Our government isn't a democracy, it is a republic - which means that we vote representatives (President & Congress) to govern. But our representatives aren't representing the people. We need to take our government back, and that requires more than one man or one party. It requires us updating the rules of our government for the 21st century.
The US has passed 17 amendments since the Bill of Rights, but none in the past 25 years. How many of us think that our government is that good, and are so happy with our elected officials that we don't need change? Experience has shown that merely changing the officials does little to make them more responsible to the voters. Terms limits are simple, but I fear that will just lead to round-robin officials that work the same way in the same system.
The demand is simple - elected officials must represent the majority of their constituents, rather than lobbyists or their own interests. And representation should be on basic issues (employment, healthcare, infrastructure), rather than only on divisive ones. Here are my ideas for the 28th amendment (or maybe 28th & 29th)...
Restrictions on Federal Officials:
Immediate family members of current or past elected federal officials shall not serve as elected federal officials, or in Cabinet positions. This is to prevent family dynasties and cronyism. With 250 million adults, there must be great candidates not named Clinton, Bush, etc.
Elected federal officials shall not direct government expenditures, taxes, or regulations in order to enrich specifically themselves or their family. Insider enrichment shall be an impeachable offense. The goal is for officials to represent their constituents' financial interests, not their own.
The IRS will publicly disclose full tax returns for the most recent 10-years when any candidate files for election of a federal office with the FEC. Let constituents see the debts and businesses of candidates, so that conflicts of interest are clearer.
Elected federal officials shall not be more than 75 years of age at the date of election. 80 to 100 year old Congressmen are usually doddering mascots handled by staffers rather than legislators. By that point, we really need to force new blood into the office.
Federal election reform:
Election of the President shall be by popular vote. The Electoral College makes millions of individual votes in many states effectively irrelevant, thus denying proper representation. Republicans will only like the Electoral College until someday they win the popular vote but lose an election.
Campaign contributions shall only be accepted from citizens who are eligible to vote for the candidate. Candidates have to raise money from people who could vote for them, not people in another state or district, or non-profit organizations, or from businesses. As it is, it is hard for a constituent to meet with a Congressman unless they have a $1,000 check in their hand. This forces the incumbent to spend their time talking to their district constituents, not lobbyists.
Candidates shall not accept contributions that exceed the greater of [$10,000 or 1% of all contributions received] from any individual or family. This forces candidates to raise money from many constituents, rather than being bankrolled by a few.
Unspent campaign contributions shall be forfeited to the federal government after each election. This prevents incumbents from building up war chests over time that make them impregnable to most challengers.
Congressional districts shall be drawn in compact areas which do not unnecessarily split municipalities, counties, and metropolitan areas. Congressional districts shall be drawn without regard to voting patterns or race. If your representative is HQ'd 100 miles away, and has a district that covers parts of several MSA's, then they don't represent you - or probably most constituents. Not only is that district designed only for election of the incumbent's party, but it also effectively prevents successful local Mayors from competing for the office since they will be relatively unknown across the far flung district.
In person voting shall be offered for at least 7 days prior to the election date, from at least 7 am to 7 pm local time. There must be one voting site per 2,500 registered voters, based on the number of registered voters 90 days before the election. Voting sites must be dispersed geographically according to registered voter concentrations. Each voting site must have at least 7 voting booths. Firearms shall not be allowed within 75 feet of the polling site, with the exception of law enforcement. A paper record must be created for each ballot in order to support audits. Let's set standards so that it is clear that no unfavored group has been disadvantaged by having less access to the polls, or long voting lines. And let's make sure that we can confirm that the votes were counted accurately.
If required by state law, voter identification shall be issued free of charge and citizenship may be verified either by the Social Security Administration or through other documentation. Denial of the ability to vote to a qualified voter is a federal offense punishable by a jail sentence not to exceed 5 years.
The voting rights of a citizen shall not be abridged based on criminal record. I doubt felons will be a big voting block, but this prevents an abusive government from excluding opponents based on targeted enforcement or dubious charges.
I've tried to chose topics that voters wouldn't identify as partisan, and which address poor representation rather than a general laundry list of grievances with the government. Some of these ideas may not be practical, and all require more precise legal wording.
But in a way, the details of the amendment don't matter too much. Even though most voters would consider the proposals as entirely reasonable, an amendment like this has little chance of getting the required 2/3rds approval of the House and the Senate because it challenges the comfortable status quo of incumbent politicians and powerful lobbyists. Indeed, in our hyper partisan government, it is hard to see 2/3rd agreement on anything.
The difficulty of passing an amendment isn't a bug, it is a feature of an issue which energizes broad based voter anger with politicians. It can be a litmus test - approve it or be voted out of office, because voters desperately need a productive outlet for their anxiety and anger. If Congress won't ratify the reform amendment, then the people can take the issue to their state legislatures, where 3/4ths of the states must approve for ratification. That would be valuable as well, since it would get voters active at the state level, rather than just turning out for Presidential elections.
Fixing our Republic should be a priority, because if elected officials don't represent the people, then there is little hope that their policies will.