Should blue cities in red states adopt mandatory voting?

A clever, low-cost, politically self-executing idea to promote rapid adoption of compulsory voting across the United States (if you think that’s a good idea, along the lines of jury duty), explained in The Atlantic by Nicholas Stephanopoulos of UChicago Law School:

To start, a blue city in a purple state — such as Miami, Florida; Columbus, Ohio; or Philadelphia, Pennsylvania — would have to adopt compulsory voting for its own elections. Its elections would also have to be held on the first Tuesday in November [in an even year], allowing voters to cast ballots in municipal, state, and federal elections at the same time.
[…]
At this point, redder jurisdictions would face enormous pressure to follow the blue city’s lead. Not doing so would award the Democrats an electoral bonanza: a surge in turnout in their urban stronghold unmatched by greater participation in suburbs and exurbs.
[…]
Importantly, it’s easier for a single city to adopt compulsory voting than for myriad suburbs and exurbs to follow suit. This collective action problem is why compulsory voting probably wouldn’t stay at the local level for long. Red states, in particular, would find it in their interest to impose statewide voting mandates.

 
I cut out some of the details or proposed scenarios in this excerpt, just to get the gist down, so I recommend you check out the full piece.

I also think any mandatory voting system should, however, only be implemented alongside a None-of-The-Above option on all ballots. That way people can either pay a small fine for not voting or they can vote against everyone running. Either action would still be a positive expression of democratic will: support for/indifference toward the status quo or unhappiness with all options presented.

I’m sure a lot of people will have objections (in both ideological camps) to increasing turnout dramatically, especially at the local level. But fundamentally, if you’re unwilling to campaign toward everyone in democratic elections, that’s your problem and you need to get over that or lose. If you’re afraid of voters, it’s either because you’re wrong or because your side hasn’t put in the work necessary to persuade them to agree with your view.

And if mandatory voting strengthens party machines at the expense of individual campaigns, maybe individuals will actually take the time to sway the party or get in line with an easy to understand political agenda. What might that mean? We’ll stop having thousands of candidate-driven campaigns where voters pick someone they like over someone who will fight for them and their issues in office. Instead there would be candidates aligned with each platform, so you would know for sure what you would be getting when you vote.

Australia has had enforced compulsory voting (i.e. vote or pay a fine) since 1924, and they haven’t collapsed. Instead, they had decade after decade of turnout greater than 90%. Our democracy is only limping along by comparison.

AKP projected to win majority in 2nd Turkey election of 2015

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After an election campaign filled with violence and crackdowns on opposition media, it looks like we have a different result from the June election…

BBC – “Turkey election: Ruling AKP ‘heads for majority'”:

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) looks likely to claim a majority in a critical parliamentary election, results indicate.

With 95% of all votes counted, state-run Anadolu Agency said the party was on 49.5%, with the main opposition CHP on 25.3%.

The pro-Kurdish HDP and nationalist MHP appear likely to cross the 10% threshold needed to claim seats.
[…]
Current projections indicate the ruling party will gain substantially more than the 276 seats needed to gain a majority.

However, projections show it will fall just short of the amount of seats needed to call a referendum on changing the constitution and increasing the powers of the president, AKP founder Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

 

Two Big Takeaways for the NDP on Canada’s 2015 election

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Editor’s Note: On October 19, 2015, Canadians voted all across their country to elect a new parliament. There were three major parties contesting the election everywhere and a couple minor parties. After the last federal parliamentary elections (in 2011), the Conservatives held a majority, the social-democratic New Democratic Party (NDP) were the second-place party (heading the opposition for the first time), and the centrist Liberal Party finished third. At the start of this year’s election, the NDP had a large lead in the polls seemed poised to form a government for the first time in Canada’s history. As the campaign progressed, however, the NDP’s support collapsed and voters instead chose to elect a Liberal Party majority to parliament. This majority will be led by Justin Trudeau, the son of former longtime prime minister Pierre Trudeau, who led the party from 1968 to 1984. The Conservatives finished second. The NDP finished a distant third.

Below, guest contributor and NDP supporter Adam Chaikof presents the two major lessons he drew from the NDP’s unsuccessful campaign to lead the federal government for the first time in party history.

