Tag: elections

Changing the Electoral College Game

Article II of the United States Constitution states: “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress” to elect the president. The phrase “in such Manner” does not obviously restrict the way electors may be rewarded.

Even before the last election, some people had proposed changing the way states award electoral votes. The National Popular Vote effort, for example, proposed a compact in which states with a majority of the electoral votes agree to award their votes to the winner of the popular vote for president. Now other people, mostly Republicans, propose that states award each of their electoral votes to the winner of each congressional district in a state.

This proposal is highly partisan, but it is not outlandish. Two states, Nebraska and Maine, now award almost all of their electoral votes by congressional district. In each state, two of their electoral votes (the two they get because of equal state representation in the Senate) go the state-wide winner of the popular vote.

However, proponents of the “district proposal” have not suddenly been convinced of the merits of presidential elections in Maine and Nebraska. Rather, they are beguiled by the thought that Mitt Romney would have won in 2012 had electoral votes been awarded by congressional district.

Here we find the first problem with the proposal: it concerns the past not the future. Much like those liberal Democrats who wished to change the filibuster rule because Sen. McConnell (R-KY) frustrated the president’s desires on health care, some Republicans now wish to change electoral rules in response to the 2012 disaster.

It is unlikely that states governed by Democratic majorities in the legislature would adopt this proposal. Let’s assume they would, however, to think about what might happen.

The “district proposal” would increase the value of partisan redistricting since the presidency as well as the House would now depend on the composition of congressional districts.

The “district proposal” might change nothing. If the partisan majority in every state legislature has already maximized its share of congressional seats, nothing changes. I think that would be the case for most states controlled by the GOP.

Democracy Versus Autocracy in Kuwait: Where Is Real Liberty?

KUWAIT CITY, KUWAIT—This small Gulf nation was largely unknown in America before Saddam Hussein’s Iraq invaded more than 20 years ago. The United States intervened to drive Iraqi forces out. Kuwaitis remain grateful to Americans and emphasize their friendship with the United States.

Although a monarchy, Kuwait has an elected parliament and a generally free media. It regularly invites foreign analysts and journalists to observe its elections. I am making my second trip this year.

Tremors from the Arab Spring are being felt here. The parliament elected in 2009 faced charges of corruption and lost popularity, and was dissolved at the beginning of the year. Elections were held in February.

All very democratic.

The new legislature was dominated by anti-government activists and, more important, Islamists. Top of the latter’s agenda was making Sharia the basis of all laws, imposing the death penalty for blasphemy, and closing Christian churches. Not very good for liberty.

The Kuwaiti emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, said no to all three. Liberty was protected only because Kuwait was not a genuine parliamentary system where elections determine the government.

The constitutional court then reinstated the previous parliament on technical grounds—that it had not been properly dissolved. The members were no more popular than before and the body soon was properly dissolved. But the emir unilaterally changed the voting system from four votes to one vote per district—from which ten MPs are chosen. Public protests and a large-scale boycott ensued.

Nonetheless, the election was held on December 1. Turnout fell—to about 40 percent, compared to 60 percent in February—but the conduct of the poll received general praise from outside observers. The vote elevated a number of unknowns to parliament.

The government claimed success, but the opposition, which ranges from liberals to Islamists, organized 15 demonstrations involving thousands on Monday night. The police responded with force and injuries resulted. The opposition promised more protests, including a large rally promised for Saturday. The emir met with members of the royal family. My friend, political scientist Shafeeq Ghabra, told me that Kuwait was at a “political crossroads,” with the public determined to “deepen democratization.”

No one knows there this will end. The main opposition leader Musallam Al-Barrak, until this election the longest-serving MP, emphasized the protestors’ commitment to the emir. He told me the situation in Kuwait was different than elsewhere in the Arab Spring: “We want to have an elected government. That does not mean we are against the ruling system.” However, the driving force behind the protests is the youth movement—an incredible 70 percent of the population is under 29. Some of them, at least, seem less than enamored with monarchical rule, with or without a parliament.

As the current political crisis—a word now used by some—plays out, Kuwaitis may find themselves with something closer to a popularly elected government. Unfortunately, however, experience shows that this may not make them freer.

