10 October 2008

A Modest Proposal On Improving Presidential Elections in the United States

We are closing in on another Presidential Election. I think most people are worn out by the seemingly endless two year slog that presidential electioneering has become in our modern system. While many may feel that this is a natural result of ubiquitous media, a 24 hour news cycle, and a polarized electorate, I think there are a few minor reforms that can be made to transform our election system into something that better serves the voters and leads to better quality candidates pursuing the dream of becoming our nation's chief executive.

The first reform is a simple one, yet one that will benefit most voters and make it far easier for people to participate in the election. The first Tuesday in November is a lousy day to be voting in most of the country. Instead, a date closer to the vernal equinox makes more sense, but the equinox moves around, so the beginning of the month just after that celestial event would be the most auspicious and appropriate day to pick our national leader. April 1st would be the day we choose our President. Of all the days on the calendar, I can think of none other that would be better. In addition, make it a national holiday (but only in Presidential Election years). Also, have all polls open from 12:01AM till 11:59PM EDT. Having all the polls opening and closing at the same moment will preclude many of the shenanigans that have plagued the reporting of results in recent elections. I know some of you might be thinking that 'April Fool's Day' would be an inappropriate day to head to the polls, but given the traditions of the day, and the kind of folks who run for President, can you really argue against its appropriateness?

The second reform is a little more complicated. The secret ballot is an important part of the electoral process, but I think we should take it much further, and also have secret candidates. How can you vote for someone if you don't know who they are? Glad you asked, anyone seeking the presidency would have to file an affidavit swearing that they are eligible to be President and have that statement filed electronically in a GAO run database not before April 1 the year before the election and not after April 30th. Any direct campaigning for the Presidency before that date would be grounds for ineligibility, and possibly some other traditional form of punishment dating back to the times of our founding fathers such as tar and feathering (use a substance that does not have to be heated as much as tar for the feathers to stick, and that can be removed without tearing the skin, we aren't barbarians after all) or putting in stocks (with appropriate restroom breaks and stretching breaks every few hours, again we want humiliation, not barbarism). So, by making anyone caught campaigning for President more than a year before the election, ineligible (obviously an Amendment would be required), we would effectively and permanently end the incentive for perpetual campaigning. Even the incumbent President would be subject to this rule and would not be able to talk about their plans in office beyond their first term (until the prohibition against campaigning is lifted, more about that later). On May 1st of the year before the election, then the campaign can begin, but all campaigners must remain ANONYMOUS. How can one campaign anonymously? Easily, those seeking the office will be forced to campaign on ideas and policies alone, not on their voice, their personality, or their ability to sway a crowd. From May 1st to October 31st, campaigners would be putting proposals out into the world available on the Internet and every local library for all to see. Interviews could only be conducted via IM or chat rooms, there would be a verification process managed by the GAO to ensure that the answerer was legitimately the candidate (a candidate could choose to have someone else do the inputting, but they alone would be responsible for the content of their responses), but beyond that those asking the questions would not know to whom their questions were aimed. Starting on November 1st, the party primaries would begin, but people in the various parties would have to make their choices without knowing who they were choosing, just the policies and positions they advocate, and how they performed when questioned in the IM and chat room interviews. The primary schedule will be shrunk to just two months, and no primary shall be later than December 31st of the calendar year prior to the election year. Party conventions would be held in January, and only after each party has chosen the candidate's platform they feel would represent them best and have the most to offer the nation would the identity of the candidate be revealed to the public.

So these two modest reforms would shrink the election calendar to a year, and would keep the candidates' ideas in the forefront of the discussion rather than their personality for the majority of that time. The candidates would have all of February and March to do traditional campaigning, and really, 8-10 weeks is plenty of time for anyone to make their case to the electorate.

My reforms may seem radical, but I think they are quite modest, yet despite their modesty, they'd have a massive effect on the kind of election season we'd see in the wake of these modest reforms. The quality of the ideas are what would be fought over, substance would trump style, and campaigning for the presidency would no longer be a perpetual occupation. Obviously there'd be some speculation as to which political figure was embodied by which policy positions during the anonymous months, but the chattering classes would have to have something to chatter about, and at least the focus of the chattering would be more or less on ideas. This system would leave the possibility of a complete outsider within a party, but with brilliant and attractive ideas, be the standard bearer when it comes around to the April 1st election. To me that's an exciting and worthwhile notion. Call me crazy, but I think this could work, and be an improvement, how could it be worse?

1 comment:

Pastor_Jeff said...

Campaigning on issues and not personalities?

We might end up with a President who's fat, old and/or ugly, and we know Americans won't stand for that!