Angry Youth! Blog

January 31, 2008

The Problems (And Plausible Solutions) with Elections

Filed under: Election — Tags: , , , , , , , — mikeyc252 @ 9:32 pm

The man-the big guy. He controls Congress, he controls the White House, he controls the Electoral College and he controls the school office. He’s everything. He controls the little guy like you and me. “There used to be a way to stick it to the man. It was called rock n’ roll. But guess what, the man ruined that too, with a little thing called MTV!” (School of Rock) Only some people can stick it to the man with rock. There’s an easier way for everyone else-presidential elections.

But how can a process run by the man stick it to him? Fortunately, our founding fathers built it to stick it to another man, the King of England George III. It’s changed for the better but room for improvement remains. To properly stick it to the man, parts of the election process must be fixed, and you have to get informed and active.

The man has tinkered with the process, and he’s made it difficult for you and me to stick it to him. The electoral college groups each state by color. The current primary system samples a tiny portion of the population and favors the general, well-publicized and funded, as opposed to the specific, capable and experienced. Campaign structure makes money and corporate lobbying more important than support in the early phases of the election. The public is lazy and uninformed, and the media is biased and over-analytical.

Throughout this piece I’ll mention several changes. Some of them contradict, some of them work together. I hope to educate you and get some ideas in your head.

Campaign Finance Laws

The first step to sticking it to the man is to reform campaign finance laws. Under the McCain-Feingold Act individuals can donate $2,300 to candidates per cycle. It’s technically illegal for corporations and businesses to donate anything. Groups called political action committees, referred to as PACs, can also donate $2,300 per cycle. That’s just the surface. Through multiple PACs, gifts, undocumented “soft money” and donations to the candidates gubernatorial (state) campaign, corporations can fund the bulk of a candidates’ campaign, in return for favors once they’re in office.

There is a reform called the Clean Spending, Clean Election program. This gives funds to candidates that qualify and establishes caps on spending. The funs are raised through an optional three dollar tax. Only individual donations should be allowed; PACs and gifts need to be illegal and all money spent must be documented. The Clean Spending program should remain optional but the funds increased and the tax mandatory. This will level the playing ground for qualified candidates, but allow candidates to raise large funds if they have strong support from citizens.

The Primary Election

Choosing a nominee, known as the primary electiom, also makes it hard to stick it to the man. Each state holds a Republican and Democratic primary or caucus which can be either open to anyone or available only to registered members of the party. The delegates from that area vote for the winner during the party’s convention, when the party chooses a presidential candidate. The first caucus is January 3rd in Iowa, the first primary in New Hampshire on January 8th. The primary election continue until June. Indiana holds ours in May*. Historically, the first month of the primary electiom has determined the nominee for each party.

The primary is a simple vote; people show up and cast a ballot. The caucus system is a mess. The requirements to vote are unclear. During the caucus, there is much more discussion. Caucuses differ by state, some involve hand votes and speeches, and some are voted by grouping bodies. The states also differ on how candidates get primary election votes. Some will assign all the delegates to vote for the overall winner, while some award them proportionately.

The problem with this schedule is the runner for each party is almost always determined in the first month, even though the primary election continues until June. In most elections candidates already have enough delegate votes before the Indiana primary. That’s why later states like Indiana rarely get candidates during the primary election. We don’t get many candidates during the general election either, but that’s because we’ve been labeled a “conservative” state.

After all the primaries and caucuses have been held, delegates from each state vote for the winner of their primary/caucus at the national convention of that party. That works fine, but the Democratic National Committee and Republican Natonal Committee assign “super” and “at large” delegates, respectively, for members of their party in office, members of the national party, or for meeting other criteria. These delegates aren’t tied to any vote. They make up about 1/3 of the total delegates on each side and vote for whomever they choose.

The first step to fixing the primary/caucus problem is to compress the schedule to one month. Make the primaries for all the states during one month, in a random order. This will force candidates to campaign in more than 2 dozen states and rely more on volunteer grassroots campaigning. Then make all primaries/caucuses open, encouraging participation and appealing to independents. Abolish the super-delegates. Lastly, the national parties must establish delegate and voting guidelines for all primaries and caucuses. These changes will make the runner for each party be the one with the most widespread support. (See the parties section for more federal guidelines)

The Electoral College

Another problem is the system of “winner-take-all.” A group of people vote, and whoever gets the majority collects all the votes of that region. This exists in both some of primaries/caucuses and the Electoral College. This allows the man to easily group all the states and make it easier to campaign. The Electoral College is the most common argument concerning the integrity of elections. There are several solutions, ranging from abolishing it to spliting votes.

Only Maine and Nebraska use a split vote system, which splits its Electoral votes among multiple candidates. This is a simple system, give each candidate a rough percentage of the electoral college votes depending on the percentage of votes. Some primaries like New Hampshire also use this technique. No doubt controversy would arise in the process of awarding fractions of votes in smaller states.

Another option is for electoral college delegates to be directly assigned to voting districts and be tied to the winner of that district. The number of electoral college delegates is the number of House members plus two for Senate members. Change the voting districts to follow the Congressional districts, then take out the two delegates on the Senate side. Another option regarding the two extra delegates would be for them to vote for the winner. The electors would vote independently at the college.

This is also the best solution for the primary election. Divide the voting districts into Congressional districts, or at least to match the number of congressional districts. Then whichever candidate wins the district gets one delegate at the national convention.

