I Thought He Came With You is Robert Ellison’s blog about software, marketing, politics, photography and time lapse.

Tire Chalking Constitutional Amendment

US Constitutional Amendments by Century

We haven't passed a constitutional amendment since 1992. I have an idea or two, but given the length of the hiatus maybe we need to warm up with something easy.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that that chalking car tires to detect illegal parking violates fourth amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. Civilization is collapsing a little in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.

Parking spaces are a limited resource and a fundamental role of local government is figuring out how to carve this kind of resource up equitably. Time limited spots are a pain, and if you don't like them you could complain to your representative or even run for office on a parking anarchy platform. Maybe you'd win and then good luck finding any parking at all. But if the courts decide to open up a tragedy of the commons enabling loophole then it must be time to slap them down.

The 28th amendment should explicitly allow tire chalking for parking enforcement. With the momentum from that we can start fixing some real problems.

Age and Life Expectancy Weighted Voting

Actual, age weighted and age and life expectancy weighted results of the 2016 Presidential Election

Youth turnout for elections is famously dismal. In 2016 less than half of 18-29 year-olds voted, compared to over two thirds as you get to 45 and older (US Census). The impact is an incentive to cater to the old - trying to make America great again (like you remember from when you were young) vs doing something about climate change or house prices.

One fix is compulsory voting, like in Australia. I'm not sure I want to force people without an opinion to vote though.

What if we just weighted votes by the total size of the demographic group?

I took the demographic breakdown of 2016 voters from the US Census Bureau and multiplied these by the age breakdown from CNN exit polls. This gave Clinton a lead of just under a million votes - somewhat lower than the actual result. This is likely a polling error in the exit poll, but it's a reasonable baseline with Clinton beating Trump in the popular vote by 48% to 47%.

To age weight the result I just applied the exit poll percentages to the total population in each age bracket - i.e. what would have happened if everyone in each age group voted the same way as their peers. This obviously increases the size of the electorate so absolute numbers are less interesting. Clinton now beats Trump 48% to 46%, possibly enough to reverse the electoral college outcome (I haven't attempted this projection state by state).

Making up for poor turnout is an interesting adjustment, but what about life expectancy? All of those baby boomers have plenty of free time to vote but are not going to be around to die of obscure tropical diseases in the Minnesotan jungle. So I also weighted each population segment by life expectancy (18-29 year-olds are going to be around for another 55 years, 65+ more like 7). Clinton now has a majority instead of a plurality - she beats Trump 50% to 42%.

All three models are shown in terms of total votes counted in the chart above.

What if the Senate Voted Proportionally to Population

Relative influence of each state on the Electoral College

This is massively less likely than sorting out the Electoral College, but imagine for a minute that 100 Senators woke up tomorrow and decided to do the right thing.

Dianne Feinstein, the senior Senator from California would wield 6.04 votes. Mike Enzi, the senior Senator from Wyoming would have to make do with 0.09 votes.

Overall a party line vote would see 55.85 Democratic votes to 44.15 Republican, assuming normal independent caucusing habits. Not quite a supermajority, but enough to not send Kavanaugh to The Supreme Court for instance.

This is based on 2010 census figures from Wikipedia.

Not going to happen, but find my estimate of your State's fair voting power by Senator below.

StateVotes per Senator
California6.04
Texas4.08
Florida3.05
New York3.14
Pennsylvania2.06
Illinois2.08
Ohio1.87
Georgia1.57
North Carolina1.55
Michigan1.6
New Jersey1.43
Virginia1.3
Washington1.09
Arizona1.04
Massachusetts1.06
Tennessee1.03
Indiana1.05
Missouri0.97
Maryland0.94
Wisconsin0.92
Colorado0.82
Minnesota0.86
South Carolina0.75
Alabama0.78
Louisiana0.74
Kentucky0.7
Oregon0.62
Oklahoma0.61
Connecticut0.58
Iowa0.49
Utah0.45
Arkansas0.47
Nevada0.44
Mississippi0.48
Kansas0.46
New Mexico0.33
Nebraska0.3
West Virginia0.3
Idaho0.25
Hawaii0.22
New Hampshire0.21
Maine0.22
Rhode Island0.17
Montana0.16
Delaware0.15
South Dakota0.13
North Dakota0.11
Alaska0.12
Vermont0.1
Wyoming0.09

How not to fix Democracy

In The Guardian Dambisa Moyo proposes a test to improve the quality of the electorate:

"...why not give all voters a test of their knowledge? This would ensure minimum standards that should lead to higher-quality decision-making by the electorate."

