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Using common sense, we can improve our democracy

While states may have local interests, their common interests are actually much more important.

Another Election Day is coming and we are again bombarded with meaningless commercials and endless predictions, making a normal person sick. On the other hand, we hear about voter participation level, big money influence, discrimination, and so on without any results. But there are common-sense ways to improve our democracy.

First let’s look at what is wrong with what we have. The Constitution calls for two senators and a number of representatives based on a state’s population to be elected in each state. The idea then was for them to defend their respective states’ and districts’ interests in the national government. Of course they all represented few people (thousands) at that time, making it possible to know what those people wanted. A lot has changed since then: Senators in most states represent millions, TV and Internet saturate our lives, making brainwashing an easy task, and the world became interconnected.

Many common interests

While states may have local interests, their common interests are actually much more important. North Dakota may have an interest in the fossil-fuel industry, California and Georgia need an immigrant workforce, and Florida wants more tourists, but at the end we are all in it together. Everyone needs electricity and gas but also wants clean water and air; everyone is interested in making sure that we have a sufficient labor force, but everyone also needs security and the rule of law; and, of course, we all want to have more vacations so we can become tourists and go to Florida.

This is even truer when it comes to the congressional districts. My congressional district includes all of western Minnesota, even though southwestern and northwestern areas are different; on the other hand, other districts may include areas that are more similar to my district than to other areas in those districts. But the districts are carved out to make them equal in population and determining those districts is always a very contentious process as parties fight for favorable demographics. Sure, the metropolitan area may want a better public-transit system or a new stadium while rural Minnesota is interested in ethanol subsidies but, at the end, the money for those things comes from everyone’s pockets and energy independence provides security to all people.

In real life, the major way members of Congress serve their states is trying to get more money from the federal government resulting in multiple pork projects and wasted resources — so ultimately everyone suffers even though, quite often, how much money a senator brings is the deciding factor in re-election. But at the end, every state representative going to Washington must consider (and even prioritize) the country’s interests over local ones because if the entire country is doing well, all states are better off.

Money in politics

Money influence on the election is a huge point of contention (oddly, Democrats think that money in politics helps Republicans more, conveniently forgetting about the unions, George Soros, and Hollywood elite). The Supreme Court decision equating spending money with free speech effectively allowed an unlimited amount of money to be spent during elections. As a result, we are inundated with commercials that don’t tell us anything of substance (which is understandable considering that there are only 30 seconds to say anything) but instead appeal to our senses, which are helpful in love but not in politics.

The logic of the court’s approach seems weird. It is illegal to offer money or favors in exchange for votes because everyone sees this as buying votes. But using $100,000 will actually influence more voters in the form of a commercial than as a direct handout. It is irrelevant in which way people are influenced so long as it is the money that buys their decisions whether in a form of cash or Kool-Aid TV commercial. 

High voter participation doesn’t yield better democracy

Voter participation is another hot topic. Usually it is assumed that more voters means better democracy, but it’s not true. Many countries have better voter participation than the United States, and yet are not better off or freer (Greece, where voting is mandatory and voting participation rate is very high, is in trouble — and I am not even talking about the 99 percent participation rate in the Soviet Union, where voting wasn’t compulsory but people were encouraged to vote by the good beer and books sold only at polling stations).

But having more people who vote without knowledge may actually be bad for democracy. If the vote of a person who did the homework, researched the issues, and voted on the basis of what is best for him or her or, preferably, best for the country may be negated by someone who voted on the basis of a 30-second commercial or a candidate’s skin color, people may get disappointed in the system.

Yes, every citizen has the right to vote, but that doesn’t mean that everyone should vote. Democracy doesn’t need more voters; it needs more informed voters, and encouraging voting for the sake of higher voter participation is a bad policy that allows easier manipulation of electorate. Uninformed people cannot elect good leaders.

How to improve the system

So what can be done?

