Opinion: My View -- How We Can Reinvigorate Voting and Spur Democratic Participation
The following op-ed authored by Adam Schleifer was published in The River Journal on May 18, 2020.
A Republic, if you can keep it—Benjamin Franklin
When Alexis de Tocqueville toured our young nation in 1831, American democratic participation was nothing short of revolutionary to his European eyes. He noted, “the people reign over the American political world as God rules over the universe.” And while it should be noted that, due to discriminatory restrictions in the franchise we thankfully recognize today as unjust, a far lower percentage of the total population actually voted then than they do today, it is also fair to say that if the people still reign as a god today, we’re an inattentive, absentee god, at best.
By international standards, our roughly 50 percent voter participation rate is weak. Perhaps that weakness is a historical legacy of voter suppression; perhaps it’s a sign that our government offers too few solutions to the problems that vex us; perhaps it’s both. Indeed, in the fifty-seven years since Martin Luther King Jr. uttered these worlds, we might ask whether much at all has changed:
We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
I believe, however, that the best way for us to ensure a person has something “for which to vote” is, first, to ensure that more people are incentivized and able to cast a vote that counts. Below, I offer a few observations and proposals to increase the scope of our democracy, which, I hope will also increase its depth and vigor. And, if elected to Congress in New York’s 17th District, I will work tirelessly to see these provisions written into law, so that nothing, not even a pandemic, can frustrate our democracy. The below ideas are not the only necessary or good ideas for improving the vigor of the democratic process, but they are a few that appear most achievable and least affected by the spate of recent Supreme Court precedents that have harmed our democratic process.
First, to get more people voting, we should offer a $50 refundable tax credit to everyone who votes in a federal election. That tax credit would be progressive, because the $50 would represent a greater proportional boost to working and middle class voters than to the wealthiest, while also addressing the economic burden that taking the time to vote imposes on hourly workers and those forced to extend childcare to get to the polls. I will proudly co-sponsor legislation for such a credit, which would force my Republican colleagues publicly to choose between their stated love of reducing our tax burden and their unstated but apparent love of suppressing voter turnout.
To further boost voter participation and turnout, we must also make Election Day a federal holiday, and join the more than 80 percent of other OECD countries that hold elections on weekends or national holidays. Additionally, we should provide more funding to states like New York to make voting registration automatic, giving voters the opportunity to “opt out” if they wish to unregister rather than the more cumbersome “opt-in” process we currently have. Republicans and other critics will argue that such laws will lead to voter fraud, but extensive research debunks that claim.
We should also institute early voting in as many jurisdictions as possible. By spreading out elections over periods of a week or more rather than just a single day, we permit people the flexibility they need to participate more fully, while reducing the risk of overcrowding that is not only inconvenient, but even dangerous in these times of public-health crisis. Such a process would also give more time for those with questions or difficulties affecting their registration and ballot-validity to pursue legal redress with judges and other legal officials.
We should also take bold steps to enhance the integrity of our elections. One way is by setting up independent redistricting commissions in each state to minimize the impact of partisan politics on how we draw state and congressional boundaries. Currently, eight states have commissions with primary authority over the redistricting lines. The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision that federal judges cannot oversee state gerrymandering will lead to election bias unless we take the map out of the hands of partisan state legislatures.
Lastly, we must abolish the Electoral College, either through a constitutional amendment or through the National Popular Vote Plan, which I’ve previously published an academic paper on. Such a plan would allow states to agree with one another to cast their electoral votes for the winner of the national popular vote, so that the Electoral College would become functionally irrelevant. Such a change would do a lot to engage citizens in the vast majority of states (including California, Texas, and New York) that presidential candidates now safely ignore, while returning us to the basic principle that every person’s vote should count.
If we can begin to unclog the arteries of democracy in these and other ways, perhaps we can come nearer to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s other vision: a society that offers good people something “for which to vote.”
News 12 Interview: Adam Schleifer Rejects Trump's "Mail Tax"
In an interview with News 12, Adam Schleifer unveiled his plan to introduce legislation in the next Congress to embolden the USPS with the power to conduct basic financial services.
