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Thursday, November 17, 2005

A Thought Experiment in Campaign Financing

John Rawls theorized social justice from what he called the original position. The idea is to pretend you don't know what position you are actually in, then pretend like there is an equal chance of you being thrown into any possible position. The idea is that a person would naturally create a system that would tend to be the least punitive to everyone and of most benefit to all.


So, if we apply this to campaign financing, we would have to consider ourselves equally likely to be a candidate and a voter. There are others, but these are the two primary people involved in elections.

From the candidate's perspective, you want the ability to gain lots of money from lots of different places. In fact, the more you can increase the breadth of your donor base, the less likely you are to succumb to pressure from one single donor, or group of donors. If you have ten thousand people giving you money, you can afford to make a few hundred angry.

So, no limit on how many donors you can have.

However, if one of those ten thousand can give you more than nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine combined, then you are in a different position. Now you can honestly be put in a position where one donor can threaten to support your opponent and put undue strain on your ability to act independently. So, there has to be a limit on how much donors can give. For now, that limit isn't important. What's important is that it IS limited.

Now look at the voter. His or her chief concern is that they want their vote to count for something. But it should not count anything more or less than the next person's.

The voter also has to be sure that their vote is going to be counted. A vote that is equal to one not counted is even worse than not being able to vote. As well, you have a right, as a voter, to be sure that the person who votes before or after you really is the person they claim to be. After all, voting rights are acquired in the act of voting. If someone is voting under an assumed name, then they are making a mockery of the system and diluting your vote - making it worth less (but not actually worthless).

To accomplish this, you have to create a system where voters are positively identified (which is NOT treating them like a criminal, but simply protecting the value of their vote). Then there HAS to be a physical record of the vote.  In fact, I would say that there should be two records of the vote. Use the machines (I don't really like them, though) then also have a physical print out (signed by the voter) that is put in a locked box - the way ballots have traditionally been held. If there is a problem with the machine, then the physical ballots can be counted. Signing a printed read-out allows the voter to make sure their votes were correctly tabulated and to do away with any possibility of over-votes, under-votes, and stupidly marked votes.

One other requirement is needed - only voters are allowed to contribute to campaigns, and those contributions must be made directly to the nominee.

What you are left with is a fair and open system of funding an election, a fair and open way of voting, and a shot at true democracy.

Too bad we don't have any of these common sense limits in New Jersey.

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