Beware the Greeks

I read a bill!

An omnibus! Or Kraken with thousands of eyes and tentacles, one of such gargantuan size and scope that might gnash its terrible teeth and show off its terrible claws for those daring read the fine print. Ah, Icarus, never fly too close to the sun or linger too close to the book light. Lamenting my dripping waxwings, with all the hubbub in Congress focusing on talking points and twitter nonsense, one has to wonder (1) who writes these bills (to answer, many different souls through the generations) and (2) if our elected Congress folk actually read them (doubtful, outside the old school types or staffers who might do this work). Not sure why I started perusing this beast late last summer. Curiosity? In reality, I grew tired of one ideological perspective touting its evilness and the other a democracy saving salvation. Best to reach your own conclusions, but I quickly discovered this is no thriller. I’d nod off late at night with drool layered on the iPad the following day. Many starts and stops required to reach the apex climax.

Before angry opinions are hurled from the peanut gallery, I want to call out my notes are based on the proposed bill as uploaded and approved by the House of Representatives last year. No arguments from anyone; this passed on a pure partisan divide with little committee input. So, yes, some legislation is written in dark rooms, with cigar smoke wafting under the door. In this case, due to the Senate being held by another party, the law sat in limbo, which means a commoner can actually read in detail and digest before becoming a decree.

Since voting laws are typically handled at the state level, I will say media pundits have done their best to demonize these legislatures, calling those in Missouri, Georgia, Texas, and California traitors of democracy without reviewing a final working law. For the politically astute, states propose thousands of bills and amendments. Most never pass. Many are filled with pure quackery. Be wary of editors approving articles by grabbing the latter and touting as final. All Missourians are now evil due to the proposed amendment adding ballot boxes near local football stadiums by the delegate from Palmyra …

Using the same argument, HR1 is not in final form. Still, our Federal government of late has gone down a dangerous road of passing one-sided legislation through adjustments to parliamentary procedure, etc., The Affordable Care Act. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. American Rescue Plan Act. Our Madisonian system isn’t built to function in the highly televised and social media world, nor has it until the last ten years. Hard to say where this will land but it’s worth calling out state folks behave differently than the Big House and Senate to a degree–mileage can vary. And the national media applying a one size fits all approach is laziness; yet, not an unexpected development.

Most US States are Larger than European Countries, All Unique. Can You Match the State to the Picture?

A Novel of Great Length

Yes, 791 pages, to be exact. The Texas Bill (HB3), by contrast, is 47 pages long. Grant, this amends a previous bill, but, depending on the setup, word count alone shouldn’t be a judge. Considering the Founding Fathers agonized over the most liberal document in history for years and produced an entire system in less than 5,000 words (8,000 with Amendments), one can easily conclude that this is a travesty for those in pursuit of powerful brevity. At face value, the opening of the document hits the high notes. It is the policy of the United States that all eligible citizens of the United States should access and exercise their constitutional right to vote in a free, fair, and timely manner; and the integrity, security, and accountability of the voting process must be vigilantly protected, maintained, and enhanced in order to protect and preserve electoral and participatory democracy in the United States. And most media surveys only ask, is this good?

Well, the answer is absolutely? But beware the Greeks when they bare gifts yeomen and students of the Trojan war. The details matter.

A Candy Bar Disclaimer

Before diving in, I have a confession to make. I’ve wanted to run for Congress, sort of. Fifteen years ago, I attended the world-famous Morton Pumpkin Festival and watched as a host of Congressional candidates dressed up, hopped into their convertibles (or monster truck depending on brand), and waved to the craving crowd worshipping Libby’s goodness. And then came Aaron Schock riding in the back of his convertible. Most know him only as a footnote, the Downtown Abbey guy and stealer of campaign funds for a trip to Greece. Right or wrong, for me, he represents the latter in our legislative arm. In the early 2000s, he was the fit wonder kid who won a school board election in a Democratic stronghold and pivoted to a Congress seat in his 20s. He jumped on a rocket ship to the moon. Bigly expectations.

On this fall day, I remember him waving to the crowd, tossing out full size Hershey bars. No cheap snack-sizes for this district. And there is my four-year-old gleefully waving back at him. Curly blonde locks of hair. Happy smile. Boldly and proudly, I believe he’s the kid you want to catch the candy spoils.

The toss. A chocolate goodness fastball. My kid reaches. And the brick smacks him in the head. Crying ensues. As I’m a forgiving soul, Aaron waved sorry, so I let bygones be bygones. And what happened? The following year here comes Mr. Schock. The candy bar flies. This time, a full-size Butterfinger. And whomp. How can this happen … again? Who throws a four-seam heater at a happy child?

Danger lurks in all parades

I shook my head, game on.

