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Zirpoli: Three ideas to strengthen our democracy | COMMENTARY

America is an ongoing experiment in democracy. But we need to continue to improve the tenants of our democracy, to strengthen and protect it from those who would easily throw it away to hold on to power. Here are three suggestions:

Let’s start with the current belief, proposed and enforced by the Justice Department, that a sitting president cannot be indicted. If this is true, then the statement that, in America, “no one is above the law” is false. If we want that statement to be true, then we need to reject and disavow the Justice Department’s policy. No one in America should be above the law, not even a president.

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In America, any president who breaks the law should be charged — assuming enough evidence by an unbiased prosecutor — and that charge should be heard in a court of law. An indictment of a sitting president can be brought to a committee of career attorneys within the Justice Department to weed out political stunts and unsubstantiated charges. If the evidence is there, however, a court hearing should move forward and let the evidence be made public. If found guilty of a felony, the president should resign or be impeached. If found guilty of a misdemeanor, the president should pay the appropriate fine. This process would serve as a reminder to all of us that, in fact, no one is above the law. It would also go a long way in keeping our future presidents honest.

The second thing that needs changing is the presidential pardon power, which would involve a constitutional amendment. I think it would be well worth the effort. Many presidents of both parties have abused the pardon power. And while the former administration has taken the abuse to new levels of corruption, any abuse is harmful to our faith in a fair and impartial system of justice.

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There is a presidential pardon review process within the Justice Department that operates per request from the legal office of the White House. Several media sources have stated, however, that the previous administration bypassed this process. I would like to see a review process within the Justice Department run by professional career attorneys, not political appointees. Again, this would require a constitutional amendment. If a president wants to nominate someone for a presidential pardon, that pardon has to be reviewed by this Justice Department committee to ensure that the pardon is not for a president’s family member or a member of the president’s administration or business partners. The presidential pardon should be a tool to fix an act of injustice or unfairness that can be documented, reviewed, and agreed upon by impartial people.

As it currently stands, the presidential pardon provides Americans with further evidence that some people in America are above the law, that justice in America depends on who you know, and that there is one system for the well-connected and one for everyone else.

Third, the Electoral College is out of date and undemocratic. It is used to elect the president of the United States but frequently does not represent the will of a majority of American voters. It is also cumbersome and, as demonstrated by the most recent presidential election, open for abuse at multiple steps along the process at multiple levels (state and federal). A constitutional amendment to eliminate the Electoral College would mean that the candidate who receives the most votes would win. This would make the process simple, efficient, and less prone to manipulation. It is the system we use at most local and state levels throughout our nation and it is the system we should use at the national level.

Will this be fair to individual states with smaller populations? First, the presidency is a national office and should be won by a national majority of voters, just as state offices are won by the majority of people in each state.

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Secondly, states with smaller populations already have significant advantages within our federal government. For example, each state, regardless of population, has two votes in the United States Senate. California has almost 40 million people and Wyoming has under 600,000 people. Yet, they both have two Senators in Congress with equal voting power. In fact, 22 of our smallest states combined have fewer voters than California. Yet, combined, they are represented in Congress with 44 Senators compared to just two representing the people of California.

There are other ways to strengthen our democracy. Two more examples: We need political financing reform so our politicians don’t look just after the rich who finance their campaigns. Also, fair redistricting, so our politicians don’t take their constituents for granted.

Tom Zirpoli is the program coordinator of the Human Services Management graduate degree at McDaniel College. He writes from Westminster. His column appears Wednesdays. Email him at tzirpoli@mcdaniel.edu.

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