  • First, money shall be taken out of politics by prohibiting all commercials, door knocking, polling, mass mailing, political signs, registration drives, etc. In fact, political campaigning shall become a thing of the past. Each viable candidate shall be given space on a government-funded website to explain the candidate’s views and suggestions; opposing candidates shall be given space to comment on others, and all facts shall be confirmed by independent analysis. Additionally, several debates sponsored by the government shall be conducted on specific topics. These measures will allow more independent and third-party candidates to have a chance, thus giving people more choices and a reason to vote.
  • Second, people shall be left alone in their decisions whether and how to vote. Ideally, a polling machine should ask a few simple questions (e.g. who is our current president?) before allowing people to vote, but that may be too much for some people. Registration and voter ID requirements (which should be the same – what is required to prove citizenship for registration should be sufficient at the polling station) are the means to ensure that those who vote have at least some desire and knowledge to do it and the system cannot be rigged. Obviously, the constitutional right to vote applies only to American citizens, so requiring proof of citizenship for registration cannot be unconstitutional, even if it costs money.
  • And finally, the way people are elected should be changed. Representatives shall rotate and run in a different district each time, thus ensuring that they keep entire state interests in their minds and do not just cater to the narrow and immediate concerns of a small group of people. This will do more for bipartisanship than all speeches and promises combined, because a representative elected in a rich suburban district may be running in an intercity or rural district next time. Of course, gerrymandering will disappear as well, and all races will always be competitive. For the Senate, the best way would be to force senators to run in a different state every time or, as an alternative, put them on a ballot in all states but with a weighted vote. This will make senators pay attention to the entire country’s interests more and, as an added benefit, will require people to pay more attention to the entire Senate’s actions rather than the actions of only their two senators.

The measures outlined above would guarantee high-quality candidates and increase the number of knowledgeable voters while providing confidence that their votes will truly count. And that is what makes a democracy better.

Ilya Gutman is an immigrant from the Soviet Union who now lives and works in Marshall, Minnesota. 


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Comments (26)

  1. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 10/17/2014 - 06:11 am.

    Ethanol subsidies?

    “…. rural Minnesota is interested in ethanol subsidies.”

    There are no ethanol subsides, at either at the state or federal level. Haven’t been for years.

    • Submitted by Tom Anderson on 10/18/2014 - 10:56 pm.

      Fortunately that should change

      “Less than a month after signing the(2014) farm bill into law, the president proposed new subsidies for ethanol blender pumps in his FY 2015 budget proposal.”

      And some of the previous subsidies did just end last year, which doesn’t really count as “years”.

      And don’t forget the government mandates to increase the amount of ethanol in gasoline at the pump.

  2. Submitted by Eric Snyder on 10/17/2014 - 10:18 am.

    Political ignorance is a problem, but poll tests?

    Ilya, I appreciate you taking the time to write.

    While I share your concern about voters lacking knowledge, I think the proposal requiring a knowledge test at the polls is fraught with problems.

    1) Is it specific knowledge the problem or the ability to make reasoned judgments about policy choices?

    If it is knowledge that voters might be tested on, it’s easily conceivable that very naive voters could be coached immediately prior to voting, thus negating any value the test might have. There’s also the question of the validity of such tests. Many people can name the president, but far fewer can engage in a process of critical thinking about issues of the day. Or, even though a voter might not know the name of his or her senator, that voter might very well have an informed view or personal stake in a political issue. Shouldn’t this consideration be more important than knowing who their representatives are?

    On the other hand, if the poll test involved making critical judgments about issues, many current voters would likely be unable to pass the test if they were challenged to give reasoned arguments for and against policies. If such a test required a fairly strict commitment to reason, like requiring the avoidance of gross errors like repeating conspiracy theories they’ve heard or misstating facts or not falling into informal logical fallacies, even fewer voters would qualify. Rating voter replies on such a test would involve an unacceptable element of subjectivity, incur considerable costs in locating and training raters, would be practically inefficient to administer, would be subject to partisan abuse, and would likely invite innumerable legal challenges from those who believed they were unfairly judged.

    3) If the right to vote isn’t actually or nearly absolute, if the vote is seen as subject to certain qualifications, there will be politicians and parties that will subvert the intent of the process as a means to suppress voting. We already see the Republicans doing this with the closing of polling places, the elimination of early voting, etc.

    4) It’s arguable that the majority of voters, perhaps a large majority, would not be able to justify their political views beyond repeating slogans—using considered reasons and evidence. (E.g., I have certain views on Social Security. But if asked right now to give an account of my views using the latest numbers and research, I wouldn’t be able to do so. I would, however, be able to use a process to find out given enough time.) If this is the case, then any bar set high enough to include only the most competent voters would leave out most people.

    Lastly, what about the ignorance of politicians? A number of congress people have made public statements indicating they are illiterate on the science of climate change, or biological evolution, or any number of things. Do we prevent them from running for office until they’ve passed a knowledge test? If not, do we put into place a kind of school for politicians at the national level to get them up to speed on what they need to know about?

