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Saturday, December 2, 2017

U.S. Constitutional Amendments Needed Now

George Wenschhof
Today, it is painfully obvious a serious nationwide discussion is needed on election reform where we engage voters to hear their preference on areas that have significant impact.
Establishing a nonpartisan method for redistricting, meaningful campaign finance reform, popular vote versus the Electoral College, primary caucus voting versus secret balloting, online voting, ballots by mail, the determination of the order of the states in presidential primaries, the length of the primary and general elections, term limits and the role of the media in elections should be included in the discussion.
The descent of American politics into tribal warfare has contributed to the congressional gridlock we experience today.  States and cities are described as “Red” or “Blue” depicting either the Republican or Democratic Party. Local communities are divided as never before and friendships are now tested by extreme partisan politics. This begs the question “will American democracy survive?”  This dysfunctional approach to governing did not occur overnight so expect the solutions to this self defeating culture to also take time.
Sadly, finding the solutions to the issues we face as a society has deteriorated into a “my way or the highway” approach in Congress.
Health Care legislation is a good recent example of the clannish approach to governing that has taken hold in the United States.  The U. S. was the only developed country who did not view health care as a right and not a privilege until The Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010.
After The Affordable Care Act was passed in the Senate, the House voted 219-212 on March 21, 2010 to approve with all 178 Republicans voting against it.
Seven years of obstructionism and countless attempts to repeal by congressional Republicans would follow and in May of this year the House passed The American Health Care Act with a vote of 217-213 with all 193 Democrats opposed. The bill has been sent to the Senate and its defeat was the result of Republican Party infighting.

Tax reform legislation is the latest example with the Senate passing their version with a 51-49 vote along partisan lines with only one Republican senator opposed.
These illustrations of the extreme partisan approach to governing taking place today in America are difficult to absorb. Moderation and compromise have become mostly obsolete traits in members of congress. It is difficult to argue this pendulum swing approach to governing on serious domestic and foreign policy is conducive to moving the country forward.
Thankfully, the founders of the constitution provided mechanisms to amend the document, when the need arose. The process is rightfully not easy, resulting in only 27 amendments since the constitution was ratified in 1789 with the first 10 of them, known as the Bill of Rights, ratified by the first congress in 1791.
An amendment can be proposed by the Congress with two-thirds of the members of the House of Representatives and Senate voting in favor of it. Or, two-thirds of the state legislatures can call for a constitutional convention to propose an amendment. States have never voted to call for a new constitutional convention.
To be ratified an amendment must be ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures or Congress can direct the states to establish special ratifying conventions to consider the proposed amendment with again three-fourths approval needed.
Since the passage of The Bill of Rights, only 17 constitutional amendments have been passed out of over 11,500 that have been introduced over 226 years.
It is interesting to note that out of these 17 amendments, 11 are associated with the United States election process.  In 1870, the 15th amendment prohibited the denial of vote based on race, color or previous condition of servitude.  In 1920, the 19th amendment prohibited the denial of their right to vote based on sex.   

The 22nd amendment approved in 1951, limits the terms for President to two and in 1971, an amendment I benefited from, allowed an 18 year old to vote.

All the way back in 1804, the 12th amendment established the Electoral College as the manner to elect the president.  Since that time the electoral vote and popular vote have produced the same presidential election results except on 4 occasions; 1876, 1888, 2000 and 2016.

Perhaps, the top issue contributing to the acerbic and vitriolic manner exhibited by many members of Congress is how redistricting is conducted today.
Population changes reported by the census every 10 years become the justification for redistricting, a task handled by state legislatures in 36 states. Seven states have only one representative, due to the size of their population. The remaining states use an independent or bipartisan commission, with a few of those states retaining state legislative approval.
This has led to the inverse of what we want in a democracy.  Instead of voters picking their representatives, politicians are picking their voters. Extremists from the two major political parties who have been elected to these “safe seats” are mostly driven by ideology and not pragmatic thought.
The out of control cost of elections is another area that must be addressed.  The Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission essentially found that political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment. This allows corporations and unions to spend money to support or criticize candidates.  Today, elected members of congress spend a third of their time in office raising funds instead of representing their voters. 
Meaningful redistricting and campaign fundraising reform along with other changes proposed by voters coming after a nationwide discussion must be enacted through constitutional amendments to have meaningful effect.
Naysayers will say passing constitutional amendments to establish election reform will never happen. To save the democracy we all love and cherish, it has happened in the past and it must happen again.
Let’s hope the discussion begins soon!

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