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American voters don’t come cheap. Seven billion dollars were spent on the 2012 election to influence the 117 million people who turned out to vote. That’s about $60 per voter. What an inefficient and costly system! How archaic!
Think of the many terrific advantages in skipping the middlemen and paying each voter directly. Two are obvious: It would be much cheaper for the donors. It would vastly increase the voter participation rate. Imagine all those stay-at-homes who would be happy to earn, say, $25 for just taking a quick trip to the local poll. At $25 per voter, that would save the donors more than three billion dollars.
And the remaining four billion dollars spent on the election would go directly to the people, especially folks who really need it, instead of to the media and the politicians. Although this would be just a modest step toward directly decreasing inequality, it would be adding a significant addition to consumer purchasing power, thus stimulating the economy and creating jobs.
Besides the obvious savings, donors would not have to keep giving money to politicians in between campaigns, and expensive lobbying would be a thing of the past. Ideally, elected representatives and other officials would wear the logos of the corporations or individuals whose funds had bought their election.
Eliminating election advertising would be a boon to the quality of media content. Since the money would not be going directly to the politicians, they could be honest—in fact would have to be honest—about whom they really represent. Thus dishonesty and bogus promises would no longer be the hallmark of our political culture.
Instead of being dupes of false advertising and politicians’ promises, the electorate would now be the openly paid employees of the banks, corporations, and wealthy donors who already control the political system. This would be a gale of fresh air blowing corruption from our great nation.
Some might argue that this would deprive citizens of their right to a secret ballot. Not at all. A secret ballot would be an option open to any and all who value their secrecy more than money. (Though some citizens might wonder whether such people are true Americans.) To implement the system, voting machines would simply need a minor technological update so that a person’s vote would be visible. Observers could then note whether a voter has just voted “Democratic” or “Republican” or “Secret.” The media would have a much more accurate picture of election returns and recounts would be less common, except when the “Secret” votes might make a difference in the outcome.
Isn’t this proposal just a utopian fantasy? Wouldn’t this need a constitutional amendment? Nope, this is a practical plan that actually preserves and modernizes the good old traditional American way city bosses and large southern landlords maintained much of their power. But how could it be implemented? After doing the arithmetic, the big campaign donors would see the financial benefit. They would then withdraw support from any legislators or other politicians who oppose implementation. The dollars saved from their incessant ongoing campaign contributions and lobbying could then be used to buy the media time necessary to build popular support. And anyone who thinks the Supreme Court would stand in the way has not read Citizens United.
H. Bruce Franklin is the John Cotton Dana Professor of English and American Studies at Rutgers University. His most recent book is The Most Important Fish in the Sea: Menhaden and America.