    Political ignorance, whatever the source, is an ongoing and very serious problem. But a poll test is a questionable solution.

  3. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 10/17/2014 - 12:01 pm.

    Voting Rehab

    This entire opinion piece is so poorly thought out it’s hard to even know where to begin to deconstruct it.

    Taking money out of politics is a good idea and I wholeheartedly approve of efforts to curtail it. The author makes a major gaff though when he claims “oddly, Democrats think that money in politics helps Republicans more, conveniently forgetting about the unions, George Soros, and Hollywood elite.” He forgets, of course, that if you combined all the union spending into one pool it still wouldn’t equal the expenditures of even a couple of corporations.

    Not to mention George Soros is but one person.

    And that there is no “Hollywood Elite,” as if they all vote in some monolithic block. Were that the case we wouldn’t have people like Ronald Reagan and Clint Eastwood.

    Most importantly though, Democrats want to get all money out of politics, not just corporate money. The author has set up a straw may argument for the sake of gaining political points. “Look how *I* search for a solution, but my silly Democratic opponents aren’t on board with this. What idiots they must be!”

    Poll tests aren’t a great idea AT ALL. Who gets to decide the questions? What if sometime in the future the questions are deemed too easy and someone ups the ante? What’s to stop someone from voting and then heading out the door to tell everyone else what the answers are?

    At the end of the day we should be tearing down barriers to voting, not erecting more. The very nature of democracy is to allow people to decide their fate, not a select few in society. Once you set up a system where you narrow the criteria for voting, you also set up a system for an unscrupulous person to rig and exploit that system. That’s what we got rid of in the south with their poll taxes and literacy tests, which were specifically designed to keep blacks from voting.

    Been there, done that in America, and ruled it unconstitutional. It wasn’t fair fifty years ago and it isn’t fair today.

  4. Submitted by jason myron on 10/17/2014 - 01:52 pm.


    is when an immigrant from the Soviet Union tries to lecture me on what would make for a better democracy. Sorry, Ilya, but your veiled attempts at suppressing the vote of people you think are unworthy of the very democracy that you came to this country to enjoy is the height of hypocrisy. We get it…you only want republicans to vote.

  5. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 10/17/2014 - 06:46 pm.

    Got back from work and can respond.

    There were ethanol subsidies even if there are none now but that was not the point; the point is that corn producing areas are interested in subsidies – that is all I wanted to say.

    Poll test – I had one sentence about that and said that it will be too much for most people. This is not, by any means, the major point I was trying to make so how come everyone has concentrated on it so much? Anyway, let’s try to talk about that a little bit.

    Mr. Snyder’s points are all valid (except saying that only Republicans try to suppress the vote) and of course they need answers. That was not my goal though and it is not that important. I think that people have to have some basic knowledge in order to vote (even the most brilliant people will not be able to make the right choices and decisions if they know nothing). Yes, people may be coached but they still learn something during coaching. Citizenship test is a good example: all questions are known but people learn things anyway in the process of preparation. I do not think that checking logical and thinking abilities is practical or reasonable – that will be too much.

    People have rights and responsibilities. The right to vote is not absolute since kids, mentally incompetent, and felons are not allowed to vote. So it is considered constitutional that those who can’t make decisions can’t vote; therefore, extending this concept further will not strictly speaking violate the Constitution. Yes, there is possibility for abuse but it exists in everything. But again, I would support just the simplest questions and not much more. Isn’t learning people’s responsibility?

    As for ignorant politicians, they are elected by ignorant people so my system will make it better. By the way, reference to climate change and evolution ignorance is very one-sided and I don’t think is appropriate. Trying to frighten people with increased number of hurricanes and rising oceans in a hundred years or using statistics only without logical connections to prove the points is also a sign of ignorance, in my mind.

    Mr. Hintz can’t imagine that someone doesn’t have a political agenda when writing because for him it is always Democrats (good) vs. Republicans (bad). He is probably the one who can easily mark all people with D’s on the ballot (pun intended) and be happy (and for the records, I do not do that). Of course, Soros is one person but there are plenty of others like him. And yes, Hollywood elite exists and absolute majority of them support Democrats – just read the news; Reagan and Eastwood were the exception. Otherwise, why is Obama constantly going to LA for fundraising?