Adam, a Democratic Candidate for U.S. Congress in New York’s 17th District, urged President Trump to reverse his pledge that any COVID-related relief funding for the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) would be contingent on higher fees for residents and businesses in Rockland and Westchester Counties who send mail through the USPS. President Donald Trump declared Friday (4/24) that he would not approve any bailout for the USPS unless it significantly increases its prices. Schleifer argued that Trump was wrong to call USPS “a joke” on Friday.
The USPS has warned of its serious financial distress, but with the U.S. economy stalled during the COVID crisis, USPS reported a 30 percent decrease in volume. The service has requested $75 billion in cash, loans and grants to remain solvent.
As part of this declaration, Schleifer unveiled his plan to not only oppose Trump’s attempts to privatize USPS, but to strengthen a public Postal Service with basic banking powers. Schleifer noted that USPS used to take deposits from clients until 1966 and, in 1947, had nearly $3.4 billion in deposits. USPS became a popular deposit home for people who didn’t have confidence in banks in the early 20th century. Schleifer notes that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton advocated for the USPS to have banking powers when she won the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election. His plan would allow USPS to offer basic financial services, including cashing checks and giving USPS more flexibility in choosing what services it provides in order to grow as a stronger public entity, rather than wither and die under Trump’s call for a mail tax.
Read Adam Schleifer’s full plan to embolden the US Postal Service through basic financial service offering capabilities:
Opinion: US Should Decriminalize, Regulate and Tax Marijuana
Published as Expert Analysis on Law360.com.
By Adam Schleifer (April 27, 2020, 12:06 PM EDT)
Before COVID-19 turned our world upside down, legalization of marijuana was expected to be a centerpiece of New York’s 2020 budget legislation. Now, legalization — and the $300 million in estimated annual tax revenues that it will eventually bring — will have to wait.
This raises an important question: Why are we not talking more about federal legalization of marijuana, which could generate some $132 billion in tax revenue and 1 million new jobs?
If undertaken with appropriate health and safety oversight by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, federal legalization would help address our vaping health crisis, which evidence suggests may be caused by grey-market THC pens adulterated with harmful additives.
Federally legalized, regulated, quality-controlled marijuana would also deprive pernicious international drug cartels of a major revenue source and help support the integrity of our borders.
The perniciousness of those cartels’ illegal operations cannot be understated. On Feb. 7, 1985, for example, drug-cartel thugs abducted U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena in broad daylight just outside of the U.S. Consulate in Guadalajara, Mexico. As they also did with a pilot, Alfredo Zavala, who had helped Camarena investigate large Mexican marijuana plantations, these thugs dragged Camarena to a safe house, where they interrogated and tortured him to death.
These murderers were motivated by a pair of recent busts in which the DEA had helped seize many billions of dollars’ worth of marijuana from the cartel’s thriving Mexican military-industrial-cartel complex. Marijuana was big business in 1985; it remains so today.
I learned of those tragic crimes and their marijuana connection by investigating them as a federal prosecutor.
As I reconstructed the dark, cocaine-fueled life and times of the Guadalajara cartel and its corrupt allies and partners, I was surprised at the centrality of the American marijuana market to those dangerous cartels’ profits and power, cartels which remain a blight on and threat to civil society throughout the Americas.
More broadly, I was also struck by the flow of (1) Mexican panga boats that smuggle tons and tons of marijuana onto our shores; and (2) the slow burn of fraud, corruption and tax evasion endemic to the state-legal but federally illegal marijuana industry in its current form.
So, although states such as Colorado and California have served as helpful laboratories of democracy in our country’s experimentation with marijuana legalization, the results are in. We can do better; we must do more.
First, we must federally decriminalize the possession and licensed distribution of marijuana.
Although many may assume state decriminalization makes it legal to possess marijuana, the only thing standing between all marijuana businesses and end-users and federal criminal prosecution is a discretionary set of U.S. Department of Justice guidelines set forth in the Cole memorandum, and a current congressional budget rider denying funds to prosecution of state-legal marijuana activity — both of which are subject to change anytime. This uncertainty is anathema to the planning and certainty that rule of law and legitimate business activity both require.
