Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Political Debates Highlight A Flawed Election Process

America's Poor Way To Choose A Leader
As a major Presidential primary debate is in our focus the airwaves are chock-full of  stories about the individual candidates and their prospects. Speculation, spin, and unlimited efforts by the media to influence the decision as to who will become America's next leader are in full force. Sadly, the people who will most likely have the least say are voters like you and me. The political debates highlight a flawed election process. It is around this time every four years that America previews the possible contenders so they can be weighed and measured to see if they have the right stuff. It is also the time that I begin to rile against the flaws and injustice of our political system that is structured in a way that may have been acceptable when our country was formed but has morphed into an inefficient costly mess.

To say America has a flawed election process is an understatement. It often results in not putting the best-qualified choice in a position to move on and the decision is placed in the hands of voters in a few early primaries that cast their ballots months before polls open in a state like mine. It should be noted that when we move to the general election the process fails to improve. In the general election, any third party candidate hell-bent on making a point can easily derail either party by drawing even a few votes thus having a major influence on who is elected. America’s presidential primary system is far from perfect and its flaws are exacerbated by the influence of the flawed Electoral College that takes over after the general election. While both systems have their supporters, much of this support is based on partisan politics.

Reform of both processes would benefit the country to choose better leaders. Winner takes all primaries are quick and less divisive to their party but the notion that we should unite behind a flawed or lesser candidate because he or she is better known or financed makes no sense. Another major flaw with our current system is that  the announcement of any "third party candidate" can quickly skew the results, these candidates with a message become "a spoiler" that can deny the best choice any hope, this is magnified by the stupidity of our Electoral College. In our current system, the "outdated" electoral college  makes the final call on who is elected. This means certain key states and "swing states" are guaranteed to get all the attention and the rest of us will be treated as an afterthought or second-class citizens.

Over the recent years, we have witnessed countries torn apart by burning, killing, and tribal mayhem because the leaders in power stole the election, it should be pointed out that the winner-takes-all attitude is partly responsible for this problem. When the people's voice is ignored and both sides see the stakes too high to admit defeat the system will lose broad support. How ironic that all those constantly calling to crush inequality are busy scurrying about demanding that all votes treated as equal never place this into their line of vision. Across the world, Instant-runoff voting is used to select those that best represent the choice of the people from positions as the leader of a country all the way down to the position of a city mayor. It is worth the effort to devise and support a system that lets the best talent and most qualified work their way to the top.

The best way to determine if a system needs change is to look at its goal or purpose. It is logical to think that if a group of intelligent people unencumbered by bias or partisan politics entered a room to devise a better process they would emerge with a far better system than currently exists. Years ago I became enlightened to the fact that a person does not have to know everything, but it is more important to know where to get the right answers, thus again I defer to Wikipedia. On their site, they delve into the processes known as instant-runoff voting (IRV), alternative vote (AV), transferable vote, ranking choice voting, and preferential voting. These are variations of systems used to elect a winner from a field of more than two candidates in which voters rank the candidates in order of preference rather than voting for a single candidate.

Interestingly, other countries have devised ways to have quick elections and systems based on the runoff process where only the top two choices move forward. In such a system ballots are distributed based on each voter's first choice and if a candidate receives more than half the votes a winner is declared. If not the candidate with the fewest votes is dropped and ballots assigned to the eliminated candidates are recounted and added to the totals of those still in contention based on who is ranked next on each ballot. This continues until one candidate wins by obtaining a majority of the votes. IVR has the effect of avoiding split votes when multiple candidates earn support from like-minded voters.

The fact is even an incredibly fair and sound plan that substantially improved the process would not have a prayer of getting through our political system because the vested interest of those in power have little interest in such things and hold us hostage. Our two-party system and partisan politics tend to gravitate towards a system that eases getting the party's slated candidate elected or blocks an opponent, I reject that goal. We should elect officials that most represent the views and desires of a majority of the people and at the same time protects those on the political fringe. I consider these "winner take all" contests an unfair way to allocate delegates adding to the problem is the issue of timing, by the time my state primary takes place it no longer matters and the choice has been made for me.

Our current system promotes the gridlock that polarizes our nation. It is geared in a way that a small active group at either the far left or the far right of the political spectrum gains far too much influence and this often leaves us forced to chose between the worst of two evils. It is time to put each vote on equal footing. Today with instant communication and no area of the United States more than a few hours away by jet the least we can do to improve the election process is to eliminate the electoral college which skews attention during Presidential campaigns to key “swing states” and taints an already lengthy and expensive process. The cost of maintaining this antiquated dinosaur runs a billion dollars a year but no longer yields any real benefit and is in many ways harmful. With our current system, we will again find the election teetering  on a few hundred votes in states such as Ohio or Florida.

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