    Clearly, I do want to take all money out of politics – I think I made it obvious for everyone willing to read and think – and did not express any negative views of Democrats at all or tried to get any points; Mr. Hintz should re-read the piece, I guess. Of course, it does look like Mr. Hintz didn’t really read my article since he is still talking about tearing down the barriers for voters. Sure, reduce voting age to 10 (old enough to read a ballot) – who needs age barriers. Anyway, I don’t think Mr. Hintz came even closer to deconstructing my arguments since he didn’t even try to understand them.

    And of course, the irony is that Mr. Myron thinks that people who were not born here cannot give any good advice – I always thought that Democrats support all kinds of immigration because they (the immigrants) bring new ideas. The other irony is that he accuses me of wanting only Republicans to vote (which of course, was not my thought at all – why do I even need to say that?) while still thinking that all Republicans are dumb because they are not Democrats. Obviously, those two ideas contradict each other since if Republicans are dumb and dumb people will not be allowed to vote, it will only benefit Democrats… or will it, Mr. Myron?

    By the way, it is strange and sad that no real discussion took place about my third point (or any other point except polling questions).

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/18/2014 - 08:57 am.

    Common sense? Not so much

    There are two problems with this common sense approach, one problem is that it requires several re-writes of the Constitution, not just some common sense “tweaking”. The other problem is that it ignores existing facts.

    First, while expanding access for less well funded candidates might be a good idea, we can’t prohibit campaigning because political speech is protected by the 1st Amendment. Government sponsored campaigns would have to be added to the existing campaign regime, they could not replace existing campaigns in any constitutional way. Oddly enough Mr. Gutman has stumbled into a suggestion that progressive liberals have advocated for decades. The progressive solution however is simply to mandate a certain amount of free media access on all major media for all qualified candidates. All radio, TV (included satellite and cable), would as a condition of maintaining their FCC licenses, have to provide a certain amount of free air time to all qualified candidates for some period of time during an election cycle. The government would buy, and newspapers would required to sell, a certain amount of ad space for qualifying candidates. This would give third party and major party candidates an ability to mount affordable campaigns without raising huge money. Mr. Gutman’s web component would be a fine addition to such a scheme but limiting the whole project to government websites would block access for millions of voters who don’t have internet access.

    Of course we already have public funding for qualifying candidates already but it’s not sufficient to compete effectively.

    Any kind of poll/literacy test is simply illegal for so many reasons. This country decided long ago that citizenship and age are the only necessary qualifications for casting a vote, and that decision was made for many very good reasons. As an immigrant Mr. Gutman may not be aware of our history. We used to have literacy tests, and we decided they are unconstitutional for a variety of good reasons. Such schemes require a change in the Constitution adding a third requirement for voting rights. It’s a bad idea, and a lot more complicated than Mr. Gutman seems to realize.

    Mr. Gutman’s suggestion that we change the way elected representatives are apportioned or assigned districts is simply incoherent. Randomly assigning candidates to districts they may not even live in will not strengthen the bond between politicians and constituents. We already have a system for modifying districts and Gutman’s is unconstitutional, again requiring a re-write of the constitution.

    As near as I can tell Mr. Gutman’s suggestions would require a minimum of three constitutional amendments. As others have pointed out, our system is the oldest in the world, it’s served us for over 200 years.

    Mr. Gutman appears to be ignorant regarding several established facts. For instance voters are already “left alone” on election day since campaigning is prohibited at the polling place. The most puzzling fact that Mr. Guzman seems to be confused about is oddly enough, the role of citizenship in our elections. We already limit voting to citizens, and our current registration process already establishes citizenship for every voter. Did Mr. Gutman cast a vote in the US BEFORE becoming a citizen?

    This “Citizenship” requirement is nothing more than an attempt to revive the defunct voter ID argument. Such arguments are based on the mythical assertion that non-citizens are currently voting in significant numbers. The function (and some say the intent) of voter ID laws is to create unnecessary barriers between voters and their votes on election day. For instance as an immigrant, Mr. Gutman might be interested to know that the MN voter ID law contained a provision that prevented new citizens from voting withing three months of obtaining their citizenship. We had our voter ID debate in Minnesota and Gutman et al. lost. Voter ID laws around the country have been struck down or blocked, and those that have survived will be struck-down or repealed eventually.

  7. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 10/18/2014 - 07:03 pm.