However:

"Of course, such a system would be truly democratic only if everybody had a fair chance of casting their vote. It is vital that those with fewer life opportunities have their say, and we cannot have a system that is skewed against the worst educated..."

So the idea is a test of minimum standards that in some way is not biased against the worst educated? Or that we could only impose such a system once education has improved to the point where is is no longer needed?

Maybe we just need a test to improve the quality of Guardian opinion pieces.

End the Electoral College: Amendment, Compact, or Supreme Court?

Lawrence Lessig and Richard Painter write about the possibility of the Supreme Court taking on the Electoral College in USA Today:

"The Constitution is not going to be amended to remove the Electoral College. It’s possible that states will agree to a compact to allocate their votes to the winner of the national popular vote. But right now, the court should recognize that there is no principle in American law that could justify the unequal reckoning of the votes of citizens of the United States for president of the United States. Call it proportionality, or simple equality: it is an idea that needs urgent legal recognition, now."

It's an intriguing possibility, but they're short on specifics. Who needs to file suit to get this question in front of the court? Should I do this as I live in California and may as well not bother voting for President? If so, please get in touch guys.

I'm a big fan of the The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Until another option looks plausible please follow that link and take one the actions listed to support it.

Four Parties

Updated on Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Washington Post fantasizes about a four party system:

"If we assign members of Congress to political parties based on the spending votes, we end up with four parties. The Liberals bucked the Democratic president to oppose the spending package. The Democrats voted for it. The Republicans followed Boehner and McConnell's lead. The Conservatives didn't."

It's time.

Party Limits

Updated on Thursday, November 12, 2015

Party Limits

What if as well as Term Limits we had Party Limits - the same political party cannot win more than three or four times in a row?

Representative Alan Lowenthal has introduced the Let the People Draw the Lines Act which would seek to prevent gerrymandering by taking redistricting out of the hands of the politicians for the states that haven't done this already (California, Arizona, Washington and Idaho have independent commissions).

This is a good idea, but I'd go further. Let's introduce Term Limits where we don't already have them and then add Party Limits. The same politician can only hold on to their seat for two to three terms and additionally the same party can't hold the seat for more than three to four terms. We break up any kind of political monopoly and reduce the incentive to rig the system to keep the same incumbent in power.

We'd probably get more political diversity as well as fewer career politicians. It's a better solution to daisyworld.

Lottocracy vs Legislative Service

Updated on Thursday, November 12, 2015

Corrupt Legislation

Alexander Guerrero in aeon:

"There are hard questions about how exactly to structure a political system with lottery-selection at its heart. Here’s one approach, which I am in the process of developing, that I call lottocracy. The basic components are straightforward. First, rather than having a single, generalist legislature such as the United States Congress, the legislative function would be fulfilled by many different single-issue legislatures (each one focusing on, for example, just agriculture or health care)."

It's the same concept as legislative service except randomly selected people serve a single issue for three years rather than just voting on a single bill. I think the advantage is clearly that you get to build up a greater depth of knowledge if you're spending three years learning about health care. The disadvantage is that the number of people willing to give three years of their life is going to be much lower than just asking for the few weeks or months that legislative service would require.

(previously, previously)

Bishops

Updated on Friday, February 24, 2017

Not this kind of Bishop...

I’d love to not care what the Church of England thinks about allowing women to become Bishops. But sadly it’s the established church of England and we allow Bishops to sit in the House of Lords (which needs a complete overhaul, that that’s a different blog post).

The Government’s position on the vote is to be “disappointed”:

A Downing Street spokesman said the prime minister thought there should be women bishops and was disappointed at the result of the vote, but that it was “a matter for the Church to decide”.

