November 06, 2012 at 4:15 pm
I am writing this column the night before the election to emphasize my point that, no matter who wins on Tuesday, there is one clear result of the 2012 election – We need to reform our electoral system.
The American election system is convoluted, inconsistent, and, frankly, nearly indefensible. To offer a point of reference, if the United States was helping a newly democratic state transition from a dictatorship or through a civil war, and that nation chose to establish an election system like our own, it is likely we would suspend aid to them in objection to their undemocratic measures.
But the fragmented design was by choice. Because the states distrusted one another, the Framers who gathered in Philadelphia for the Constitutional Convention had little choice but to create a decentralized system, whereby each state controlled their own elections. This is why some states have term limits for state legislators, while others do not; why some states have appointed but others elected cabinet officials; why some governors serve for two-year terms while others have four-year terms; and why the date for primary elections varies across the country.
The decentralized design in our Constitution, however, does not mean that there is no room for improvement. Indeed, there are numerous reforms that states and localities could pursue such as better designed ballots, more reliable voting machines, civic education, ballot measures that are written in plain English, and requirements that election officials be non-partisan, to name a few.
Likewise, this election has highlighted the need for an extended early-voting period, more polling sites, and increased support for voting by absentee ballot. There is no better example than here in Florida where a Republican governor and legislature sought to reduce the number of days of early voting, despite the fact that it worked well in 2008. But, because far more Democrats participate in early voting, the days were cut by 40 percent without explanation. The result is that voters had to wait in line for hours, with many documented cases of 6-8 hour waits.
This election also unmasked another example of partisan interference. Several state governors (including Florida’s) made a thinly-veiled fuss over alleged incidents of voter fraud. Never mind that only a handful of cases have ever been documented, they claimed that voter fraud was a national crisis. In response, measures were instituted to limit voting and intimidate groups and individuals who register voters.
Even if voter fraud was a serious issue, elected officials should place at least as much emphasis on voter education, increasing turnout, and making the process accessible. Sadly, they did none of this.
Perhaps the two biggest “no-brainers” for reform are the need for real campaign finance reform in order to limit the corrupting influence of big money and attack ads, and ditching the Electoral College (EC) in favor of a popular vote. The EC is an antiquated compromise during a time without telecommunications or paved roads!
The EC misfired in 1824, 1888, and 2000, when the candidate who won the presidency actually lost the popular vote. By the same token, in 1800 the EC produced a tie that required 36 re-votes to break and the 1876 election was a contentious affair whereby the votes of three states (one of them being Florida) were in dispute and, after a deal was cut, likely changed the outcome of the election.
In the wake of the historic 2012 election, voters should remember the long lines, nasty attack ads, and confusion over voting. It shouldn’t take a terrible hurricane in the northeast or partisan effort in Florida to remind us that the health of American democracy rests, in part, in the integrity of our election system.
Robert Watson, Ph.D. is Professor of American Studies at Lynn University
Tags | Electoral College