    Political speech is and must be protected but spending money is not the same as political speech. I can stand at the street intersection and try to support my candidate’s views but on my own time and if someone pays me for that, it is a different issue altogether. I can print my yard sign but not sign for others… I understand that this is tricky and finding a balance between clean elections and the First Amendment is difficult, but the current situation when money essentially buys elections is not good, to say the least. And unfortunately just allowing some free time for all candidates, as Mr. Udsrand mentioned, will not change the above fact – it is not enough to counter billions of dollars poured into all elections, which he also noted.

    I do not know who Mr. Udstrand’s elected officials are, but my experience shows that there is no bond between politicians and constituents which, of course, is understandable since there are so many constituents for each politician and one TV ad will help more in election campaign than walking door to door for months. So where the candidate lives is not really significant anymore – too big districts, too many people, modern communication, and so on and assigning candidates to different districts will not require a new amendment since they will still be living in the same state.

    Of course I know about literacy tests (again, that is an interesting, for a Democrat, assumption that immigrants are ignorant of American history) but I already talked about them in my previous response. Yes American democracy is the oldest in the modern world and it did serve it very well but it doesn’t mean that it is perfect and nothing can be improved. So many things have changed in the last 200 years, haven’t they?

    And finally, about facts that, according to Mr. Udstrand’s, I do not know (actually it looks to me that he did not read my entire piece). Yes, voters are left alone on the Election Day but that is probably one hundredth of the election campaign duration; they should be left alone for the entire time – that will make a difference. Of course, only citizens can vote and I mentioned that in my article but my point was that registration and voting day should require exactly the same proof thus providing guarantee of clean election without burdening people – did Mr. Udstrand miss this point? That’s too bad…

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/19/2014 - 10:50 am.

      Facts are stubborn

      “Political speech is and must be protected but spending money is not the same as political speech.”

      Matter of fact the US Supreme Court has ruled several times that campaign spending and contributions ARE political speech. This is why Mr. Gutman’s scheme would require a Constitutional Amendment modifying the 1st Amendment. Furthermore, your proposal doesn’t merely restrict spending, it actually prohibits communication between candidates and voters outside of government run websites.

      The idea that voters will better know their candidates if we prohibit campaigning or restrict it to government websites is simply incoherent. The whole point of democracy and elections is to select representatives. A democratic selection process cannot be accomplished in any coherent way if candidates are prohibited from bothering voters with with campaign information.

      I’m not proposing an explanation for Mr. Gutman’s apparent gaps in knowledge and understanding of our democratic process, I merely note it. In fact there is absolutely no reason to believe that such ill conceived proposals are likely to originate with immigrants. For instance the drive to disenfranchise voters with ID requirements was the brain child of a bunch lawyers working for a republican think-tank in Texas. I don’t think many if any of those lawyers are immigrants.

      “I do not know who Mr. Udstrand’s elected officials are, but my experience shows that there is no bond between politicians and constituents…”

      It’s too bad your new democracy is such a disappointment Mr. Gutman but I’m afraid rewriting the Constitution to suit your expectations is not a “common sense” response. We already have “clean” elections and people who understand how they actually work have plenty of confidence in our system. It’s not a perfect system but redesigning it in order to address mythical anxieties of voters who either don’t understand our democracy or don’t believe in it, is probably a bad idea. The “problems” we have flow out of election results, not the election process itself. OK, s’all good. Part of living in a democracy is having to live with elections outcomes you don’t like. The fact that you don’t like all election results doesn’t mean there’s problem with the system. We don’t expect that our democracy will be flawless. We do believe that over time it will produce better results than undemocratic forms of government.

      The common sense approach is for citizens to educate themselves about our system and how it works. People who understand the system can make better suggestions for improvement. Nearly all of your suggestions actually return us to imperfections of past and failed democracies.

  8. Submitted by jason myron on 10/18/2014 - 08:39 pm.

    So many things have changed in the last 200 years, haven’t they?

    Tell that to the gun huggers who worship the 2nd amendment. Then we’ll talk about voting.

  9. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 10/19/2014 - 09:54 am.

    Guns and elections

    Oh, it is nice to see that Mr. Myron brought up the 2nd Amendment thus changing the subject… But I am glad he did it because the “gun huggers” do not ask for free guns from the government just because it is their constitutional right to bear arms; they don’t even ask for free ID’s so they can buy those guns… Having Constitutional right doesn’t mean that government has to pay for exercising that right…

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 10/19/2014 - 08:15 pm.


