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A Third Legislative Branch

Some thoughts about what form a third legislative branch might take.

Obviously creating a third branch would require a constitutional amendment, an unlikely prospect. But it is still something that may be interesting to ponder. The idea of a new legislative body would need to add to the process something different enough to justify the extra costs and potential complexity to the legislative process.

We have two branches already. The House represents states weighted by population while the Senate represents states equally regardless of population. They also have some specific duties under the Constitution, including originating appropriation bills (the House of Representatives) and confirmation of nominees to the executive branch (the Senate). A third branch would likely need some novel representative role and possibly some specific duties beyond mere legislation.

One question immediately arises, in the cases where duties are divided between the existing chambers (such as impeachment, where the House initiates proceedings and the Senate decides them), whether the third branch would receive a portion of the existing roles, some new duties related to those roles, or be kept aside.

The second question that arises is on what basis to have the new body’s representation determined. Should it be state-based, or could the be an opportunity for interstate development (possibly using something like a national parliamentary election to give seats in proportion to a popular vote).

One possible answer to both questions is that a new chamber could be non-legislative, or meta-legislative. That is, the new branch could be responsible for overseeing the rules of the two existing branches. That would dovetail with the notion of a more parliamentary design to the election of the branch. If it were proportionally based on party affiliation, it could garner actual representation of third parties. In rulemaking it might therefore be more fragmentative, allowing the people to have a bit more breathing room.

That is, with two pieces of rock, they may more easily lock into each other and prevent the flow of a fluid. Whereas with three or more pieces, a whole deadlock is less likely.

Or a third branch could allow for a write-but-not-vote scheme. The amending article could require that all originating law from a branch not be voted on by it, but be ratified instead by only the other two branches. Decoupling the act of voting from the act of legislating might prove useful.

And another possible method for composing the new body might be through a lottery, similar to jury duty. Registered voters would be drawn from each state at random, and serve for short terms (say six months). In that case, it would likely be best to have the body only be charged with voting on legislation, rather than drafting it.

Given the state of our nation and the rigidity of our governmental foundation, the body of knowledge we now have that was absent at our nation’s founding, the growth in population, and many other factors, it seems a fool’s bet to believe we could not and should not update the structure of our government to accommodate us.

If you trotted out a 200 year old coach and said, “this should do fine,” I could not help but laugh. Surely we can modernize a bit.

As an aside, an interesting reform to the current House that would not require constitutional change (but would require legislative change) is that of multi-seat districts. For information about that see Fair Vote: 7 November 2013: Monopoly Politics 2014 and the Fair Voting Solution, which includes a map of how such a change would play out if states adopted it (again, contingent upon a repeal of a law blocking multi-seat districts).

Identifying Voters

Voter identification laws, as they stand, are a kludge.

Conservatives, with their majorities in a dozen states, have pushed for new voter identification laws and got them. The requirement is that an elector produce a piece of government-issued identification including a photograph of said citizen before casting their ballot.

Strange, that the majority winners of the previous election allege rampant election fraud. They either admit to illegitimate election victories (unlikely), or they believe their margins of victory were smaller than they ought to have been (equally unlikely in most cases).

Unidentified electors may cast provisional ballots, returning later (within a few days) to present their photographic identification. In some cases, if they know the poll workers, they can skirt the identification requirement by having the workers swear to their identity.

Critics claim that the requirements attempt to reduce opposition voting. That is, to derive political advantage through limiting the ability of the electorate to vote in opposition. This claim comes from the fact that their political opponents’ constituents tend to be in situations where they may not possess existing viable identification documents.

A variety of voters may be harmed by the requirements. Newlyweds and the divorced whose names have changed (more common amongst women), and do not yet match their identification, for example. Also affected are minorities and the poor, fewer of whom are licensed to drive.

The problem may not be the requirement for identification, ultimately, but the lack of access to the identification. It would seem reasonable to require that polling places be augmented with the ability to issue photographic identification that meet the new laws’ requirements. This is no different than the capacity to obtain a library card at, wait for it, a library.

But taking it a step further, we should move away from the current identification-issuance systems. Digital cameras are widely available in mobile devices, and the requirement to verify identity can be done in a variety of ways, including via notaries public, post offices, banks, and other businesses and institutions that already have need to verify identities.

Take your picture (or take 20 of them, since bytes are cheap) and send them to the registration system. Then, at your leisure, take five minutes with an identifying institution to provide them with proof of residence and they can vouch for your photograph. When we (eventually) move to cryptographic signatures, they could also digitally sign your identification.

But none of these improvements to the identification laws were considered, because the design of the laws are malignant. Unbalanced laws, that do not consider both how to accomplish their stated purpose and how to minimize harm are laws not worth the paper they’re written on.

Had they considered both sides of the issue in passage of these laws that disenfranchise, we might still have to show photographic identification at the polls, but we would have a stronger identity system for the trouble. That stronger system could bootstrap small businesses and create positive economic impacts, rather than simply allowing a doomed party to meander a few more years.

The Republican party needs to modernize their positions and, in doing so, align themselves with growing demographics. Instead they continue to try to hang on and deny the reality of voting trends.

America Lets Ohio Choose 2012

Brief musing on the upcoming 2012 elections.

The upcoming Ohio-elects-the-president election is upon us. But do not lose heart, there are plenty of predecided races in your area to choose from!

Take where I live, for example. I can vote for the known winner or known loser for congress! I can vote for the unopposed candidate in 21 races (of 39 total; more than half are unopposed, and the only race with more than two choices (excluding write-in) is for president).

Ain’t democracy grand! I can vote up or down on a total of 11 amendments to the state constitution, none of which will actually force it to be rewritten in whole.

For the presidential election, my prediction is either 303-235 or 290-248 with Barack Obama winning a second term.

For the senate, 54-46 for the Democrats (with Maine’s Angus King, running as an independent, caucusing with the Democrats).

For the house, between 234-201 and 230-205 for the Republicans.