Saturday, December 01, 2007

Reviewing Sabato, Part III: The Election System

As part of my looking at Larry Sabato's Amendment suggestions of his own, the next set of ideas relate mostly to the election process itself:

  • Write political parties into the constitutional framework by adding an article governing partisan Presidential elections.

I'm not entirely sure what Sabato is getting at here as I need to read in full what the Moderate Voice points to in his book. Something about having the states and regions having more of a say in the four-year election cycle for the Presidency. For what I know of the Constitution, it *was* designed without partisan politics in mind, a serious shortcoming by the Founders. This amendment depends entirely on how it can rein in the more vicious partisanship of the two-party system we have, and if it can ensure viable third party start-ups.

  • Enact a four-region primary system, with the order selected by lottery at the beginning of the election year. Primaries would occur in the four months preceding the August conventions (one region per month, with states choosing the specific day within their region’s month to hold their primary or caucus).

I am entirely opposed to the idea of a divided primary. Whichever region goes first is essentially going to choose the leading candidates for the Presidency, to the detriment of the remaining three regions. The only fair way is to have ALL states vote their primaries at the same time, something a lot of other Americans agree with.

  • Mend the Electoral College by increasing its membership, making the assignment of electoral votes automatic, and ending the ‘unit voting’ rule in the event of an election being thrown into the House.

I'm one of those who, if given a choice, would prefer to scrap the Electoral College system altogether. The 2000 election chaos essentially proves that it's not a good way to represent the majority view of the nation's voters. It also forces the campaigns to focus entirely on states that would secure an Electoral victory and not ALL the states the way a President should, at the expense of getting a majority of voters from across the board.
I understand why there was an Electoral College set up in the first place: the Founders did not trust the voting majority. They didn't even have full voting rights (slaves obviously couldn't vote, nor women, and it may surprise people today to find out that back then even those who didn't own property in any way were barred as well) for every citizen. From what I've read, the Founders at the Constitutional Convention really wanted the Electoral College to blunt any popular vote, force the states to be represented by easier-to-control Electors, and even fail to declare a clear winner to force the results into the House and have the Representatives choose the 'Winner'. Something we've had a few times (1824, 1876), and both times complete disasters.
The thing is, our nation has evolved since the beginning of our federal government to grant nearly everyone in the country to have a vote (the only limits now are set on felons, illegals, and those under 18 years), with the caveat that you have to actively register to vote - something most citizens don't do anymore (insert sobbing noises here). We have evolved to where we directly vote for our Senators: why can't we evolve the system further to have the President directly voted for too? As is it now, the Electoral System means we elect a President who represents certain states, and not the whole nation.
The only positive I can think of for keeping the Electoral system is that, by its counting method, it can grant an elected President the illusion of having a "Mandate" to lead. For example, in the 1980 election Reagan beat Carter by 10 percentage points, 50 percent of all voters to 41 percent (with the remaining 9 percent split among the Indy candidate John Anderson and other minor parties). But the Electoral College result was a whopping 489 to 49. Does that not impress you? By pointing to the Electoral count, Reagan could claim a Mandate to do whatever the hell he wanted to do. Many elections have it so that the winning candidate is only up on the loser(s) from 1 percent to 5 percent, something that would look like a razor-thin win that would lack authority.
However, that one positive note I provided is even now a very flimsy reason: Bush the Lesser, who barely had an Electoral lead (271 to 266) in 2000, still claimed a Mandate to lead. He got worse on his 2004 re-election (286 to 251, which was still rather close compared to other Electoral results), convincing himself to push a massively unpopular agenda in 2005 (Social Security privitization, anyone?) that seriously hurt his political standing. I'm of the opinion now that any President can claim a Mandate to lead regardless of the Electoral lead, but if he's a stupid idjit he's bound to screw it up royally. So... no more Electoral College. Thnxbye.

  • Reform campaign financing by allowing Congress to limit “spending by the wealthy from their family fortunes, and mandate partial public financing for general election House and Senate campaigns.

Okay, I do think this was poorly written, by focusing a little too much on candidates who are personally wealthy. Yes, I did complain earlier about how only the rich get to run as they're the only ones to afford it, but the way this idea is written out those rich guys are being unfairly singled out. Part of the problem also involves the well-connected, those who can get their wealthy buddies to foot the bill, something Sabato's idea seems to overlook.
The real solution is to cap all fund-raising for elections to only the specific year that the election takes place: no stockpiling, no warchests, none of that. The part of the amendment making public financing mandatory for elections is a good one, but make sure the amendment leaves no wiggle room or confusion of any kind.
The amendment also focuses on the Congressional elections: I don't see any caps on the Presidential elections. I would rewrite this one, Sabato, think it through a little better.

  • Eliminate the requirement that Presidents be natural-born citizens, replacing it with a twenty-year citizenship floor.

Ahh, this. The original intention behind the Presidential limit that you need to be natural-born came from the European experiences of having foreign-born princes take over other countries. England was at the time led by the Hanoverian kings of Georges Uno, Dos and Tres. Amazingly George the III was the most English of the set (disregard George the IV, I think most Brits did then and do now). You had European nations fight over Spanish Succession during the early 1700s. The fear back then was that a fledgling nation like the U.S. could be tempted into having an established "name" guy from overseas moving in to a nice home in Boston, and then immediately take over the reins of government without adequately understanding American values and political niceties.
Do we still need a limit today? The United States is an established power of its own: our own culture has established a kind hegemony on a lot of other nations. Our values are well-known, our political system well-recognized and stable. As a nation supposedly formed from a wellspring of immigrants, allowing immigrants a chance at representing us as Chief of State would appear sensible. Some could also argue that the arriving newly minted citizens are more passionate about being citizens and about fulfilling their duties to this nation than many natural-borns who take it all for granted and do nothing about it.
The thing is, this is a middling issue at best. Immigrants can still represent as Congresspersons and other elected officials. The President as Chief of State does indeed represent this nation to all other nations: to an extent, it has to be one of our own, someone who has been directly born into this culture, into this lifestyle, and imbided since childhood with the core beliefs of being an American. This isn't a key issue, and it's not really needed.

Well, that's all I can discuss at this time. Next up: a Constitutional Amendment requiring Peppermint Ice Cream be served at all times of the year and not just October to December.

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