      The government is going to fund websites for election materials, and presumably access to those sites for those sans computers… So…

    • Submitted by jason myron on 10/20/2014 - 12:58 pm.

      Who said anything about free guns?

      I’m just pointing out the hypocrisy of your position. You stress that things have changed over the course of 200 years and scrapping a system that has served us well is necessary, however the 2nd amendment is so sacrosanct that it couldn’t be revisited as well? Sorry, but I’m not buying any of it…there’s a reason that it’s primarily republicans that are desperate to change voting laws, and it isn’t because they enjoy democracy more than anyone else. EVERYONE knows why they want to do it and non-existent fraud isn’t it.You’ve spoken of your disappointment that ideology plays so much a part of politics here…congratulations, you must have been the last person to get that memo. Ideology has always been important in government, sometimes more than others and this happens to one of them. We’ve experienced a party that has pledged literally from his inauguration, to refuse to work with a president. My response to that isn’t one of weakness or finding common ground as I have no common ground with those people. It’s pissed me off to want to stomp that party into the ground until it becomes relevant to reality again.
      And finally, the irony of you complaining about paying for “free IDs” resulting from a change in voting policy that YOU want to implement is too delicious for words.

  10. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 10/19/2014 - 06:24 pm.


    I begin to seriously doubt if some people read the article before writing. Of course, I know that the Supreme Court ruled that spending money is a form of free speech – I mentioned it. But that doesn’t make it right and I tried to explain why. But Mr. Udstrand is ignoring all arguments, including his own party disagreement with this decision…

    I also tried to explain that 30 second commercial has nothing to do with knowing a candidate or his position but that point also went unnoticed for him. And in good democracy it’s the voters who try to find out more about candidates, not the candidates who pool the wool over people’s eyes.

    And finally, I am not disappointed in American democracy, as Mr. Udstrand tries to imply – I am happy I am here and consider America the best country in the world. I am just disappointed that there are people in America for whom ideology is way more important than anything else, including common sense and reason; in fact they don’t even want to listen. For Mr. Udstrand, I am a Republican (which I am not, by the way) and therefore everything I am saying is wrong, even when what I am saying is basically the same his party wants. But I guess people are people and they are the same everywhere and maybe the time will come when Mr. Udstrand will be able to understand before objecting and will take a yes for an answer. Oh, and it does seem that Mr. Udstrand doesn’t like the election results sometime and my wild guess is that his disappointment is not when Democrats are elected…

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 10/19/2014 - 11:25 pm.

      You wrote the piece

      What is that we are supposed to do? I have to assume push back was expected, or were we all simply to smile our heads and nod in agreement with the obvious truths contained within? I would think if one intends opinion for public consumption, a thicker skin may be in order.

  11. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/20/2014 - 08:49 am.

    The lesson here…

    Basically the primary fact on display here is conservative/reactionary distrust of people and democracy. On very basic level Mr. Gutman is betraying the fact that reactionary/conservatives simply don’t believe in democracy at the end of the day. The basic premise of democracy is that people elect their government. What we consistently see from conservative like Mr. Gutman is the belief that people simply can’t trusted to run a democracy. Voters can’t be trusted because they are stupid, gullible, lazy, and fraudulent. Democratically elected governments can’t be trusted because politicians (elected by untrustworthy voters) are dishonest frauds who pull the wool over gullible voters eyes and then ignore constituents once in office.

    The reactionary/conservative solution is to dial back democracy, impose discrimination, and restrict civil liberties in order to produce the desired results. It’s not common sense, its essentially an antidemocratic impulse.

    The lesson here is that as citizens and guardians of our democracy, we should probably not put people who don’t believe in democracy in charge of our democracy.

    Of course the irony is that nearly hysterical advocates of imaginary voter fraud assume that they’d make the cut if we actually set up some kind of requirements for responsible voting. There’s nothing responsible about creating a new layer of unnecessary complexity that restricts perfectly legal voting in order to prevent non-existent voter fraud. Advocates of such irresponsible programs may well be the first to be stricken from the rolls. Be careful what you wish for Mr. Gutman, discrimination has a nasty way of boomeranging around.

  12. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 10/20/2014 - 11:59 am.


    Mr. Gutman is correct in that we do like to entertain new ideas. There’s one caveat to add to that assumption though, and that is that we want GOOD ideas. Mr. Gutman, of course, will argue that his ideas are indeed good. After all, why else would he go through the effort of writing them up to be published? But judging from the feedback above, I would hazard a guess that his assumption may be a bit off the mark.

