elections carried small stakes because government was a bit player in American life. The political heroes of our early Republic -- George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison -- were noble precisely because they eschewed power.

George WashingtonWashington could have been president for life and possibly more, but he not only declined to run for a third term, he also refrained from using his veto except when these legislative acts violated the Constitution. George Washington had a better understanding of the intention of the Constitution than our nine roped monarchs: He chaired the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.

John Marshall in Marbury v. Madison usurped the great and unarticulated power to interpret the Constitution, but more important than his attitude towards the Constitution is that fact that during his long tenure as Chief Justice, Marshall used this power precisely once -- in the particular case of Marbury v. Madison -- because John Marshall also understood that respect for a written constitution meant caution in using power.

Those first men who ran the federal government -- contemporaries or participants in the Revolutionary War and the Constitutional Convention -- were emphatic in viewing federal power restrictively. The outcome of federal elections had relatively little effect on the lives of most Americans, and so the motive to steal elections and swindle voters was small.

State governments had much more formal and practical power than the federal government, and state governments themselves chose principal officers under the Constitution. Presidential Electors in every election until 1824 were chosen by state governments, not the people. State legislatures also selected United States Senators until the Twentieth Century. When the Federalists under John Adams passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, these bad laws were stopped by the legislatures of Virginia and Kentucky, which invalidated by resolution those federal statues (the Supreme Court, by contrast, actually undertook prosecutions and a United States Congressman was jailed for violating these laws.)

States officials could be venal and corrupt, but the ability of citizens and capital to migrate made state governments themselves producers of that ordered liberty which is the only good or service government can offer. Talented people and interested investors gravitated to those states where the rule of law meant something -- the natural consequence of market forces which we understand well when judging the decisions of businesses to build factories in Syria or surveying the movements of peoples out of Russia, but which we forget about in judging the self-regulating merits of true federalism.

When federal power began to gobble state pejoratives and individual rights, the importance of winning federal elections gained novel importance. The most conspicuous example is the explosion in campaign expenditures, but the amounts of money contributed to federal elections is ridiculously small compared to the financial power of network news organizations, academic re-education programs, socially correct movies, television shows, music, art, books, and every other private influence upon the communal mind. When hundreds of billions of dollars are burned each year by huge corporations with obvious ideological agenda, is it any surprise that elections themselves have become corrupted?

The natural impulse of free people towards conservative principles -- the dignity of man, restraint in the use of violence, and acknowledgment of that vast treasure of collective human experience called history -- cannot be permanently sealed by smug experts or chic elites. Rhetoric for innocent ears is the first wall in the castle of liberalism, followed by lies and half-truths calculated to dangle short term self-interest and group pride into plausible arguments. When this fails, as it ultimately must, then liberals simply steal.

It is instructive that conservatives are not even charged with stealing elections, but with buying them (even liberals concede that conservatives bargain and pay for what they seek.) Theft is no crime for those liberals who scoff at the meaning of words. Life, to them, is what life was to Mussolini, Stalin, and Hitter: Action! Inventing votes is simply a morally neutral act with practical advantages for those cunning or daring enough to do it.

Action for liberals, however, requires the confidence of others. No one except those who wield power over others profits from stolen votes. Although black Americans probably voted overwhelmingly for Al Gore, when a fair tally of their votes becomes academic, then the need to buy their votes ends: Why buy what one can steal? If illegal immigrants can register to vote, then who needs black Americans to register?

The first day of the next Congress, hearings should commence on reforming the electoral process in America. Some reforms are obvious. Federal law should prohibit anyone from announcing the results of any election until every poll in our Republic is closed. Let network anchors twiddle their thumbs on Election Night, and leave ward bosses desperately uncertain how many ballots need to be delivered to their candidates and causes. Any company with an FCC license should be subject to instant revocation of its license if it reports any votes early, and any person who reveals votes before the proper time should be subject to criminal and civil penalties.

One standard ballot should be adopted for all elections in which ballots are cast for federal offices. These should be machine readable, and all ballots should be run through two separate machines (producing the integrity of a double blind experiment). If both machine counts agree, then fraud is very improbable.

Requirements for voting should also be strengthened. Liberals, of course, will howl like banshees when subject comes up, so it is imperative to hammer home that murderers and rapists voted in Florida. At a minimum, an instant background check (like liberals insist we must have before exercising our rights under the Second Amendment) is reasonable to insure that criminals at large or felons, in states that deprive felons of the right to vote, cannot vote.

The voting process itself should also be made more formal. Is there any reason not to install video cameras directed out towards voters standing in line, to catch hijinks and intimidation? Is there a good reason not to have a live scan of fingerprints instead of a signature to insure that no one votes more than once? Technology exists now to make voting very convenient and highly reputable. Let liberals say why we should not implement those changes now.

Voting is one aspect of electoral reform, but not the only one important to conservatives. Along with this general bill of reform, Congress should pass a law requiring that all legislative districts -- congressional, state, municipal, and county -- be "compact, contiguous, and as nearly as practicable equal in population." Republicans passed laws with those requirements for congressional seats in the Nineteenth Century; we should replicate that and expand it to lower levels of government.

Liberals, who are off balance in state governments now, may even support the ham-handed gerrymandering of old pols when they find liberals themselves on the business end of a legislative bill. Gerrymandering is also an issue that throws minorities against minorities. We should bring the balm of decent and reasonable redistricting, and leave the liberals to try to placate their unhappy followers.

Above all we must attack! The nation -- indeed, the world -- is watching what is happening to our Republic. Allowing the existing structure of voting irregularity, diluted votes, and the whole ugly mess is indefensible. Liberals have brayed piously about campaign finance reform ever since they lost a decisive edge in that area. We must not let up a single moment. Electoral reform!

Bruce Walker is a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.

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