Led by Prop 30 in California and Prop 2 in Michigan, a List of the Most Important Ballot Initiatives of 2012

Two years ago, I highlighted nine key state ballot initiatives and happily reported about a week later that voters generally chose to limit statism.

We have a similar collection of measures this year. Some of these votes - such as the decisions about higher taxes in California and power for government employee unions in Michigan - will have profound implications and perhaps even signal whether certain jurisdictions are doomed to failure.

Since I’m motivated primarily by the desire to reduce the burden of government spending and block bad tax policy, let’s look first at the key fiscal measures on this year’s ballot.

Prop 30 in California - Would impose a huge tax hike, including an increase in the state sales tax from 7.25 percent to 7.5 percent, along with three new higher income tax brackets (maxing out at more than 13 percent!) for upper-income taxpayers. The adjoining cartoon is a good summary of the issue, as is this classic bit of political humor.

Prop 38 and Prop 39 - Two additional tax hike measures, the first targeting individual taxpayers and the second targeting businesses. I’m not sure which tax-hike proposition is the worst, but they all need to be defeated for there to be any hope about California’s future.

Prop 204 in Arizona - Renewing a one-cent increase in the state sales tax, ostensibly for the education bureaucracy. Money is fungible, so this is merely a vote for bigger government.

Issue 1 in Arkansas - Imposing a half-cent increase in the state sales tax, supposedly for highway spending. Another bait-and-switch scam to trick voters into financing bigger government.

Prop 5 in Michigan - Would require a two-thirds vote of both the state house and state senate to raise any tax. Anything that makes it harder to raise taxes is also a step making it harder to boost the burden of spending.

Prop B in Missouri - Raise the cigarette tax by 73 cents per pack. Politicians in the Show Me state should kick their addiction to big government.

Constitutional Amendment Concurrent Resolution 13 in New Hampshire - A constitutional amendment to prohibit enactment of an income tax. The Granite State has been blessed by avoiding either a state sales tax or a state income tax. It’s almost a shame that there’s a First Amendment guaranteeing free speech, because otherwise I’d be tempted to outlaw even discussion of imposing an income tax.

Measure 84 in Oregon - Would repeal the state’s death tax. This should be a no-brainer. You don’t want to repeat the mistakes of New Jersey and drive productive residents to other states. But Oregon voters have demonstrated a lemming-like suicide instinct in the past.

Initiated Measure 15 in South Dakota - Increases the state sales tax from 4 percent to 5 percent. There’s no income tax, but that’s no argument for making a modest sales tax into an onerous sales tax.

Initiative 1185 in Washington - Reaffirms the state’s two-thirds supermajority requirement before the state legislature can increase taxes. Voters repeatedly have reaffirmed their support for the supermajority in the past. Let’s hope that doesn’t change now.

Now let’s shift to matters of personal freedom and look at ballot measures involving the Second Amendment and the Drug War.

Prop 114 in Arizona - Protects crime victims from being sued if they injure or kill criminals. Yes, there are examples of excessive response, but the easiest way of avoiding those situations - if you’re a criminal - is by keeping your nose clean.

Amendment 2 in Louisiana - Strengthens right to keep and bear arms. If this doesn’t pass by more than 80 percent, I’ll be disappointed.

Amendment 64 in Colorado, Measure 80 in Oregon, and Initiative 502 in Washington - All of these ballot measures end marijuana prohibition to varying degrees. Let’s hope voters take a small step in ending the War on Drugs.

These initiatives are related to fiscal policy, but they belong in a special category since they deal with the necessity of curtailing bloated and over-compensated government bureaucracies.

Prop 1 in Idaho - This measure would retain recent legislative reforms to end tenure in government schools. The only real solution is school choice, but this measure at least should make it easier to get rid of awful teachers that contribute to making the public schools both costly and ineffective.

Prop 2 in Michigan - Creates permanent negotiating advantages for already pampered government employee unions. This is the bureaucrat equivalent of Prop 30 in California, a massive transfer of wealth and power from the productive sector. If it passes, Michigan probably would be past the tipping point in its descent into stagnation and despair.

Last but not least, here are measures on random issues that are very important.

Prop 3 in Michigan - Require 25 percent of electricity to come from renewables. This will be an interesting test of whether the voters of a particular state are so clueless about economics that they are willing to voluntarily boost their own energy bills and undermine their own job prospects. I almost hope it passes just for the lesson it will teach.