Lesson 1: Don’t treat balanced budgets like a sacred cow (especially during economic downturns).

It certainly goes without saying that one of the most common right-wing retorts to any suggestion of expanding the welfare state or investing in jobs or infrastructure is that such measures are too costly and will only increase the national debt and deficit.

Besides the obvious ideological reasons, the Right constantly employs this line of attack because voters easily understand it. After all, many voters reason, if we have to live within our means, why shouldn’t the government do the same?

Within this framing, beyond completely rejecting the Left’s core principles, left-wing parties can respond to these accusations in one of two ways: they can either try to convince the electorate that they’re actually better at balancing the budget than the Right, or they can argue that running a short-term deficit isn’t harmful and is necessary to stimulate the economy.

In other words, the Left can either try to win the debate on balanced budgets on the Right’s terms, or they can try to reset the debate’s terms altogether. During this most recent election in Canada, the NDP chose the former route, while the Liberals chose the latter.

The NDP chose this strategy for two reasons. First, NDP provincial governments actually have better fiscal records on average than both Liberal and Conservative ones despite spending more on economic and social programs.

Unfortunately, there is one notable – and very noticeable – exception to the NDP’s fiscal record: Bob Rae’s provincial government in Ontario from 1990 to 1995. Rae’s early 90s legacy still haunts the NDP in the electorally vital province of Ontario. This is the root cause of the second reason for the NDP’s strategy of campaigning on fiscal responsibility.

Rae’s record is still hotly debated – and he actually has long since defected from the NDP to the Liberals – but the most commonly accepted narrative is this: After leading the NDP to its first ever victory in Ontario in 1990, Rae unsuccessfully tried to spend Ontario’s way out of a recession and was then forced to implement austerity measures after exploding the province’s deficit.

Whether you accept this narrative or not, it’s undeniable that Rae’s poor economic record has been like a millstone around the NDP’s neck in Ontario at both the federal and provincial levels for the past 20 years. Ontario sends the most federal MPs to Parliament. In other words, eager to convince voters of its fiscal credibility and finally excise the ghost of the Rae Provincial Government, the NDP made maintaining a balanced budget one its main campaign planks.

This decision, however, had serious repercussions for the NDP. Many voters simply didn’t believe that the NDP’s proposals for raising revenue (e.g. raising corporate taxes by 2%, closing tax loopholes, etc.) would be enough to pay for its other spending promises. These included universal childcare and pharmacare, a national housing and transit strategy, reversing Harper’s cuts to health care and pensions, a national cap-and-trade system, and new investments in clean energy and manufacturing.

These proposals remained very popular, to be sure, but Canadians didn’t have much faith in the NDP being able to implement them properly because it seemed like they were trying to have it both ways: Spending a lot while balancing budgets. Read more

Portugal: Poor presidential judgment or fall of democracy?

And now we turn to my beloved Portugal. Are dramatic headlines of Portugal’s democracy being subverted to EU neoliberalism fair or a tempest in a teapot?

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The international business editor of The Daily Telegraph (in the UK), Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, published a column this past Friday with the dramatic headline “Eurozone crosses Rubicon as Portugal’s anti-euro Left banned from power”. The subheader followed up equally dramatically with “Constitutional crisis looms after anti-austerity Left is denied parliamentary prerogative to form a majority government.”

I’m not sure this take on the situation is exactly accurate (as I’ll get into below), but let’s take a look at the explanation provided in the column.

Anibal Cavaco Silva, Portugal’s constitutional president, has refused to appoint a Left-wing coalition government even though it secured an absolute majority in the Portuguese parliament and won a mandate to smash the austerity regime bequeathed by the EU-IMF Troika.

He deemed it too risky to let the Left Bloc or the Communists come close to power, insisting that conservatives should soldier on as a minority in order to satisfy Brussels and appease foreign financial markets.

Democracy must take second place to the higher imperative of euro rules and membership.
[…]
Mr Cavaco Silva argued that the great majority of the Portuguese people did not vote for parties that want a return to the escudo or that advocate a traumatic showdown with Brussels.

This is true, but he skipped over the other core message from the elections held three weeks ago: that they also voted for an end to wage cuts and Troika austerity. The combined parties of the Left won 50.7pc of the vote. Led by the Socialists, they control the Assembleia.

