August 1, 2020 | View PDF
One of the most popular ideas is term limits. I have heard quite a few people propose a limit of twelve years for anybody in our congress—two terms for senators and six terms for representatives. In many respects, it sounds like a good idea when we see examples of career politicians like Ted Kennedy (even with Chappaquiddick), Nancy Pelosi, Charles Schumer, Dianne Feinstein, and many others who don’t seem to ever go away.
The problem with term limits is they also weed out the good people. Heroic statesmen like Ron Paul, the most honest and ethical public servant we have had in recent history and who has established a perfect voting record since the 1970’s would have been thrown out after serving twelve years. Another example is Dr. Jimmy Blake, who was an outstanding Birmingham city councilman for two terms (eight years) in the early 2000’s. Since he was a supporter of term limits, he ethically had to bow out and not run for a third term. Sadly, Birmingham suffered in his absence, since good, honest candidates were and still are tough to find in “The Magic City.”
Instead of mandated term limits, a much more effective solution is to have more frequent elections. For years, I have observed serious problems with the shenanigans of our governors, legislators, county commissioners and city councilmen during lengthy four-year periods. That is too long to wait for the next election after many of them pull dirty tricks, and often in their first years right after being elected—forcing the voters to wait three and a half years to throw them out. By then, memories tend to fade, and they often end up getting re-elected for another four years, and then another….
We have two-year terms for our federal representatives, but some states, like Arkansas, have two year terms for their governors, state representatives and other public officials. If anybody screws up over there, the voters only have to wait a year and a half to throw him out. Thus, they can quickly purge their rotten career politicians. That provides practical term limits for the scumbags while it maintains the retention of honest and ethical office holders.
Therefore, a top priority election reform for Alabama, instead of term limits, would be shortening the terms of all state and local officials to two years.
And since we already have elections every two years for our U.S. representatives and some others, the only extra cost would be adding some more names to the ballots.
Another big stinker in our election process is being able to win a race with only a plurality instead of a majority. The way to settle this is to mandate a runoff in every election in the state.
We already have runoffs in the primaries and in at least some city elections. But in others—where independent or third party candidates are present, runoffs are absent. In a three-man race, a candidate can win with as little as 34% of the vote; in a four-man race, as little as 26%. Thus many voters cast aside really great third party candidates to vote for the lesser evil in the two major parties.
If we had runoffs in all general elections, the voters could safely vote for their third party candidates, and if they didn’t win, they could still vote against the greater evils afterwards.
In addition to the “lesser evil” dilemma, third party and independent candidates have ballot access woes. Here in Alabama a few decades ago, any citizen could run for just about any office with a minimum of hassle. Ballots in the 1960’s through the early 1980’s usually contained several parties and often some independent candidates. Then in 1983, the state started imposing restrictions on every candidate who was outside of the Republican and Democratic Parties. These “outsiders” had to collect valid signatures of one percent of all of the people who voted in the previous general election. Getting qualified became a big and expensive task. Later, in 2000, the one percent was bumped up to three percent, which made third party ballot access nearly impossible.
To have fair elections here in Alabama, we must restore ballot access to third parties and independents to what it was before 1983.
Another obstacle to candidates today is the onerous amount of detailed paperwork they must fill out before an election. This was imposed under the claims of ethics and required the detailed recording of every little campaign contribution and expenditure among other things. Failure to fill out the forms completely or omitting a small detail or two can be met with severe criminal penalties.
Again, get rid of this crazy policy and roll back the paperwork to what it was before 1983.
“Get Out the Vote”
Here is where I have a beef with our Secretary of State, John Merrill. He has been bending over backwards to register every citizen in the state who is over the age of 18, and I have noticed that our current registered voters comprise an abnormally large percentage of our total population. Getting pushy with voter registration can have serious consequences, especially with people who are barely old enough to qualify. Our Constitution originally specified a minimum age of 21, when voters would be expected to be mature enough to make wise decisions. Dropping the minimum age down to 18 was a very stupid decision, and I seriously wish we could repeal that fatal amendment.
But we can go easy on voter registration. Although we can’t stop them from registering and voting, we can go easy on drives to push it. That will give the young people some time to think about the consequences before they jump up and start casting misinformed votes.
What we should be doing instead is making sure unqualified people don’t get registered and vote en masse to throw elections. (I have a gut feeling that Doug Jones won his senate seat that way). There are numerous cases where children, dead people, and even pets have cast votes. These scams have become so bad, Singer Ray Stevens wrote and sang a song titled, “Grandpa Voted Democrat.”
On his radio program, Greg Budell mentioned a family in Atlanta that received an absentee ballot intended for the previous family that lived in the apartment. The ballot was for a cat it had registered to vote. And the cat had died twelve years earlier. That is one more reason why mail-in ballots should never be allowed in Alabama.