Sundin column: Reforming our national election process
As I See It
There are several defects in the current method by which we elect our president and vice president, which should be addressed before the next national election.
First is the Electoral College, which was incorporated into our Constitution because of the poor communications at that time. Citizens were to vote for Electors (who were better educated and presumably better informed) to select the best candidates to fill the offices of president and vice president. For the same reason, the Constitution provided that senators were to be elected by the state legislatures (until the 17th Amendment changed that to popular election in 1917).
The framers of the Constitution did not anticipate the formation of political parties. But after President George Washington had served two terms by acclamation, two parties with different visions of how the country should be run evolved — the Federalists under John Adams, and the Democratic-Republicans under Thomas Jefferson — won by Adams by a 71-68 electoral vote. (By a surreal consequence, they both died July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, authored by Jefferson and signed by both of them).
The Electoral College can not be abolished without going through the lengthy process of amending the Constitution, but its voting procedure can be changed to require each state to split its electoral votes for the candidates in the same proportion as its popular votes.
Second is the duration of the campaign process, which now starts soon after the preceding election — nearly two years before the next election and costing billions of dollars. The U.S. is about the only democracy that does not set time and funding limits on election campaigns. In 2010, 2012 and 2014 the two parties spent about $4 billion each year. That rose to $6 billion in 2016, and $8.5 billion in 2018, and is projected to reach $11 billion in 2020. The television networks and newspaper and magazine publishers are laughing all the way to the bank, and don’t think that they won’t fight any restrictions on campaign funding. Instead, think about all the crying needs there are for that kind of money!
In countries with a parliamentary government, a vote of no confidence leads to a dissolving of parliament and the national election of a new parliament, with a new prime minister, usually within a month or two. The Prime Minister and the Parliament are of the same party, avoiding what in our country has become a rancorous split between the president and one or both houses of Congress, leading to gridlock on many issues.
Third is the manner in which our political campaigns are funded. As a result of the 2010 Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Case, corporations have the same rights as people and have no limits on the amount of money they can give to the party of their choice to get what they want in return. My position is that corporations are not people because they have neither a heart nor a conscience.
We need to eliminate the dominance that corporations and wealthy donors have over the election process by turning campaign funding over to the American people. New York City has initiated what is referred to as a “small donor” election-funding program in which donors are limited to a ceiling of $175 on the amount any individual or corporation can donate. These small donations are matched with $6 in public funding for each $1 donated. It has greatly increased public participation both in the number and the amounts of individual donations. And candidates are able to spend their time engaging with voters to gain the support of working-class people instead of courting mega donors. Public financing is the only way of ensuring that elected representatives will represent the public instead of special moneyed interests. The cost of this program is about 0.01% of the city’s budget; less than a penny per day per person. Small donor campaign financing also has been adopted by Suffolk County, N.Y. and Washington, D.C.
New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature are evaluating adoption of a similar “small donor” funding program for New York state, which could lead the way for the rest of the nation to follow suit. Small donor election funding is the most powerful proven solution to counter the overwhelming influence of wealth created by the Citizens United decision, which removed all limits on special-interest donations.
“As I See It” appears on occasion in the Post Independent and at postindependent.com. Hal Sundin lives in Glenwood Springs and is a retired environmental and structural engineer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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