Question 1 in Virginia - Limits eminent domain to public purposes. Corrupt developers and their cronies in state and local government don’t like this proposal, which naturally means it is a very good idea for those who support property rights.

Amendment 6 in Alabama, Amendment 1 in Florida, Prop E in Missouri, Legislative Referendum 122 in Montana, and Amendment A in Wyoming - These are all anti-Obamacare initiatives in some form or fashion. Continued resistance is important, even if some of these measures are only symbolic, so fingers crossed that they’re all approved.

You can find more information about state ballot initiatives and referendum here, here, here, and here.

And one final philosophical/policy point: In an ideal world, the United States would be like Switzerland and have a much more robust version of federalism. Almost everything that happens in Washington, with the exception of national defense, should either be in the private sector or at the state and local level of government.

A big advantage of a genuinely federalist system is that competition among states would be more vigorous than it is today. So if Michigan voters enacted Prop 2 or California voters approved Prop 30, tho adverse consequences would materialize much faster, thus helping to educate people that free markets and limited government are the best policies.

Money and Politics in the Tennessee Democratic Party

Buried inside a Washington Post feature on “America’s worst candidate” is this revealing look on politics as it is played:

Tennessee Democrats, who’d watched their conservative voters drift to the GOP, finally lost the state House in 2010. That had been a financial lifeline for Democrats, since the legislature has broad powers over patronage.

“That pretty much was the end,” said [Will T. Cheek, a Nashville investor who has been a member of the state Democratic Party’s executive committee since 1970]. “Because we have nothing left. In the other low points, we had the Election Commission, we had the Building Commission. . . . If you wanted to get state deposits into your bank, those were all ours. And that’s where you’d raise your money.”

Losing those powers “really kicked the props out from under the financing of the party,” Cheek said.

Libya: A Mixed Bag

Libyans voted for a new parliament over the weekend. President Barack Obama called the elections “another milestone on their extraordinary transition to democracy.” Political and regional fault lines, though, are derailing that transition.

Libya remains divided between its oil-rich East and its politically dominant West. Even though Western rebels ended up capturing Tripoli, it was Eastern rebels who had fought most of the civil war against Qaddafi’s regime. Qaddafi marginalized the East for decades. New election laws have reinvigorated that sense of political alienation.

The Associated Press reports, “The laws allocate the east less than a third of the parliamentary seats, with the rest going to the western region that includes Tripoli and the sparsely-settled desert south.” [Emphasis added] Particularly noteworthy is that the election laws were issued by Libya’s National Transitional Council, previously chaired by Qaddafi’s former economics minster, Mahmoud Jabril.

Backed by their own council and army, some rebel commanders and tribal leaders have teamed up and declared self-rule. To pressure a cancellation of this weekend’s vote, armed militias and former rebels calling for semi-autonomy for the East attacked election offices in Benghazi and in Ajdabiya, and captured oil refineries in Ras Lanouf, Brega, and Sidr.

Last month, Dirk Vandewalle, who has lived and worked in Libya for almost fifteen years and just recently returned from Libya as a Senior Political Advisor to the Carter Center’s Election Observation Mission in Libya, spoke at Cato on what Libya’s long-simmering East/West division portends for its transition to democracy. Authorities, he finds, have thus far proved incapable of controlling militias who seek greater autonomy.

As a former rebel commander in the East put it: “We don’t want Tripoli to rule all of Libya.” The crux of Libya’s challenges, which Vandewalle was careful to differentiate, is state-building—the institutions that make a country governable—and nation-building—national consensus to govern once institutions are in place. These grievances and divisions are compounded by competing visions offered by ultra-conservative Salafists and jihadists inspired by al Qaeda. Formal elections may give a voice to many in Libya, but their hardest days may still lie ahead.

Cross-posted from the Skeptics at theNational Interest.

Egyptian Elections: Is the Revolution Over?

