McClaughry: Election law reforms worth considering

By John McClaughry

This turbulent election season is now over, at least for Vermont. It’s a good time to peruse a menu of election law reforms that the next legislature should seriously consider.

We should universally require that registering to vote be a solemn civic act. Every new voter should appear before a clerk or justice and take the Freeman’s Oath, promising to act as a citizen “to conduce to the best good of the [State of Vermont], as established by the Constitution, without fear or favor of any person.” We should repeal the repugnant Motor Voter law, where a driver casually checks a box on a form to become a voter.

Only registered voters should be eligible to run for election to an office. No showboating 15-year-olds, green card foreigners, or persons illegally in our country.

John McClaughry

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

Every registered voter should be free to join any political party, hold party offices, and vote to nominate its candidates. Those who don’t care to belong to a party — independents — can work for candidates and vote in general elections, but they have no business barging into a party’s primary to influence its policies and nominees when they don’t choose to actually belong.

Candidates should not be allowed to file for more than one office. No more perennial publicity seekers running for multiple incompatible offices in the same election.

Redistrict the state next year with single member House districts, and single member Senate districts comprised of five contiguous House districts. That way a challenger can target one incumbent, and make him or her defend his or her record over the previous two years.

Candidates in multimember districts are reluctant to take on incumbents, because some of the incumbent’s supporters might vote for both the incumbent and the challenger. There’s little incentive for a candidate to alienate some potential voters by making an incumbent defend his or her record, which is the whole point of democratic elections.

When all of the choices for an office appear to a voter to be unacceptable, allow the voter to mark the ballot for “None Of The Above” (“the turkey ballot”). If NOTA wins the most votes, a special election is called, and none of the rejected turkeys can appear again on the ballot (although they can receive write-in votes).

Amend the Constitution (starting in 2023) to ask voters to make just One Big Choice: which team do I want to lead the state for the next two years? As practiced in 22 other states, the voters would put one X on their ballots to select among the Democratic, Republican, Progressive and perhaps one or more independent candidate teams.

The lieutenant governor elected with the governor would be the governor’s fellow partisan and trusted lieutenant. That would ensure continuity of policies if the governor died or resigned.

As in Maine, New Hampshire, and Tennessee, the legislature would elect the secretary of state and treasurer, and as in Colorado and Tennessee, the auditor. They would essentially become civil servants, whose performance, like that of judges, would be reviewed by the legislature every four or six years. That would minimize political jockeying by ambitious and often unqualified lower office holders trying to use their office to propel themselves into a higher one.

Let the governor appoint the attorney general to serve at his pleasure, subject to confirmation by the Senate or Executive Council. This is the practice in New Hampshire, New Jersey, Wyoming, Alaska and Hawaii. The attorney general would be accountable to the governor, instead of running his own public interest law firm at taxpayers’ expense in the hope of climbing the political ladder.

Compress the period for early voting. As Ethan Allen Institute President Rob Roper has recently pointed out, “early voting leads to a less informed electorate, necessitates more money in politics, is a boon to telemarketers, direct mail companies, and social media advertisers, reduces accountability by protecting incumbents, and draws out interminably the period in which politicians permeate every facet of our existence.”

Finally, discontinue this year’s practice of mailing unrequested absentee ballots out to 400,000 names on a list indifferently compiled by the secretary of state. If voters want to vote absentee, they can request a ballot until a week before the election, to be returned on or before Election Day. That little effort is not too much to ask of a citizen, and those who aren’t willing to make it should not be disturbed in their civic apathy.

Will these ideas get serious consideration? Almost certainly not, because incumbents find them thoroughly distasteful and indeed threatening.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

Images courtesy of Flickr/justgrimes and John McClaughry

13 thoughts on “McClaughry: Election law reforms worth considering

  1. Open or Closed Primaries:

    Currently, Vermont has Open primary elections. Voters don’t have to be a registered Democrat to vote in the Democrat primary or a registered Republican to vote in a Republican primary.

    What if Democrats vote in a Republican primary to sway the election against what might otherwise be the Republican’s stronger candidate, or visa versa?

    Well, they can’t vote twice and will take the chance and risk that their strongest candidate (Democrat or Republican) may succumb to the same strategy. Keep in mind that there were eight candidates for Vermont’s Governorship on the final ballot in any case. John Klar, for example, could have run as an Independent.

  2. As with all of Mr. McClaughry’s commentaries, this one has much to chew on. Please keep them coming.

    I particularly like the ideas of single district House and Senate seats, closed primaries, and Governor and Lt. Governor running as one ticket. All of these changes would strengthen our system of government.

    One the other hand, I am one who has never voted for a straight slate in the last 50 years and prefer to pick and choose which candidates to vote on base on their own qualifications rather than party affiliation. I am not that excited about the idea of voting for a block of candidates. Seems to run a bit contrary to the intent of the Freeman’s Oath ( at least my take of it). Also if this was currently in effect, would it not mean that David Zuckerman would likely be our incoming Governor instead of the situation we now have where Phil Scott has not only been re-elected but his vetoes of bills containing legislative overreach are now more likely to be sustained.

    • “…would it not mean that David Zuckerman would likely be our incoming Governor…”.

      Don’t bite TNR readers. Freitag’s hook, as usual, has no worm.

  3. Many of the concerns voiced by John would be resolved by changing Vermont’s primary process from the current Open Primary to a Closed Primary or moving toward a Party Caucus plan where each party presents its slate of candidates for the General Election in November. (Independent candidates would still be provided with the opportunity to appear on the General Election ballot by petitioning as they are currently allowed to do.)

    • Hear, hear. Open primaries have allowed the Democrats to subvert the choices of the GOP rank & file. And they’ve made use of it for decades.

  4. ID required to vote,Period,No ID No Vote.
    No mass mail voting, if you want a absent ballot you have to request it.

    • One shall be a US citizen, and reside in the town where you vote.

      Absent merely means temporary absence, i.e., less than 6 months, so the person pays federal and state income taxes to the Vermont government.

      Those who vote absentee shall have residence in the town where they vote

  5. Voting should be one of the most important things we can do as a legal citizen,
    but it should be a simple process with traceability for every vote cast just-in-case
    a problem arises !!

    We only need two options either ” request ” absentee ballot, or in-person voting,
    the ” publisher clearing house ” ballot mail out scenario we had this year, what a joke.

    Also, the same-day voter registration is pathetic, if voting is important to you, well
    you should be ahead of that curve, as the push starts months before the election
    date……there is “NO” excuse for not knowing if you really care !!

    Voter ID should be required also…….elections, are more important than buying
    beer & cigarettes and cashing a check ……………….

  6. Mail-in voting produces 10 times the opportunities for misplacing, altering, and losing ballots.

    Having tens of million of ballots floating around is the most ridiculous thing ever.

    The resulting chaos was off the charts, especially in swing states.

    The US is the laughing stock of the world. People are shaking their heads, according my family and friends in Europe. A gross self-inflicted embarrassment.

    All this was perpetrated by Dem/Progs, who want to implement GOVERNMENT-RUN SOCIALISM IN A SLY OF HAND FASHION, a slice at a time.

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