Are you satisfied with recent election results? Do you admire the bulk of available candidates? Are you sick of the backbiting, nasty rhetoric, and inability of elected officials to get things done? Thought about running for office and shied away because it is too hard to do? Tired of the two major parties but think there is no other choice? You are far from alone.
Broadly, in the U.S., election laws are deliberately set up to favor the two party system. Despite warnings by the founding fathers, a bipartisan system has evolved. It is embedded in the psyche of the public and in the bones of election law. It is replete with ballot access favoritism. There are limitations and reporting requirements on both campaign finances and activities.
As the name implies, this system favors two major parties. It excludes minor party and independent candidates. Even candidates for non-partisan offices are judged based on perceived or real party affiliations.
A good electoral system should provide equal access to all candidates with reasonable restrictions. All voters should be able to participate in all steps of the process. The result should reflect all the voters. The system should be simple to understand and easy for candidates and voters.
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Access restrictions effectively limit the ballot to major parties. The state controls primaries and taxpayers fund them. Yet political parties are private institutions. The final ballot is simple but often much of the population, registered independent, does not decide who is on that ballot. On the other hand, due to recent court decisions, members of a party can influence the selection of an opposing party candidate. Think Trump.
Campaign finance restrictions and reporting don't make the system transparent. The individual voter seldom slogs through the reports to find out anything and then much is still not known. Candidates are subject to Byzantine, opaque rules. Compliance is difficult. Mistakes are subject to fines. The concentration on funding obscures the candidate's positions. The voter then concentrates on who supports a candidate rather than on positions. The rules make it difficult to be a candidate even at the lowest level.
We in Washington are fortunate, along with California, to enjoy the Top Two system. It does a better job of meeting ballot access and voter participation criteria. Voters are slowly learning that party affiliation is not a good measure for evaluating a candidate. I look forward to a time when parties are as important as the Rotary. In fact, the Rotary is a lot more beneficial.
The Washington system should be changed so that the presidential ballot conforms to Top Two. This is complicated by federal requirements. State voters actually select members of the Electoral College. I propose the following. Each voter should select two statewide members and one from the voter's House district. This would end the "winner take all" aspect presently in force. While a split vote could result in the College, the membership would be more representative of the entire state population.
The construction of the ballot can be changed so that the voter will know which college candidates support which presidential candidates. The timing of the primaries would need some adjustment to accommodate party conventions. There is some talk of moving primaries up to May anyway. Finally, Washington must withdraw from the National Popular Vote agreement and repeal RCW 29A.56.300. It is a terrible system and could effectively disenfranchise the voters in Washington.
Restrictions on and reporting of campaign contributions and expenditures do not really provide that much information. They skew access to those with larger resources and experience. Ending these rules would make the election more about principles and issues. More citizens would become candidates, especially those with limited means and experience.
Contribution reporting is a hindrance to participation by voters. Contributing to the wrong candidate or issue can subject one to severe economic and social consequences. Contributors are exposed to pressure from their family, friends, employers, and the public. Individuals have lost their jobs because they picked the wrong side in an issue. Candidates are pilloried because of who supports them rather than their own positions.
Is it good citizenship to blindly support a party or to vote your principles? Tired of voting for the lesser of two evils? Think about it.
Ed Pole is an engineer, retired from IBM and Intel, and resides in Lacey. He is a member of the 2017 Olympian Board of Contributors. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.