 
While I’ve expressed or anticipated very similar concerns about balancing democracy and the demands of the European Union’s technocracy upon national governments in other situations, I’m not quite ready to jump on this op-ed’s bandwagon. Why? To me, it seems potentially like it might be an over-reaction or at least misdiagnosis of the situation. Here’s what I notice about it.

For one thing, Anibal Cavaco Silva, the president trying to keep the center-right PSD government in power, is the former leader of the PSD (and prime minister for 10 years). That’s a huge problem if that’s his motivation here, but it’s a different problem than (essentially) arguing “he’s subverting democracy for an agenda in Brussels.”

Next, it’s also worth pointing out that the PSD did finish first and — as I understand it — therefore gets first crack at forming a government, whether or not anyone else is pitching a majority. He actually does acknowledge that in the piece, but it’s definitely buried in there:

The conservative premier, Pedro Passos Coelho, came first and therefore gets first shot at forming a government, but his Right-wing coalition as a whole secured just 38.5pc of the vote.

 
Yes the PSD and their allies lost seats, but it’s not like the Socialists and their allies won a convincing victory and are now being denied out of hand the chance to govern.

Lastly, even if his motivations or rationale are dubious, President Cavaco Silva identifies a legitimate quandary with coalition governments: If the vast majority of the country didn’t vote for a (relatively) radical party with sharply divergent policy views from the larger parties, should the country then be taken along for a ride on the agenda demands of a junior coalition partner?

That’s certainly something I question whenever a far-right party ends up in coalition with a center-right party. It just happens in this case that the Communists or Left Bloc (who would be the two junior partners of the Socialists) want to leave the euro and a bunch of other econo/fiscal things, rather than proposing some Portuguese version of the Sweden Democrats or whatever.

I don’t know if the president is making the right call on that particular philosophical/theoretical debate on coalition governments — and perhaps the Socialists wouldn’t have allowed some of the extreme agenda points in a coalition agreement — but it’s at least a somewhat legitimate democratic concern (whether or not he’s sincere about it).

All that being said, the bigger thesis of the column, beyond the shock headline and opening, is actually about how the damaging austerity regime will continue under the center-right government, which is bad news for Portugal. I pretty much agree with that part.

Also, I agree that if the Socialists, Communists, and Left Bloc parties all stick together in the opposition and manage to block major PSD agenda items and budgets, then the minority government under the PSD would probably stumble quite badly and struggle to survive confidence votes, which is not ideal. (And constitutionally there can’t be fresh elections for almost another year.) And that may well be a good reason to let them form a government now. But it doesn’t require it per se. And the three-party alliance may fall apart anyway.

The total vacuousness of Guatemala’s election

Arsenal Bolt: Quick updates on the news stories we’re following.

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In the aftermath of a corruption prosecution that brought down the President, Vice President, and much of the cabinet, a mildly popular former first lady with a vague platform looks set to lose this weekend’s presidential election to a conservative comic actor promising virtually nothing.

“The candidates vying to be Guatemala’s next president” – France24.com:

Jimmy Morales, a 46-year-old comedian and actor, rose to fame playing the role of a simpleton cowboy who almost ends up becoming president. […] The final opinion poll before Sunday’s run-off election gave him 68 percent, against 32 percent for [former First Lady Sandra] Torres.
[…]
Running for conservative party FCN-Nacion, Morales has led a light-hearted campaign, cracking jokes at rallies but giving few concrete details on his policy plans. […] In his 2007 film “A President in a Sombrero,” Morales played a hayseed named Neto who nearly gets elected president by making a string of empty promises…
[…]
In real life, the current race is his first foray into national politics, though he once ran unsuccessfully for mayor of his hometown. Morales briefly studied management at university, but never finished his degree.

 


Previously from AFD on this topic:

– AFD by Kelley: “Guatemala has a lot to celebrate this independence day”
– AFD Radio with Bill and Kelley: Episode 144, Guatemala’s political upheaval.

Low turnout in Egypt parliamentary election

The Egyptian military saved Egypt’s democracy so hard that you don’t even need to vote there anymore because it’s so saved. And yet the regime is furious no one showed up this week for the first round of a largely uncontested parliamentary election.