Nick Clegg is disappointing. Which Book of Prayer to use is a matter for the Church to decide. Excluding women from the upper management of the official state religion when those managers also play a role in Government is a travesty.

Unless we’re going to allow Jedi in the legislature it’s time to kick the Bishops out of the Lords. It’s also past time to disestablish the Church of England and have proper separation of Church and State in the UK.

House of Lords - time for Legislative Service?

Updated on Thursday, November 12, 2015

House of Lords - time for Legislative Service?

I've mulled the idea of having an upper chamber randomly selected from the public like jury service for some time, often over a pint with a friend who prefers to remain nameless. This friend wrote an outstanding letter to Mark Harper which is included below by his kind permission. 

Mark Harper didn't manage more than a stock response, and neither did Matthew Offord and so it doesn't seem that the British Government is taking up the concept any time soon. We talked about the e-petition system but it turns out that it's limited to 1,000 characters and submissions are vetted for duplicates. There is an existing e-petition with this idea written by Simon Ferrigno which I've voted for, and if you support the legislative service idea please do the same.

Dear Mr Harper

We understand that you are working with the Deputy Prime Minister on the matter of an elected second chamber. We’re sure that many proposals and reports have crossed your desk on this topic. We’d like to share something we came up with when the issue was initially raised a few years ago. Having kept abreast of developments via media reports, we were both surprised not to hear anything similar mooted.

Our suggestion is that the second chamber be made up of ordinary members of the public drawn from across the country, randomly selected from the electoral roll, typically for up to 2 weeks of service. The system would be administered in a similar way to jury duty, albeit on a national basis. These people would be brought together, put up in decent accommodation, well fed, and otherwise made to feel as if their presence and contribution is both valued and important. They will be tutored, in an unbiased fashion, on the background of the Bill under their consideration. The syllabus could be defined by the civil servants who draw up the legislation under consideration. At this point, a multiple choice test on what they have been taught will be administered, but the results will not be revealed.

After the test, they will have the specifics of the Bill explained to them by two barristers (selected by parties for and against). The barristers will have the ability to bring in subject matter experts (perhaps drawing on the talent pool currently in place in the HOL). At the end of the evidentiary stage, the “constitutional jury” will have the opportunity to debate the issues and pose any further questions they may have to the barristers or witnesses.

Once completed, the constitutional jury will vote on the matter(s) at hand. The only votes that will actually count are those cast by people who passed the multiple choice test (as long as a quorum is reached). The results will only be reported as percentages. No one will ever be told if their vote counted, and all members of the constitutional jury are recorded as having served in deciding the matter.

Among the numerous advantages, as we see them, are:

  1. Politicians are often heard bemoaning the lack of public engagement with politics. This is an ideal way of re-engaging ordinary members of the public with the business of politics and what happens in Parliament.
  2. The primacy of the House of Commons will be ensured due to the transience of the members of the second chamber.
  3. There are no expensive elections to be paid for, nor will anyone’s voting record need to be skewed to ensure their re-election.
  4. As this chamber will be entirely made up of randomly selected members of the public, there can be no claims of cronyism.
  5. Voting along party political lines may be reduced; hence the decisions made are those that a random cross section of society deem to be right, rather than the whips.
  6. As the names of the constitutional jury are not disclosed until after the final voting, lobbying by vested interests will be reduced.
  7. The second chamber does not necessarily need to be based in London. In fact, there is no reason why it cannot become a travelling roadshow, convening on a rotating basis in major towns and cities around the UK. This may go some way towards quietening some of the accusations that Parliament is London-centric and lessening talk about the Westminster Village.
  8. Should Parliamentary time be short and the workload high, multiple constitutional juries can be assembled (perhaps in different locations), to work in parallel considering different Bills.

We realise that some members of the House of Lords serve on multiple select committees. We’ll admit to not having a plan for how these will be staffed in the future. One could assume that for now, they can be appointed by Parliament continuing to draw on the talent pool from the current HOL and augmenting any vacancies with new appointments proposed by a committee of civil servants.

We realise that all parties are currently wedded to the idea of an elected second chamber. Is there any way that this could work as a viable alternative?

Yours sincerely...

Photo credit: UK Parliament cc