Before the news of Hosni Mubarak’s impending death dominated the news cycle, the real issue on Egypt was what happened in the past week. On Thursday, Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court effectively dissolved parliament. On Sunday, Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces issued a supplementary constitutional declaration that stripped the presidency of most of its power and gave itself temporary legislative authority and a strong hand in writing the country’s new constitution. Egypt’s democracy now hangs by a thread after what amounts to a de facto coup. U.S. policymakers ought to reassess Washington’s aims with Cairo and weigh the supposed value of American military and economic aid against the outcomes actually reached. Evidence suggests that U.S. aid can and should be phased out, providing Egypt the domestic political shake-up its young democracy desperately needs.

U.S. officials must consider the precise purpose of military aid programs, particularly their usefulness with respect to Egyptian-Israeli peace. Proponents of aid stand the region’s geopolitics on its head, arguing that aid dissuades Egypt’s military from initiating war against Israel. Little to no attention is paid to the fact that Washington advances interests that Egypt already has, as war with Israel would be disastrous for Egypt, aid or no.

Throughout the Cold War, Egypt and Israel fought a war nearly every decade: 1948-49, 1956, 1967, 1969, and 1973. Egypt’s military realized long ago—and more importantly, on its own accord—the hazards of its perpetual confrontation with Israel. Its adherence to the U.S.-brokered Camp David Peace Agreement of September 1978 was the culmination of lessons learned from its devastating military defeats.

Egyptian-Israeli peace is assured not by Washington’s largesse to Cairo, but by the memory of its humiliating military losses and the desperate economic conditions in Egypt. Nevertheless, Cairo continues to wage covert measures against Israel—again, despite receiving U.S. assistance. Earlier this year, pro-military fliers distributed in Egyptian taxis blamed the United States, Israel, and other foreign powers for causing the country’s crisis. In addition, under Mubarak, Israeli authorities complained that Egypt was failing to effectively control the smuggling of arms and explosives in tunnels under Egypt’s Rafah border crossing with Gaza. Other material was also being transferred by sea and above ground by smugglers with the complicity of Egyptian soldiers and officers. Israeli Security Agency director Yuval Diskin believed that Egyptian leaders lacked the will to crack down on these weapons networks because they viewed Israel as a safety valve that channeled extremists away from Egypt.

Recent tensions in the Sinai could have serious implications. As Amman-based journalist Osama Al Sharif writes:

Sinai will remain a critical point of friction between Israel and Egypt. Since the collapse of the Libyan regime, huge caches of weapons have found their way from Libya into the Sinai Peninsula. For Israel, the fact that Hamas has now access to new armaments represents a huge security challenge. It is a situation that neither Israel nor Egypt can control. The former may decide to carry out a preemptive strike against Hamas and loyal cells deep within Sinai. Such unilateral action could easily develop into a regional conflict. [Emphasis added]

Even if structural factors between Israel and Egypt do not change, and Israel retains its overwhelming military superiority, the potential for overreaction or miscalculation could spiral into conflict. Such a scenario would put U.S. officials in an embarrassing position, having supplied massive amounts of military hardware and economic assistance to both belligerents for over three decades.

Presently, Washington supports a regime in Cairo that continues to view Israel as an enemy and entrenches its power through brutality and political repression. Until recently, Cairo’s Islamist government was intent on incorporating Sharia law and cooperating (for more U.S. aid) with America. Moreover, many Egyptians—angered by lack of progress on Palestinian self-determination through the creation of an autonomous Palestinian state—are increasingly frustrated with an America that sends massive military and financial assistance to their regime (over $60 billion in military grants and economic assistance since 1975).

Decades of U.S. aid has done nothing to turn Egypt into a democracy or a market economy. Unfortunately, as made clear by the transfer of power in February 2011 from former president, Hosni Mubarak, to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), Egypt has not undergone a revolution, but rather a thinly veiled attempt by the armed forces to perpetuate their six decades in power.

Months ago, the Obama administration resumed funding to Egypt, even though Congress restricted military aid until and unless the State Department could certify that Egypt progressed toward democracy, basic freedoms, and human rights. A senior Obama administration official said at the time that there would be no way to certify that all conditions were being met. Today, however, with thousands of activists being detained and tried in military courts, overwhelming evidence shows that Egypt’s military junta has not met any of the aforementioned obligations. The military, which commands an array of commercial enterprises in industries such as water, olive oil, cement, construction, hospitality, and gasoline, limited democracy to advance their narrow self-interests.