And unlike physically addictive, dangerous and deadly drugs like methamphetamine, opioids and heroin, it is hard to see how continued devotion of federal criminal resources to the interdiction of marijuana accomplishes much beyond supporting a life-limiting one-way ratchet of criminal institutionalization of young people — particularly young people of color, upon whom the incidence of marijuana arrests and prosecutions has fallen unequally.
The criminal justice system has a salutary role in protecting society from the scourge of violence, property crimes and death posed by drug addiction and abuse, but it’s clear by now that marijuana use has little to do with that important mission.
Second, we should reschedule marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act. While the 2018 Farm Bill circumvented certain limitations when it comes to hemp agriculture — a very important first step — marijuana’s listing within Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act belies pharmacological reality, stymies further scientific study, and makes use and development of marijuana-related therapeutics unnecessarily difficult.
Marijuana should either be removed from the schedules entirely or reclassified within a schedule that reflects its low or lower potential for abuse and physical addiction. And while rescheduling could be accomplished without legislation through administrative rulemaking, Congress should act directly and pass federal rescheduling (or unscheduling) legislation for the dual purposes of greater permanency and increased legitimacy.
Third, we should reform the tax code and related federal statutes affecting the financial treatment of marijuana, its proceeds and the access to credit it needs to function legitimately.
The tax code establishes unfair limitations on the ability of marijuana-related businesses to deduct routine expenses, which encourages accounting and tax fraud and makes it difficult for legitimate marijuana businesses to operate profitably and make accurate financial disclosures to potential investors and shareholders.
These limitations and others, which essentially deprive marijuana businesses of access to the interstate banking and credit system, create dangerous Wild West conditions in the marijuana industry.
Finally, we must amend the relevant international treaties and our obligations under them. It is an inconvenient truth that major reform of our federal marijuana framework would put us out of compliance with various treaty obligations. Rather than ignore this and further undermine our country’s once-proud status as a multilateralist force for public international law, we must work to amend these treaties and our obligations thereunder.
It’s high time our federal laws recognize the scientific, financial and policy realities of marijuana.
Adam P. Schleifer is a candidate for Congress in New York’s 17th congressional district. He previously worked as an an assistant U.S. attorney and as special associate counsel for the New York State Department of Financial Services.
The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Portfolio Media Inc., or any of its affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.
 https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/2018/01/10/study-legal-marijuana-could-generate- more-than-132-billion-in-federal-tax-revenue-and-1-million-jobs/.
 https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/health/vaping-illness-tracker- evali.html?searchResultPosition=10.
 https://www.aclu.org/report/report-war-marijuana-black-and-white?redirect=criminal-law- reform/war-marijuana-black-and-white.
 https://www.fda.gov/news-events/congressional-testimony/hemp-production-and-2018-farm-bill- 07252019.
 https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2014/10/16/marijuana-legalization-poses-a-dilemma-for- international-drug-treaties/.
We continue to struggle harder and suffer more each day from a pandemic unprecedented in our lifetimes. Each day feels like a week, and this past week has felt like a month. While time dilates, the world seems to shrink, physically, socially, and economically. Nevertheless, there is cause for hope. We are realizing, although we may be physically apart, we’re also all a part of the same broad fabric. And we are discovering insights into pragmatic policy leadership that will help us both overcome COVID-19 and also repair our broken world in so many other ways. As this pandemic brings hardship, it also presents opportunities for growth.
New Yorkers have witnessed an object lesson in leadership by Gov.Andrew Cuomo this past week. Our state has taken thoughtful, swift action but remained agile enough to react as facts clarified or changed. This is the essence of good leadership in times of crisis, and the basis of good policy in all others.
Meanwhile, throughout Westchester and Rockland Counties, hardworking government and nonprofit heroes have worked tirelessly to protect and empower the most vulnerable in our communities. Their cohesive efforts, which we should all do our best to support however we are able, also set an example for us to live by going forward.