What happened next? A campaign finance scandal hit the news. Schock steps down. Hours later, he was supposed to speak at an event along the riverfront. While he licks his wounds and works on the next, Ray LaHood’s kid takes his spot at same said event and announces his bid for election. What?!? Between the announcement, a special election immediately convened, and LaHood entering the race, I believe I had a handful of days, maybe hours due to the special circumstances, to corral thousands of signatures before undertaking my budding political future. Today, the law is 5,000 in Illinois (higher from recollection but maybe not). In other states, this can be zero. Either way, I felt cheated and shows the great lengths one has to go in order to run unless you rip open your shirt Superman-style with a bold R or D underneath. After months of staring at the verbose, this story reflects the travesty of HR1. Yes, the emphasis is on who can vote. But this behemoth drastically limits who can run … To stop a perceived strongman with poor follow-up, the Democratic Party created a bureaucratic autocrat (if this is a concept) with more teeth or, er, tentacles with poisonous suckers.

Sadly, part of the bill highlights income profiles of the current Congress (to save one the research trouble most are rich, hard to believe), including a lack of minority participation. I couldn’t agree more. We want a cross-section to enter the arena. But is the goal a diverse and equitable body or ideological purity? How could an underfunded outsider parse through hundreds of open-points in this law, regulations added on top as committees weigh-in, and manage a campaign and win, let alone run? This protects the current landscape and doesn’t build for anew.

Our democracy might function better if we put the name of every registered voter on a ping-pong ball and selected Mega Millions style. One term. Guarantee their old job upon completion of service. This would be far more representative. And, likely, produce better outcomes.

The Power of Decentralization

And why did I want to run? You pick up a thing or two from your parents. My father served as a Democrat Election Judge and followed outlined processes, checked ID, counted, etc., Yes, I’m oversimplifying.

Reading this monstrosity, I wonder what burden the hundreds of lines of fine print would place on a poll worker. A teacher. Executive. A parent. The grandparent. Yes, the volunteers in our communities. With this much overhead and red tape, would my dad want to serve? Would anyone? One could argue we need more precincts and volunteers to have a greater degree of accountability.

The complex approach ignores the fabric of Federalism, pushing all power to a centralized system. No matter the unique requirements by district, a consistent process is managed by the FEC (Federal Election Committee) and a future ill-described body. During the last election, at my day job, I worked with folks across multiple countries. All had a sense of awe that a Secretary of State, or election judge, can tell the most powerful man in the world No, that’s not how this works. And, deep down, I know my dad, serving on behalf of the people, would tell Joe Biden or Donald Trump or Barack Obama or George Bush or Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan the same. If I asked him to change the process, well, I wouldn’t because I know the answer.

Instead of both sides repeatedly saying our system is broken, we should be proud. With thousands of precincts, mistakes happen but fraud is minimal. Anyone who says differently is a disgrace and slaps the face of the thousands who facilitate our democracy. And do we really want the current president, who resides over the FEC, to dictate a future election? Or, should we place our trust in the hundreds of thousands of precincts, and our own neighbors, across the US?

Unintended Consequences, LOKI Always Comes Calling

Never forget the Universal God Time. This deity, or devil, takes us all. By having one party focusing on the end outcome, instead of a process, we push for winners and losers. Ultimately, that’s what a one-sided bill feels like, no matter the intent. When Trump came into office, he often touted he wanted to see America win again. No allusion to what we had lost, just that we weren’t … winning … And the other side reverted into anything but Trump rhetoric. The challenge is we have lost the ability to think through how to solve problems, and all regulations, by nature, have the uncanny ability to have unintended consequences, even manipulating helium markets have a cost.

Eventually, after time has passed and the venom gone, a new god enters the arena. Loki overthrows the All-Father. Events cause chaos. Parties change. New Leaders emerge.

For example, when Newt Gingrich drastically cut the budgets for run-of-the-mill congress folks, it resulted in power moving into the speaker role. Without money to research, hire adequate staff, focus on the broader picture, portions of the 500 plus members only talk on the news because they can’t handle the workload. The parties, lobbyists, and corporations have filled the research void. Fast forward a decade, a new speaker consolidates power and has one goal, to sadly exercise maximum political pain on the other party.

This will come about in turn. Why? Because trust is hard, our favorite God of Mischief reigns because the process has been thrown to the wolves for an end-game win. But these tend to come back around, time and creativity, like water, finds its way through the cracks. Today’s outcome leads to a different principle later, somewhat the same concern with ending the filibuster, dropping Supreme Court justice approval to 51, super delegates, and the band plays on … the means often do matter. The Process may not be glitzy but it remains vital.

Supreme Court Ethics and Additional Tentacles

The monstrosity grows!

