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There's Got to Be a Better Way

By Alan Jilka
Opinion | October 26, 2011

SALINA, Kan. - I didn't watch the recent Republican candidates' presidential debate in Las Vegas. Call it my personal protest against the ad nauseam campaigning of our present day. A local radio announcer summed it up well the following morning when he asked, "And the election is when?"

Of course I'm not a Republican primary voter. But surely I'm not the only one who feels there's got to be a better way to elect our President and conduct our politics than the current perpetual campaign.

At present states are jockeying to move up their Presidential nominating processes. The way things are going we might even end up with a caucus or primary in December of 2011. Such an occurrence would put even Santa in a foul mood.

And by the way, where in the constitution does it say that Iowa and New Hampshire should have such a disproportionate influence on who the Presidential nominees will be? What about the other states? What about my state?

Bob Dole once famously said after an election, "Now we have about eighteen months to get something done." He made the statement knowing that at a certain point in time the pressures of the next election would intrude and preclude the possibility of constructive work on the nation's problems. Nowadays the campaign doesn't wait for eighteen months. It doesn't wait at all.

Almost immediately after the last election Senator Mitch McConnell proclaimed that his number one priority during the next two years would be to deny President Obama a second term. I wasn't expecting McConnell to support Obama, but couldn't he hold his fire for a year of so? Does the Senator really want to see the unemployment rate stay above nine percent until November of 2012 so he can accomplish his main goal? How have we gotten to this point?

Maybe it's the twenty-four hour cable stations and their need to fill airtime with programming. Or maybe it's the super-PAC's and special interest groups with all their money that dominate modern-day American politics. Any move to change our election system runs squarely into the First Amendment, though the Founding Fathers should be forgiven for not envisioning a world with television, radio and 527 organizations.

There are other ways of running elections. In Great Britain, a national campaign is limited by law to thirty days, and the winner moves into 10 Downing Street twenty-four hours after the election. In Brazil political parties are granted free air time on television on Sunday evenings to present their platforms.

I point these facts out not to hold them up as a model for America, but to suggest that maybe we ought to be engaging in a fundamental discussion on how to improve our system of government so that it works, and can actually deal with our current challenges. Was there a question put to the candidates about potential changes we could make to improve our electoral system?

Is it possible to push all primaries and caucuses back to June 1st? Would some form of campaign finance reform help? Is the electoral college still appropriate for this day in age? And while we're at it, what about Congress and all its gerrymandered districts? Should we require all fifty states to adopt independent redistricting processes like a few states have done? Would any of these measures help break the crippling partisanship in Washington, D.C.?

Our system of government has served us well for over two hundred years. But it needs some tweaking. America's success has always been about its ability to reinvent itself to deal with a changing world. Let's have a real discussion about how we can improve our system. Coming up with a better way to elect our leaders would surely lead to better results.


2 Comments

I agree with most of your comments about our election cycle being a mess.

However I disagree with the idea of abolishing the electoral college. Really without it a small state like Kansas would get little or no attention compared to the larger states.


Alan,

You bring up a lot of good points. There are a number of ideas out there that could help. I wrote about my ideas for campaign finance reform here. As you say, the Supreme Court would kick my ideas out in a second, but I think they would help.

I agree with Brad that abolishing the Electoral College is not a good idea. He's right that a state like Kansas would suffer. Groups like farmers and ranchers who have very specific issues, but small populations, would also suffer. I've been meaning to post a piece about using the national popular vote to determine a presidential election. I have a slightly different solution and I would be interested to hear what you all think.

This has been proposed somewhere I'm sure, but why don't we allocate electoral votes based on the popular vote in the state. Unlike using the popular vote, this would require candidates to campaign for every vote. Think about it. A lot of California's electoral votes would go Republican. While some votes in the Midwest and South would shift to Democrats. This way I would not feel like my vote didn't matter in Kansas where I am simply outnumbered. A Republican in heavily democratic areas would also be better represented. It's just a thought. Anyway, great post. You raise real and important questions here.


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