There are ways to get around the electoral college without a federal law. New Jersey recently passed a law that will assign their electoral college votes to the winner of the national popular election. What this means is that if every state passed this law, the winner would get every electoral vote. Even if half a dozen swing states passed this law, this would dramatically change elections.

A direct election is an obvious solution but would be difficult to pull off, considering our country’s recent knack for recounts. A direct election would encourage candidates to campaign in states and cities they normally wouldn’t, but they would ignore smaller states. This argument attracts the most attention and is bound to remain unsolved for several election cycles.

Reorganizing political parties

Though political parties may help the candidates reach out to voters and help organize them, they aren’t necessary, or at least how they’re organized now. Grouping the candidates hurts the process and them. The two-party system limits political ideas. The election is a great place to start.

There could be one “blanket” primary that covers all the candidates. This was ruled unconstitutional in 2000 but that was because the state’s parties weren’t allowed a primary by the state legislature. They parties can have their primaries, but they won’t get any delegates awarded from the national parties. Only blanket primaries would award delegates. (See the primary section on how delegates should be awarded)

There could also be a minimum number of delegates needed to appear on the national ballot. (There’s no point in calling them delegates since they wouldn’t vote at the single national convention, so we’ll call them districts) The candidates would choose running mates among themselves, even cross party, and announce whenever they wanted.

It would also be easy to simply skip the primaries and only require signatures for a place on the national ballot. Or, the primary election could consist of a single voting day, when voters would vote for one candidate regardless of party. Enough votes and you get a spot on the national ballot.

Neutrality

Yes, I mentioned a national ballot. This is one case where more government control is the right option. States have shown they’re nowhere near capable of holding fair elections, creating fair and working voting ballots, etc. Make one ballot, with every candidate that meets the benchmark number of districts, and their running mate.

Electronic voting machines are unreliable and easily hacked. Some are owned by Diebold Systems, the company that built the notorious malfunctioning machines used in Florida in 2000. Already this election rumors flew of hacked machines in the New Hamshire primary. All machines must have a paper trail.

Voting machines aren’t the only part of the election that’s marred by big businesses. Almost everything you see, read and hear is owned by 6 different corporations. Not just Fox News–local news stations, newspapers, magazines and even the debates can’t escape ownership. Why are the debates sponsored by news stations, especially ones like Fox? Why do we let them choose the criterion, and let them change it to fit the candidates they want? Either make the debate government sponsored or have a reputable independent organization like PBS host it.

To fit my earlier suggestion of absence of political parties in the process, debates should be held for certain topics. Hold the debates for the top 8 or 10 candidates of any party, and establish concrete requirements. The moderator should play a more active role, the immature candidates tend to interrupt frequently.

Would the Man cooperate?

You might be wondering how all these changes might happen. The federal government is the only organization that has to want these changes. Removing electoral college electors from California and Texas will make both political parties bow to their knees. From there, the parties can force states into submission by not counting their primary delegates. But the aforementioned changes aren’t very likely. Because the man is running for president, in charge of Congress, governing the states and heading the parties at the same time. Why establish a process that will bite him in the back? Luckily, there is a force more powerful that any party, congress or college mentioned above.

Activism

The fourth, final and most important step rests in the hands of the public. Even if none of the aforementioned changes happened, the public could easily stick it to the man. All we have to do is get active and informed.

The first step is to start early. Campaigning begins as early as the summer of the year before the election. It’s relatively lax until January, when the primary starts. It’s a frenzy throughout March. By the start of April 42 states have already assigned their delegates. You shouldn’t wait until the heavy campaigning starts. Pay attention to how the candidates campaign in the early stages-are they appealing to organizations or individuals? Listen to the specifics of their platform, as it will undoubtably twist through the next spring.

The next step involves the internet. If you only looks to TVs and newspapers for information about the candidates, you won’t get very good information. The mainstream media is concerned more with actual campaign coverage, less the candidates and what they stand for. Browse the Wikipedia pages of candidates. Look through the candidates homepage. Watch the debates-they reveal the actual character of the candidates. Read political blogs and frequent user-powered news sites. You’d be surprised how interesting politics is when you read the lesser-circulated stories about the candidates.

There are few things more depressing than people saying politics is boring or there’s not use because it’s so corrupt. (Although being misinformed ranks pretty high too) Doing nothing about it will do exactly that. Change, the buzzword for this election, won’t happen because someone got elected President. It doesn’t happen overnight, it requires a total attitude overall by the public. It might require you to actually donate money to a grassroots campaign, or wave a sign on the highway. It requires you to ardously research the candidates. But most of all, change requires citizens to get informed. Learning about the presidential election is a great way to start.

RECAP:
-Reform campaign finance laws to provide more funds to lesser-funded candidates.
-Only individuals allowed to donate.
-Reorganize primary election:
1. Abolish them completely, require signatures for spot on ballot.
2. Compress schedule so all states have a say.
3. Establish guidelines for primaries and caucuses.
4. Make all delegates bound the first vote.
-Change Electoral College system:
1. Abolish it, direct popular vote.
2. Proportional votes.
3. Instead 536, have several thousand voting districts.
4. Assign electoral college votes based on winner of national popular vote.
-Federalization:
1. Only regulated paper ballots.
2. One national blanket primary.
3. Get an ballot regardless of party.
-GET ACTIVE
-Or…VOTE RON PAUL 2008! I couldn’t resist. Sorry.

* A bill in the State Senate would move Indiana’s primary to March 4th in 2008.

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