    Thanks for sharing though.

  13. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 10/20/2014 - 06:52 pm.

    Reasons, not labels

    If Mr. Myron wants to get to guns, that’s OK. Yes, things have changed and so I disagree with the idea that everyone should be able to have a machine-gun or a bazooka but I do think that a handgun is a reasonable weapon to have. But I was pointing out to illogical point that asking for voters ID to exercise the right to vote is bad because it costs money but asking for ID to get a gun is OK even though having a gun is still a Constitutional right. I also like that Mr. Myron hates Republicans who did not want to find a common ground with the President and then says that he would not want to work with them and wants to stomp them out… That is a very strange position for a liberal… but of course that was tried before… in the Soviet Union.

    Mr. Haas, I do not mind at all any disagreements and always try to address them (if you noticed, I did just that in my first response addressing some comments (Mr. Snyder’s). But the problem is that people don’t just disagree with specific points and list some reasons; they just label me and my views as Republican, Conservative, reactionary, ignorant, etc. and disagree with everything I say based on that label (and seemingly even without trying to understand what I am talking about). That is not what I expected – I wanted a real discussion about specific points, not labeling and name calling. My ideas are not necessarily good but please point out why rather than label them bad just because you think I am a Republican (and again, I am not). As I said, I saw just a few specifics in critique and I tried to address that. I wanted to hear something like “your third point will not work because…” or “your point is bad because…” but mostly I did not. It was that old ideological line that ID’s are discriminatory (even though I suggested a different way) and poll tests are bad even though I didn’t even suggest that. So I am sorry, this type of feedback doesn’t prove that my ideas are bad, just that critics are biased.

    The typical example is Mr. Udstrand who keeps throwing new accusations and labels but never comes back to what I say about his previous ones. This time it is that I do not believe in democracy and call the voters gullible and suggest that politicians cannot be trusted. The problem is, of course, that I did not come up with that – read the news. Do Republicans trust Democrats? Do Democrats trust Republicans? So half the country doesn’t trust the government (regardless of who is in charge) and the other half the country. And street interviews show again and again that people do not know where Iraq is… how can they elect politicians who know what to do there? If I didn’t believe in democracy I wouldn’t be here and wouldn’t try to find the ways to make it better.

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 10/20/2014 - 10:44 pm.

      The last I’ll say

      Pointing out flaws in your logic does not constitute name calling, or labeling. That most of what you suggest fails to pass constitutional muster is not opinion, but fact. Disagreement is your perogative but does not change this fact. As to labeling, if it quacks like a duck… if it makes you feel better change all references to Republican in Mr. Udstrand’s posts to conservative. Does the point change in any measurable way? I haven’t got a card that states that I am a Democrat, but I vote for Democrats in every election, what does that make me? Can you honestly say you would ever suppport a liberal candidacy? It’s a distinction without a difference, and as your general views are well known, by means of your easily accessible commentary history, why should we be expected to believe that THIS commentary is in any way idealogically separate from what has come before?

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/21/2014 - 11:00 am.

        That’s another thing…

        Actually, I only use the word “republican” once, and that’s in a sentence discussing the fact that the voter ID law template originated at ALEC, which is a republican think tank. Sometimes I don’t think Mr. Gutman is actually reading my comments. 🙂

        Mr. Gutman’s constant partisan references are actually another problem. The integrity of our election system and democracy is not a partisan issues and it’s a serious error to assume that they are. This idea that republicans are more concerned about our election system and integrity in general is a decades old ruse that masks partisanship and ideology.

        For my part, I don’t like to characterize everyone who would vote for a republican or call themselves a republican as a reactionary or extremists. The party itself has long since drifted into extremism but party affiliation in the US is not an ideological steel trap, there’s a lot of wiggle room in the minds of democrats and republicans.

  14. Submitted by Matt Haas on 10/20/2014 - 10:50 pm.


    I was suckered by the spin. Never mind about changing the label, as far as I can tell it already was. For future reference, conservative DOES include whichever self ascribed definition you’d like to use to distance yourself from the national face of conservatism, the GOP.

  15. Submitted by jason myron on 10/20/2014 - 11:29 pm.

    Our democracy is just fine, thanks.