“Despite risk of $62 fine for not voting, less than 20% of Egyptians bothered to show up at polls” – Al-Monitor

President Abdul Fatah al Sisi, former general and military ruler:

“I call on you to rally strongly once again, in order to complete this last milestone that we all agreed upon.”

Not sure who exactly agreed upon what, given that he staged a military coup, banned the most popular party, and then rammed through a new constitution approved with extremely low turnout.

…the minister of local development, Ahmed Zaki Bader, on Oct. 19 threatened laggards with the law, insinuating that those who were registered but refrained from voting without a valid excuse (which the law does not specify) would be fined 500 Egyptian pounds ($62) in accordance with Article 57 of the Law on the Exercise of Political Rights.

 
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Complicated former longtime president of Benin dies

February 2006 Photo: President Mathieu Kérékou (right) of Benin receives Brazil's president.

February 2006 Photo: President Mathieu Kérékou (right) of Benin receives Brazil’s president.

One of Africa’s most unusual and complicated leaders — Pastor Mathieu Kérékou of Benin — has passed away at age 82. The former radical military dictator and later civilian democratic president led Benin through several major transformations in its history, eventually earning him the surprising nickname “father of democracy.” BBC News:

Mr Kerekou had two spells as president totalling nearly 30 years, first coming to power as the head of a Marxist regime in 1972.

But he then accepted the idea of multi-party democracy and organised elections, which he lost in 1991. […]
He stepped down in 1991 after losing to Nicephore Soglo in a multi-party poll, but returned to power in 1996 having beaten Mr Soglo at the polls and then went on to win a second and final five-year term in 2001.

 
From 1972 to 1991, Kérékou served as the country’s military president, pursuing a radical new nationalism in his first two years and then a hybrid of nationalism and revolutionary Marxism-Leninism, backed by the Soviet Union. Much of it was marked by totalitarian violence and incompetent policy management. Over the course of his first presidency, the economic doctrines would grow less and less radically leftist and more moderate, eventually moving even to the center-right by the late 1980s.

During the early period, however, he renamed the country from Dahomey to Benin, in an effort to shed the French colonial legacies and avoid favoring one ethnic group over another, although both labels applied to pre-colonial African states in the area. Eventually, after facing down many coup attempts and amid growing economic stagnation and political unrest, he realized that his days were probably numbered if he clung to power — particularly with the Soviet Union’s fading influence and then disintegration — so he accepted a transition to multi-party democracy when it was demanded by a 1990 National Conference to fix the unraveling domestic situation.

Perhaps most importantly, however, Kérékou did not fight or cancel this transition when it became clear he would not be kept in power democratically, and he gracefully exited the political stage, even asking for forgiveness on national TV for whatever errors and crimes his regime had committed. He was permitted to remain president (albeit with an outside prime minister) through the 1991 elections, which he contested but lost by a landslide. 1991 in Benin became sub-Saharan Africa’s first successful direct handoff of power by a free election since the end of colonialism. This peaceful and stable transition likely helped spark or reinforce the coming wave of democracy in West Africa during the 1990s.

The onetime Marxist and atheist (rumored possibly also to have dabbled with Islam) staged an impressive comeback one term later, in 1996, this time as an evangelical Christian pastor, to become the second civilian president of Benin. This political comeback itself set its own precedent whereby former African military rulers would rehabilitate themselves as wise and experienced civilian candidates for the offices they once held by force.

Kérékou served two five-year terms as a civilian, from 1996 to 2006, before retiring again. Announcing, in 2005, his planned departure from the presidency per the constitutional term limits, Kérékou explained that a lifetime of high-level service had taught him one lesson many times: “If you don’t leave power, power will leave you.” Once again, he was strengthening democracy in Benin and the region.

His successor, President Thomas Boni Yayi, now nearing the end of his own second term had widely been rumored to be considering trying to remove the term limits provision but seems to have bowed earlier in 2015 to similar pressure to leave power before it leaves him. This decision to retire was likely reinforced by the Burkina Faso revolution in 2014 over an attempt to lift presidential term limits and the chaotic political violence in Burundi after the president sought a third term on a technicality. For now, the unexpected legacy of Kérékou, born-again democrat not totalitarian dictator, will live to see another day.