Regardless of the results of this election there are a few things that I am going to be working towards in the coming years in terms of reforming the campaign and electing process in our Democracy/Republic. Here are the primary focuses:
- Instant Runoff Voting
- Eliminate Fundraising
- Ban Political Ads
- Mandatory, Weekly Debates
- Limits for Time Spent Campaigning
- Reform the Electoral College
Instant Runoff Voting
We need to change our elections from the politics of the “least worst” as Ralph Nader is fond of saying, to the voting for and supporting of candidates that share our views and passions as Americans.
Perhaps the largest hurdle in these suggested reforms, the two-parties do not want this because it will end their dominance over the system. But average Americans, those of us who aren’t red or blue but have complicated stances on many issues, require more parties participating in the process. Some who live in countries where there are more parties will sometimes say that nothing gets done because no one has a majority — in the spirit of our founding fathers and especially Ben Franklin, I say suck it up — build consensus or compromise, such is life.
How does it work? Easy Take your top 5 candidate choices (or 3 or whatever) and rank them by preference. Don’t like John Kerry but fear another four years of Bush country? Simply rank your candidates — no need to vote out of fear, don’t against, vote for. That was the runoff part, now comes the instant, all the votes are tallied once (computer voting is more or less essential to this process) the top two vote getters (or however many) are culled out and the remaining are dropped off. Then the preferences for those top two are tallied and voila, we have a winner.
That is, candidates must only use government (see tax) dollars in their campaign efforts. The bad news is that we as citizens cannot choose who our money goes to. The good news is that much less money will be spent on campaigns (see ‘Ban Ads’ below) and there will be far less wasted efforts (see ‘Time Limits’ below).
This will eliminate all private fundraising efforts and reduce the current requirement that our candidates be wealthy. Additionally it reduces the am mount of power political donors have, because there are no more political donors. Note that this would also ban 527 and similar groups from raising money to fund campaign efforts.
The only inherent problem with this idea is that it will be hard to determine a “cutoff” for which candidates get public funds and which do not but I am sure that with runoff voting it will be easier for 3rd parties to raise awareness and vote totals to a threshold that could be set for public funding (which we currently have in place in some form).
Ban Political Ads
Imagine no attack ads, I wonder if you can… that’s right all political ads would be banned (attack or not). In their place would be 5 minute informational presentations outlining key elements of various candidates’ platforms (produced and presented by a non-partisan group, perhaps governmental) as well as televised public debates (see Weekly Debates below). The time for the debates (which I propose would be once weekly for 8 weeks preceding elections) and platform presentations would be donated by the major networks and they would carry them without interruption.
But what about freedom of speech?! You can still talk about the candidates to your heart’s content, the only restriction is that you can’t put it in an ad and play it on TV or Radio.
Mandatory, Weekly Debates
Without ads, the American people can learn about their potential leaders via debates. There needs to be more debates (1 per week for 8 weeks for Presidential candidates) and there needs to be tough moderators and open formats. If someone tries to give a canned answer, the moderator can call them on it and either force them to address the question thoughtfully or make them look foolish in the process. There needs to be more debates so that people can “get to know” the people running, not just the sound bites that are written for them. Finally the debates must be mandatory. If a candidate feels that they cannot get in front of the public and engage in healthy discourse then they are unfit for office and will be ineligible for the office.
If there are more than 2-5 candidates that meet the voter support thresholds (which there may be) then some mechanism for varying the participants of the debates should be determined, potentially with some sort of rotation — the system isn’t perfect but we can work on it.
Limits for Time Spent Campaigning
Campaigns are incredibly wasteful and in my opinion essentially rob the public of both financial and intellectual resources. Campaigns should be limited to be no more than 8 to 12 weeks in duration for all candidates, incumbents and challengers alike. This (in conjunction with eliminating fundraising (see above) will free our elected officials up to do the work we asked them to do, govern — no more 2 years of government and 2 years of campaigns. We have important issues that need to be addressed and we don’t need any more distraction or drains on resources than we already have.
Reform the Electoral College
Wait for it….that’s right, everyone’s favorite red-headed stepchild the Electoral College most likely needs to be altered or eliminated. I am not sure which route to take as it does serve a couple purposes that have some merit. If all of the above suggestions were implemented there would, perhaps be little need for electorates to cast our votes for us. As it stands now the Electoral College serves to drive people from the polls I believe and also allows entire regions of the country to be ignored during campaigns. Absolving it completely might result in the same behavior only in different areas. I do like the idea of an additional check on the system, however. Perhaps (though only marginally better than elimination) would be to promote that states to split their electoral votes based on the popular vote in their state. This keeps in place the check on the system (where Electorates could ignore the populace in some strange circumstance) but does little to nothing to address the fact that the most populace regions of the country would then get the most attention.
That’s it — maybe this will provide a jumping off point for in-depth looks at these issues in the future. And maybe after the elections I can start thinking about another type of reform, media reform. Ugh.