Is it just me, or does the news seems to be littered with stories about corruption of some government official or more disturbing, an elected official? Right here in my home state, the past three Speakers of the house have resigned and been indicted for some type of corruption. What happened to personal integrity?
When a person becomes a representative in his / her local community, there are many people that are recruited to get them elected. Each of these people has a reason to endorse this individual, it may be simply to have the property taxes reduced, or their road may need to be resurfaced. These many divergent needs put a lot of pressure on the said representative to help out his or her constituents.
The purported way that these issues are supposed to be worked out is by having town / city wide meetings to discuss the pros and cons of funding the requests. Then there is supposed to be a vote so that the majority of citizens make the decision. Whatever happened to this concept? Elections are costly, even at the local level, to set it up print out the information and the ballots are a significant expenditure of local funds.
As a result, most of these decisions are made in “committee” and then a recommendation is presented to the ruling council which then makes the decision. This process saves the money needed for an election, but circumvents the rule of the majority.
Then there is the matter of the makeup of the council, the same people tend to get re-elected year after year. So the same minority of the town’s residents put their buddies back onto the governing board. Here is where the problem gets more complex. The ruling council begins to get more and more entrenched and their view gets narrowed to serve the people that elected them. Are we beginning to see a pattern?
Now go up one level. State governments just magnify the issue. A smaller percentage of people support a candidate that is supposed to represent a particular geographical region. Again the process is repeated where a few individuals form the election committee and they promote their candidate. Again each has his or her personal item which they want their candidate to address. So much, for representation of the “people”. Small groups get to put their “friend” in office.
Democracy is not an exact science. It is at its best an example of how the world could end war, solve the looming food crisis and on a really good day stop global climate change. Even given its short comings for the most part “democracy” is far superior to other forms of government. So the question becomes how do we improve it?
I am no expert on government. I am a citizen of the largest democracy on our planet, and I can see some ways to improve the flaws.
The first step is to improve the voting process. Until the most recent national election, voter participation has been declining. Fewer of the eligible participants have made the effort to practice this most fundamental right of all citizens of a democracy. Even at a local level, unless the issues are well publicized and have generated a lot of media attention, most people do not exercise this most basic right.
In this day and age of ease of access to the internet, all issues should be brought to the attention of all voters in a community. This means that any issue that requires a vote be taken should be made available on the community’s web site. Public comment should be encouraged and online discussions be encouraged. All registered voters should be encouraged to express a yea or no opinion. This just might get them to vote on the issues at the local level. This could be a start at truly representative democracy.
I would love to see some brave community try out this concept and report the results. Voter apathy might be hard to overcome, but I think that it might make a difference in the numbers of citizens who participate in governing their own community.
Another benefit of such a system would be the transparency that it would bring to the working of the local officials, elected or otherwise. More public involvement might make it harder for our elected officials to be tempted into a path of corruption and deceit. Open debate on any issue can only lead to a consensus, resulting in at least a solution that the majority could support.
Perhaps the best remedy for our current problems would be term limits. Elected officials should only serve one term, then leave office for at least one term. This would put fresh eyes in the position and a new perspective on the issues that confront society. The founding fathers were not omniscient, but they recognized that to solve thorny problems one needs to hear from an eclectic group of opinions.
This last idea has very little hope of becoming a reality. The old guard is too well entrenched and set in its ways to allow it to happen. Reform must be demanded by the public. “We the People” must make it clear that we will no longer tolerate the nonsense that is perpetrated by our elected officials, either at the local, state, or federal level.