In reforming our voting system, why not add provisions unrelated to the election process? My favorite? An ethics requirement tacked on for the Supreme Court. Do we care how many black robes John Roberts has in his closet? With the amount of slush flowing through campaigns today, this is laughable. I see this as more of a threat between branches than truly memorable legislation. Is this a problem? Part of the process? If so, does it need to be?

At first pass, I didn’t encounter any bridges. A win … maybe …

Invisibility Paradox

That doesn’t mean our current systems doesn’t have blind spots. Even going into a private box to cast a ballot leads to minority suppression depending on the decade and part of the world. We should care everyone has a say; continue to ensure we work toward that goal and hold our senators and representatives to account. And remember, we had elections in 2016 and 2020 where more people voted in the most secure way possible despite a global pandemic raging in the most recent. Yeah, Loki finds a way to slay the Kraken. Hold your head high and be proud, no matter the outcome. Cub fans have a saying, there is always next year. Or, two or four, depending on how you view the glass of water. Republican. Republican. Republican. Democrat. Democrat. Republican. Republican. Democrat. Democrat. Republican. Democrat. What comes next in this pattern? For those who recognize the winning party from the presidential winner since 1980, the answer is, We the people decide. Parties in power often change.

Our Republic isn’t supposed to be perfect; the process matters more than who wins and loses. There are no perfect populists or candidates. Or, perfect bills. Keep heart, our founding constitution is, and will remain, revolutionary. Stand up to anyone who says otherwise, just because its old doesn’t mean the foundation is crumbling.

And always be wary when anyone says we have to pass anything to save our democracy … or hands out full-size chocolate bars. I’m pretty sure the Greeks might have ended the war faster with candy instead of building a giant wooden horse.

Unfinished thoughts in no particular order:

  • Everyone but Iowa has to follow an outlined redistricting policy. Not sure why the first state to run a primary has a hall pass; nor, did I have the time to dig for an answer. I’m sure there is a rule that accommodates this in some other document or provision easily missed by the layperson.
  • Because more states need election support, money is littered throughout the bill–along with onerous processes to receive said funds. Some states will grab them, typically blue-leaning, while others let them wilt in the wind, typically red-leaning. Moving forward, we need to be mindful of fund distribution across all states, a delicate topic hotly debated since our founding.
  • Online registration systems, security protections. I found this line comical, voter registration systems must be updated with 21st Century Technologies and procedures to maintain their security …  This reminds me of Duck Dodger and the 21st and a half century, what does this mean? Do they have any idea how hard this is to manage? It’s about like asking Facebook to make a quick change to an algorithm that accesses a database with information on billions of people.
  • Same-day registration. Yes, we want everyone to vote; however, there is virtue in planning ahead and being an informed electorate. Between finalizing the election results and declaring a winner, the window is tight to contest a wrongfully cast ballot. Trump put forth hundreds of baseless lawsuits without evidence; however, all candidates should have legal and appeal options. And districts need some amount of data to plan simply for capacity reasons.
  • Expanded ability to use campaign funds for personal use, which at face value has merit, yet the pathway to hell is often paved with good intentions.
  • Presidential and Vice Presidential Tax Transparency. No later than the date that is 15 days after the date on which an individual becomes a covered candidate, the individual shall submit to the FEC a copy of the individual’s income tax returns for the 10 most recent taxable year for which a return has been filed with the IRS.
  • From Title 1, Subtitle N – Administration improvements, higher education receives grants to sponsor large on-campus mobilization efforts. What constitutes large? 10? 1,000? The details matter. The bill is filled with an immense amount of interpretation for a regulative body to change, fudge, etc., We deserve better.
  • Statehood for DC. A complex topic. The constitution never contemplated the fourth branch–the administrative state. Anything this important shouldn’t be a simple add-on for two additional Senate seats.
  • George and Texas have passed recent legislation, which has been publicized nationally. This is common for all states after an election. The coverage has been overblown, that being said, I’m not excited with some legislature’s new ability to change the outcome of the people. Not sure this will be leveraged but new features added to a complex system has the ability to lead to great changes.
  • Similar to using ping-pong balls, what would happen if we limited our bills to 500 words? Or single topic to ensure politicians truly have a voting record? A new Powerball kills the omnibus monster. And yes, with great care, you can accomplish the world incrementally.
  • Where is Aaron Schock now?
  • There are a number of articles on HR1 in the wild. Read a few from all-fronts. Politifact. Vox. Heritage Foundation. National Review.
  • HR1.
  • Perhaps, I should be thankful for that certain signature requirement. Everyone has a choose your own adventure, choose wisely but iterate now and then.
  • Beware the Greeks saying, origin story.