    If we just boil your thoughts down to their essence, it seems that democracy is a mess because the people you vote for lose. So, all you want is for others to justify their vote according to your template. I don’t really care who people vote for or how they arrive at their decision. If someone wants to vote for Dayton because Johnson reminds them of the science teacher they hated in high school, no problem. If they like Johnson because they think Dayton is a just another rich guy, cool. I certainly don’t agree with it, but it’s really none of my business. It’s a free country and they don’t have to justify anything to you or me.

  16. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/21/2014 - 09:44 am.

    Kind of funny actually

    Mr. Gutman complains: ” This time it is that I do not believe in democracy and call the voters gullible and suggest that politicians cannot be trusted. ”


    “And in good democracy it’s the voters who try to find out more about candidates, not the candidates who pool the wool over people’s eyes.”

    That’s a direct quote. What Mr. Gutman is saying here is that we do not have a “good” democracy because voters don’t bother to find out about the candidates and the candidates pull the wool over the eyes of voters. Voters who succumb to wool are gullible, and politicians who resort to “wool” are deceptive ( Are deceptive people “trustworthy”?) So Yes, ILya did in fact say that voters are gullible and politicians cannot be trusted. I’m suggesting that someone who makes such an argument doesn’t really believe in the concept of Democracy. The fact is that if voters and politicians can be trusted, Mr. Gutman’s complaints are all unfounded and his “solutions” are looking for a problem.

    It’s kind of funny that a someone who’s advocating a return to some kind of literacy tests keeps complaining that people aren’t reading his arguments. The problem is that Mr. Gutman isn’t actually defending his position, rather he keeps writing things and then denying that he wrote them, while complaining that people aren’t reading what he wrote.

  17. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/21/2014 - 11:11 am.

    Not to pick on Mr. Gutman

    By the way, it’s really not personal. All of the “common sense” ideas presented here with the possible exception of the reassignment of elected officials and the government run website campaign thing have been bouncing around conservative circles for decades. If one thinks that these are bad ideas, it’s not fair to to attribute them to Mr. Gutman alone. I think it’s important to note that because these initiatives are not limited to this one anomalous opinion piece. Right or wrong Mr. Gutman is not alone in his thinking, he’s just got tough crowd here.

  18. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 10/21/2014 - 03:14 pm.

    Last time

    OK, this is my last time for this post and I give up. Everything I was saying about what’s wrong with our elections was said time and time again. In fact, Eric Black in his current series of articles is saying exactly that (actually, his writing prompted me to write) so I do not see how I can be accused of bashing democracy or saying that it is bad. And I pointed it out in my responses but no luck…

    And my suggestions were based on common sense so of course most of them were thought of before. But again, I tweaked a voter ID idea – did anyone notice?

    As for Constitutional amendments, it is not necessarily correct. Yes, the Supreme Court said that spending money is a form of free speech but I believe the Court sometimes reverses itself (slavery, right to vote…) so an amendment may not be necessary after all.

    And finally, labels. I hate them and never use them. All the words I was called have negative connotation to them in your minds and that is the problem. As in gun debate, I have my own opinion and I did vote for Democrats quite a few times based on their ideas, not party affiliation. I am an independent and evaluate ideas, not people or labels. I disagree with many liberal ideas (current liberal ideas) but because I thought of them and found them wrong, not because they come from liberals. Here I do not see any attempt to evaluate ideas that, in your mind, came from the right, on the basis of merit and that is the most disturbing.

  19. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/22/2014 - 08:02 am.

    Supreme courts and common sense

    Yes, court decisions are sometimes overturned but in this case you have a web of multiple decisions ranging from corporate “personhood” to campaign spending and contributions. There’s no single decision to overturn. Furthermore, Mr. Gutman doesn’t just want to prohibit spending, he doesn’t want politicians bothering people outside of proscribed government websites. THAT idea is clearly a violation of the 1st amendment as it currently stands on multiple grounds. Legislators will not craft such a law and if they did no court would uphold it unless we devolve into a totalitarian regime of some kind. Liberals and conservatives alike would reject such a scheme because it appears to establish a regime for government controlled political speech. Hint: any idea that’s a non-starter for so many reasons cannot be a common sense idea.

    Regardless whether you like or don’t like Mr. Gutman’s reasoning here, the fact is that these are all actually radical ideas, by definition they are not common sense. They may not be new radical ideas, or unique radical ideas, but they are radical nevertheless. One persons common sense… is not necessarily universal.

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