In Cairo, a freely elected civilian government will always be powerless against a deeply entrenched military. The flourishing of a secular-minded liberal democracy would of course be ideal, but guided by the belief that picking sides in the Arab world advances U.S. strategic interests, senior officials endorse a policy that in the short-term could stymie Islamists, but in the long-run discredit reformers and increase the credibility of extremist hardliners. That central paradox plagued America’s counterterrorism policy under Mubarak. As an unclassified U.S. Department of Defense report from 2004 acknowledged:

If it is one overarching goal they [Muslims] share, it is the overthrow of what Islamists call ‘apostate’ regimes: the tyrannies of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Jordan and the Gulf States…Without the U.S. these regimes could not survive. [Emphasis added]

Here, however, a caveat is needed. The Muslim world is expansive, and radicals are only a small part. As Thomas H. Kean, chair of the 9/11 Commission, said in July 2004 before the U.S. Subcommittee on National Security:

The small number of Muslims who are committed to Osama bin Laden’s version of Islam, we can’t dissuade them. We’ve got to jail them or we’ve got to kill them. That’s the bottom line. But, the large majority of Arabs and Muslims are opposed to violence, and with those people, we must encourage reform, freedom, democracy and perhaps, above everything else, opportunity. [Emphasis added]

Even as many in Washington—including this author—strongly reject the Islamists who rose to power in Cairo, it is well past time for us to step back and allow Egyptians to shape their own destiny. Egypt is deterred from attacking Israel not because of U.S. aid or love of the Jewish state, but rather because it has little prospect of gain and much to lose. If tensions erupt in the Sinai and spiral into war, that development would perhaps serve as the greatest indictment against the assumption that decades of U.S. assistance produced a sustainable peace.

Egyptians must judge for themselves whether Islamists or the military can deliver on promises of economic and political reform, especially after decades of substantial U.S. assistance has failed to live up to its aims. Sadly, it seems that given the conventional wisdom in Washington, phasing out U.S. aid to Egypt might be more difficult than phasing out Egypt’s old dictator.

Cross-posted from the Skeptics at the National Interest.

Chávez’s Electoral Fraud Cushion

The onslaught against Henrique Capriles Radonsky by Venezuelan state-run media has begun after his decisive victory in Sunday’s presidential primary. Capriles is now the nominee of the opposition coalition and he will face Hugo Chávez in October’s presidential election. As the Wall Street Journal reports, the vicious attacks against Capriles include, among other things, insinuations that he was a homosexual and that he is a Zionist agent.

This election will not be a fair one. Not only does Chávez control most of the Venezuelan media, but his government is also dramatically increasing spending on popular social programs. About 8.5 million Venezuelans already receive some kind of permanent income or assistance from the government (4 million of them are public employees). The Chávez regime threatens and intimidates those who receive government handouts and dare to support the opposition. Moreover, since voting is electronic in Venezuela, many people fear—perhaps with good reason—that their votes aren’t secret. The government tacitly encourages these perceptions.

But that’s not the end of the story. Chávez also controls Venezuela’s National Electoral Council. Due to the inability of the opposition to monitor every voting station in the country, the stated results of the vote may not be accurate. The Electoral Council usually takes longer than is necessary to tabulate voting results from electronic systems, which has raised concerns of fraudulent activity.

A main concern is the electoral registry, as documented by Gustavo Coronel in a Cato study back in 2006. Coronel wrote that an independent analysis of the electoral registry found many irregularities:

such as the existence of 39,000 voters over one hundred years old. This is a number equal to that of the same age group in the United States, where the population is 10 times greater. Of these 39,000 people, 17,000 were born in the 19th century, and one is 175 years old and still working! Nineteen thousand voters were born the same day and year in the state of Zulia. There are thousands of people sharing the same address.

So on top of the support of his followers (some enthusiastic, others intimidated), which fluctuates around 45 percent of the population, Chávez can also rely on a margin of error due to electoral fraud if he doesn’t get enough votes for his reelection. I’ve talked to some Venezuelans who say this margin can be as high as eight percentage points. That is, if the election is decided by less than that (very likely the case), Chávez can doctor the results in his favor.

The opposition promises to have people in every single voting station in the country watching the vote. The National Electoral Council will probably bar international observers from monitoring the election. This sets up the potential for conflicting results from the opposition and the National Electoral council. What would happen next is anyone’s guess.