Uncommon Sense

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.

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