The whole event regarding Colbert's half-humorous attempt to get on the primary ballot for either the Democrats or the Republicans (he tried getting on both) may have been over-the-top media melodrama, but it does expose the mechanics of how the primaries work, and how the system is rigged:
- Even before you can put your name up for the ballot, it's gonna cost you. Colbert couldn't afford to get on the Republican ballot because that costs $35,000. Colbert has got to be making at least hundreds of thousands of dollars on his media contract/book deal/t-shirt industry, and even THAT was too expensive for him (wasn't Doritos paying for his campaign?)! The Democratic ballot was cheaper: between $3000 to $4000. Do YOU know anyone in the middle-class that can afford even $3000 up front for something like that? This is why the only ones you ever see running for office are lawyers, corporate businessmen, doctors, and the idle rich: the ones who can pay to run. This is why you won't see teachers, nurses, small farmers, self-employed businessmen, low-income people who have more at stake any time soon on any ballot.
- The next stumbling block Colbert ran into was a party board that screens the candidates: basically they get to decide who gets on the ballot or not. They get to decide who's "serious" and who isn't. Basically they make sure only "their" candidates, the insiders, the big names, the elites, get on the ballot. If you're not in their circle of friends, well...
Both blocks that Colbert ran into highlights one of the great failures of the electoral process: the two major political parties have a stranglehold on who gets to run, without fair consideration to giving the people genuine choices. To be fair, this isn't a pure democracy, where people can vote for whoever they want: if this WERE a full democracy where people voted on who they liked, we'd be in Denzel Washington's third term. So it does help to establish a means of selecting and weeding out people, something the party primary system could do. But the system is now skewed, unbalanced, unfair. It's forcing people to make selections for candidates they don't want.
Just look at the Republicans. The Far Right wing of that party is getting caught between two choices they DON'T want: Guiliani, whose lack of morals and hard-to-ignore northeasterner librulism makes the religious righties sick to their stomachs, and Romney, who's Mormon. But the party elite has them as their top two candidates. (This is why Huckabeee and not Paul is the dark horse candidate to keep an eye on) Don't be so surprised there's a lot of loose talk about the Dobson crowd jumping ship and running their own third party candidate: their primary system is not responding to their wants.
Yes, the Primaries system is broken, in more ways than this, but right now the key concerns are that it caters only to the wealthy who can afford to run, and that it caters only to the inner circle of elites who seek to maintain status quos even at the expense of the voters' desires.
So how can we fix this?
I'm still partial to Emperor Norton's solution on August 12, 1869 of banning political parties altogether... ;-)
Past that, we need to look at public financing of campaigns, to cut back on the high cost of filing for ballot placement, of ensuring that people have more choices for their candidates. We need to see about opening up the election process so that viable third parties exist to break the two-party monopoly that's kept the electoral system so twisted and corrupt to favor their own needs (if there's anything the Republicans and Democrats agree on, it's keeping it Republican and Democrat).
Oh, and I'd ask around about write-in votes. It's possible to pencil in a name for someone not on the ballot. But it depends on the rules in your state. Which are probably very restrictive anyway. Like I said, the two parties want to keep the system this way...