Class Warfare Blog

May 19, 2016

Our Broken Electoral System

As we are currently enmeshed in a process to select candidates for national elections, including for a new President, and people are often shocked to find how undemocratic the processes are.

Take, for example, that the rules for the various primaries and caucuses that are used to inform the party’s choices of candidates are made up by the parties themselves, and not by the national party, but by the state parties. This means that every state has a different set of rules, rules that candidates can run afoul of for no good reason other than not having piles of money to pay political operatives in each of the 50 states. Before you go off with a full head of steam, realize that political parties are not mentioned in the Constitution. The word “party” shows up five times in the Constitution and none of them is a reference to a political party. Political parties are private organizations and are not affiliated with the government, state or federal.

Our electoral system is often referred to as a “two party” system which is not correct. There are myriad parties, but only the two major parties have sponsored elected presidents. There have been significant “third party” runs for president, attracting significant fractions of the final votes, but while none of these has been successful as to electing a president Bernie Saunders, for example, is a successful third party candidate for both the House and Senate offices he has held (representing Vermont).

The biggest sore spot in our “let the parties decide their own candidates” processes is that neither of the two major parties has a plurality of voters in is ranks. A larger percentage of American voters identify as independent (39 percent of the electorate, according to Pew) than as Democrats (32 percent) or Republicans (23 percent). Consequently, we allow a quarter of the registered voters decide who the Republican nominee will be and a third of the registered voters decide who the Democratic nominee will be. That means 45% of the nation’s registered voters have no say. Which is crazy.

Some states have decided to have open primaries, which is to allow anyone to vote in any one of the categories of a primary election, regardless of stated political affiliation. While this allows some independent voters a voice, it also allows for some manipulation by party stalwarts crossing over to confuse the ballot of other parties when their candidate is a shoo in otherwise.

This madness must stop. For national elections, we need an independent branch of government to set the rules and run the primaries and caucuses for all national offices (President and Vice-president, Senators, and Congressmen). Why should minority parties get to choose who has any chance of winning?

And, if there is any doubt about the declining influence of political parties, realize that the parties used to control the bulk of the funds involved in campaigning. Now the candidates do (or their SuperPacs, etc.). The parties have taken various steps to exclude outsiders from swooping in and taking a nomination. Politicians are supposed to work their way up the party ranks to “earn” the next level of support for higher office. Now, we have Donald Trump, a Democrat Independent Republican for the purposes of this election (there are no qualifications for party membership other than the ability to sign your name) and Bernie Saunders, an Independent Democratic Socialist as two of the last three standing viable candidates.

That there are no qualifications for party membership other than the ability to sign your name and no dues, no meetings with required attendance, no required duties, and so on it makes the unpopularity of the major parties more stark. Basically all you have to do is check a box when you register to vote and you are in, but more and more people will not do even that. Apparently there is something … loathsome about being affiliated with either of those two parties.

I think we would be better off without political parties right now, an opinion I share with more than a few of the Framers of the Constitution.

February 24, 2016

Denmark? No, Costa Rica!

All the hoopla surrounding the current Presidential political contest may obscure the fact that our electoral system is run by the political parties themselves. These primaries aren’t a governmental function, they are run by Democratic Party officials, Republican Party officials, and officials of any other party which can show a modicum of performance in an election.

You may also have missed the fact that today’s political parties are mere shells of their past selves. Just look at the current leaders (Preibus and Schultz), both are lightweights. Really, the candidates are running the show now. If the “party” does something the candidates don’t like, it changes in the candidate’s favor. Even Donald Trump alone can change GOP election policy. He is currently turning their “pledge” to not run on a third party ticket or as a write-in candidate into a weapon he is using for more leverage against the party itself. The Democratic Party tried to grease the skids for Hillary Clinton by scheduling few debates at awkward times (advantage to the front runner), but when Bernie Saunders waged a credible campaign and drew blood, the campaigns got together and scheduled additional debates. Hello? Dems? No comment from the party.

Political parties have been defanged because they lost control of the political money. Until just recently, the parties could raise as much money and even more than the candidates did, so they had control over the purse strings. Now with the advent of PACs and Super PACs, the money is back in the control of the candidates (anybody who doesn’t think the candidates control, albeit loosely, the money in those “outside” organizations needs to get their political IQ tested) and the parties can go take a flying leap for all they care. All the party needs supply is an umbrella identification to run under, “I am a Democrat or I am a Republican,” and you don’t even have to be registered to vote as such, it is just a declaration.

So, I now bring you to Candidate Sanders reference that “We should look to countries like Denmark….” which drew so much flak. Denmark is worth emulating, but the country we should emulate is Costa Rica. When the Costa Ricans created their current governmental structure, they based it upon ours, which is flattering. And, they fixed one of the biggest flaws in our system by instituting a fourth branch of government. Their fourth branch, a nonpartisan branch, structures and administers elections. They schedule everything, including the debates and run them, then they organize and supervise the elections. So, you won’t hear anything about “hanging chads” from Costa Rica.

Imagine our elections being run by the League of Women Voters (disclaimer—former member). Imagine officials running for office in the fourth branch on their record of fairness and efficiency and how well they have held up democratic ideals. <sigh>

Instead we have asked all of the foxes to guard the hen house. How stupid can we be?

What the hell, I think we should emulate both Denmark and Costa Rica! Join or die!

March 29, 2014

RIP—Political Parties

This weekend marks the beginning of the end of the political parties as we knew them. In the past, any potential political candidate had to solicit the help of one of the political parties to have any chance of success. The usual path for a candidate was to run for local office and make him- or herself known to the local political party officials. Then additional offices were attempted forming a ladder to higher office with closer and closer involvement with the party and more and more support from the party. Party officials introduced “up and coming,” promising new candidates to the various power brokers in the party. They arranged for fundraisers and provided funds from general accounts. They provided expertise that would have otherwise cost a candidate a great deal to purchase.

All of that is now on the edge of being gone.

Good riddance you say? Also going with the party is any influence the parties had over candidates to form their platforms or, really, anything else.

Replacing all of that will be the private “political conventions” put on by billionaires. This weekend in Las Vegas, most of the major Republican players in the 2016 presidential sweepstakes are meeting with billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. In the 2012 election cycle Mr. Adelson spend a pittance, a mere $90 million on presidential candidates (less than 0.5% of his wealth I am told). That kind of money will take a candidate as far as they want to go in any election. So, gone is the influence of the parties to get candidates to “toe the party line” only to be replaced by whatever it is the billionaires want as a “return on their investment.” And I do not believe the American Plutocrats will be publishing their “platform,” that is the list of the things they want of their candidate gets elected.

Candidates for sale! Candidates for sale! Git yer candidate!

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