Saturday, January 5, 2008

Presidential Elections

The antiquated and very questionable U. S. presidential election system moves on with the Iowa caucuses having concluded this past week and the first primary taking place in New Hampshire next Tuesday. It is hard to completely understand why the Congress and past and current administrations have not done more to initiate much needed reforms, and why the media and the American people in general have more or less largely accepted the status quo.

There are a great many weaknesses with our current system. We still have the archaic Electoral College, initially put into use in the early 1800's, to select our president and vice president. We were reminded of the College's inadequacy in 2000 when Al Gore lost the presidency to George W. Bush by a small number of electoral votes, though he received a greater number of popular votes. Fortunately, a seeming majority of our politicians, led by Senator Dianne Feinstein, now finally recognize that we should either eliminate the College or make substantive changes to how we use it. I think it's high time to eliminate it and simply have our election results based on popular vote.

The election cycle is far too long, running about eighteen months these days for the majority of serious candidates. Six to twelve months should more than suffice. With the cycle as long as it is now, there are a number of problems. Key among these are that candidates have much less time to carry out their other professional obligations, especially those many who are serving as state governor or U. S. senator. Additionally,voters can't focus on the candidates and important issues that long and the majority lose most of their interest in the campaigns; and the campaigns cost much more than they need to or should, with the relative consequences of that fact, including large and time-consuming fundraising needs and consequent undesirable influence of sizable campaign contributions by lobbyists and other special interests.

In 2004 there was reportedly spent a total of $1.5 billion on the election. John Kerry and George Bush spent about $235 million each. This is ridiculous! Although this level of spending might give a temporary small boost to the economy, it provides too much opportunity for undue influence by major campaign contributors and helps limit the interest of potential candidates in even considering running for office.

Campaign finance laws and regulations are unnecessarily complex and a lot of the campaign spending goes to high-priced attorneys to help politicians and their advisors understand what is legal and what is not. This is stupid!

Turnout of voters is disappointingly low, averaging about 55% since 1960, compared to roughly 80% or more in democracies in other developed nations. In 2004 the turnout was a little more respectable at 60%, but that was the highest since 1968 and as many as 77 million eligible citizens didn't show up to vote! Bush won in 2004 by just 3.6 million votes, less than 5% of those who didn't show up. We need to seriously figure out why so many don't vote and do something to change this! I strongly suspect a lot of it can be attributed to general apathy, distrust of most politicians, and a high level of unhappiness with Congress as evidenced by the very low approval ratings in recent opinion polls. It's also due to eligible voter concerns with the other issues raised above.

It is relatively certain needed reforms won't be initiated this year in the middle of the election cycle. However, the new presidential administration and the Congress should work together to come up with relevant and effective initiatives in 2009. There will be vigorous resistance to any substantive reforms, because political influence will be impacted, spending will be reduced affecting beneficiaries, and campaign jobs likely will be lost. However, the country will be better off. A relative no brainer!


Thomas said...

It really is amazing how much money is spent to get elected. That much money is not thrown around without expecting something back.

rjcsail said...

The Electoral College is mandated in Article II, Section 1, Paras. 2&3 plus the XII Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America.

Jeff Meyer said...

Interesting post. McCain has been the one fighting pork barrel politics but I don't think either candidate can do anything about our economic crisis. The world economy is in trouble and there will be a big shake up, with China and the EU probably emerging as the new world leaders. We're left with a service economy, at best. Anyone have any ideas about how we can regain our economic strength?