Monday, November 3, 2008

Ten Flaws in America's Election System

For a country that claims to be the world's greatest democracy, the election process of the United States of America has problems. Here are ten flaws that, if fixed, would improve our democracy.

1. Tuesday is an inconvenient day to vote.
This is a work day for most people and is not the most convenient day to try get to the polls. Why not hold elections on Saturday or Sunday or make election day a holiday. We'd probably get a better turnout.

2. All primary elections should be on the same day.
States compete to be the first to hold a primary. Some candidates drop out based on the primary results of only one of these early states. If all primaries were held on the same date, there would be a more level playing field for the candidates.

3. In the primaries, why not have the voters directly elect a particular party's candidate for President?
Under our current system the voters are not electing candidates, they are electing delegates to the political parties' national conventions who then vote for the candidate. And what about "superdelegates?" This is way too complicated. Eliminate the middle man and vote directly for your party's candidate.

4. What state you live in should be irrelevant to a Presidential election.
The President and Vice President's job is to work for all the people of the country regardless of which states they live in. States get to pick two senators and a number of congressmen. These elected officials' job is to represent a state's interests in Washington. The states create their own voting laws and decide independently when their primaries will be held. For a national office, there should be national standardization for the primaries and the general election. The voting process in national elections should be standardized. State governments should stay out of it.

5. If the candidate with the most votes does not win the election, it's not democracy, is it?
Abolish the Electoral College. The President should be directly elected by voters. A few times in our history the person who got to be president did not get the most votes. This is wrong.

6. Voting is difficult for people who happen to be out-of-state at election time.
Because voter registration is done state by state, people who are out of state at the time of elections have trouble voting because the rules differ from state to state,and sometimes change. For example, an out-of-state student going to school in Arizona can't use his or her out-of-state ID to register to vote in AZ. They have to go to extra trouble to get aballot from their home state. This is fine for state issues and for electing a state's senators and congresspeople but, for a presidential election, it's unfair.

7. The media pick the president.
Early on, the media start focusing on who they consider to be front-runners. The other candidates don't stand a chance with all the attention focused on just a few people. The media also destroy candidates. Everyone makes mistakes but one misplaced word can knock a good person out of the running if the media decide to focus on their goof. Meanwhile, other candidates' mistakes might go unnoticed. I think this is a problem we might just have to live with.

8. Whoever has the most money wins.
This is not always the case but it is too often. The candidates who raise the most money get the most access to potential voters via the media and other means. One could say that the one who raises the most money is obviously the most popular and, therefore, should be elected. I wonder where the money comes from, though. Does it come from a broad spectrum of voters or mostly from corporations and the wealthy? If the latter is the case, raising the most money does not necessarily mean that a candidate best represents the people. This problem is difficult to solve. Every attempt to reform campaign finance laws creates new loopholes and opportunities to game the system.

9. The United States has a "winner-take-all" system of voting.
This makes it possible to elect someone to office without a majority of the vote. The winner only has to have more votes than anyone else, not a majority. It creates a situation where voting for the candidate you really like best could have the same effect as voting for the candidate you don't want. People end up voting against the person they don't want instead of for the person they want. Instant run-off voting would solve this problem. Vote for who you want and pick a second and third choice, too. If your first choice candidate doesn't make it, your second choice gets counted. If that one doesn't make it either, your third choice gets counted. The final result would be a candidate that actually has a majority of the votes, and the candidates of all parties would get a more realistic idea of their standing among the voters.

10. The two-party system sucks.

We have Democrats and Republicans and that's about it. No other real choice exists. If there was proportional representation in Congress, we would have elected officials who better represent the different constituencies. Proportional representation means that the percentage of different political parties represented in Congress would reflect the public's percentage of interest in those parties. A political party with 9 percent of the vote would result in 9 percent of Congress being members of that party.

I am sure there are other issues that, if resolved, would result in a better democracy. Voting is important. The system is worth fixing. I believe the United States would be a better and stronger country if it can remedy these flaws, and if all eligible voters actually voted.

- Royce Carlson
Reprint (and re-write) of a Zenzibar article I posted in January, 2008.

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