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Stephen Gottlieb: How To Encourage A Real “National Conversation”

Everyone talks about needing a national conversation. We’ve been hearing that for a long time. But without real proposals it’s either just talk or it’s an attack on the other guys for not listening. Mostly it’s aimed to tell decent folk to listen to extremists who of course already know everything. I love the Republican twist – blaming Democrats for Republican intransigence. Talk or attack, it’s not constructive without mechanisms to make it come about.  How?

There are real proposals. I’ve made several:

·         Change to open primaries, let independents vote in them or use ranked choice voting – any of which would bring the parties closer.

·         Stop preventing qualified voters from casting their ballots. Currently many jurisdictions try to exclude people in any way likely to target opposition voters:

o   They heap difficult, expensive and unnecessary requirements on people who vote in-person;

o   They put polling places out of reach for people in areas which support the opposition;

o   They’ve tried to squelch voting by mail;

o   Wherever there are lots of opposition voters, they use crude computer matching programs to eliminate everyone with similar names and purge people from the voter lists as if they’re all frauds – there are many Steve Gottliebs around the country; just imagine what happens with more common names – it’s much better to keep automatic and permanent lists of voters as some countries do.

o   All that nonsense has got to go.

·         And because the U.S. Supreme Court continues to turn a blind eye to gerrymandering and to the excellent mathematic tests for gerrymandering that have been briefed and argued to it, it’s time to count votes fairly.  In fact getting rid of the Roberts Court might be a large improvement all by itself. The Constitution gerrymanders the Senate, which is nearly impossible to touch, but the Court’s unwillingness to require electoral fairness allowed the House of Representatives to be gerrymandered – effectively making the whole Congress misrepresent America.

·         Perhaps the most damaging was the Court’s invalidation of crucial language of the Voting Rights Act which gave the Department of Justice the power to stop plans to rig elections.

I’m hardly the only one making such suggestions. I particularly admire the Brennan Center’s slogan for Revitalizing Democracy – “the best way to defend democracy is to strengthen it.”

The Brennan Center advocates:

A national guarantee of free and fair elections without voter suppression. Small donor public financing to curb the corrupting role of big money. An end to partisan gerrymandering. A restoration of ethics throughout government. [And a] commitment to restore the strength of the Voting Rights Act.

To get there they urge passage of the  For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, bills introduced in the current session of Congress. Those bills would overturn damage done by the U.S. Supreme Court when it emasculated existing legislation and ducked the opportunity to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment.

The House is planning to consider the For the People Act the first week in March so it’s a good time to communicate with your representatives. These are important pieces of legislation if they can get out of Congress so that President Biden can sign them into law. 

Steve Gottlieb’s latest book is Unfit for Democracy: The Roberts Court and The Breakdown of American Politics. He is the Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Albany Law School, served on the New York Civil Liberties Union board, on the New York Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Iran.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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