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Should we fix our voting system?

April 18, 2016

With the uncharacteristically important New York primary results due out in about 36 hours, and yet another sweep of a state’s delegates via a process that many see as rigged, what can be done to make the system work more fairly?

Although Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have been the catalysts for all the discussion about our polyglot network of voting styles, this isn’t a new issue.

State party officials from both sides have been tinkering with the mechanisms of primary voting for as long as they have been seeking ways to make the process produce the results the party hierarchy desires. In short, forever.

Changing from open to closed primaries, from primary to caucus and caucus to delegate conventions is always meant to produce a result closer to what the party is seeking.

Sometimes that has been in answer to dirty tricks from the other side, such as gerrymandering or crossover voting to select a candidate from  the other side that a party views as less electable than another.

Sometimes it’s simply because the party thinks the public is making a truly bad choice for the country (or the party), which is what is happening this time around.

Whatever the motive, the loser is the integrity of the process.

It is only before the nominating convention that each individual truly has a voice. After that, the process is already designed to start applying filters.

The obvious answer to the charges of “rigging” of the primary process is an amendment to the constitution or a modification to an existing amendment.

Currently the 12th, 15th 19th , 23rd, 24th and 26th amendments to the U.S. Constitution deal with various phases of voting. Contrary to popular opinion, none of them guarantee a result based only on the popular vote.

Some of them deal with some sort of voting fairness, while the others are more concerned with process. The 15th gave the vote to all races, the 19th gave the vote to persons regardless of gender, and the 26th amendment lowered the voting age to 18.

It seems fairly likely that the goal of the Constitution throughout history has been to give each citizen a chance to vote without applying imposed barriers, such as race, gender or religious affiliation.

At no point does it define the parameters of the process itself in terms of assuring a one-man, one-vote popular process.

The 2016 election has put a white hot spotlight on not just the final contest, but how the finalists for that contest are chosen.

Most people defending the process of electing what we now call delegates (as opposed to electing leaders by popular vote)  hang their hat on the 12th and 23rd Amendment, since those amendments specifically deal with what the constitution calls “electors” and we call delegates at the primary level today.

It would seem the height of common sense to add rulemaking language to one of those two amendments specifying that each state must have a process giving each person an equal chance to vote.

Unlike an actual amendment, this would not require a three-fourths vote of the states to ratify.

However, since our highly politicized Supreme Court might interpret the rulemaking differently from what was intended, it might be of more value to go to an actual amendment.

The Constitution specifically grants to the states the right to hold elections, and that should remain as intended.

Any amendment or rule specifically requiring that any voting format, i.e. caucuses, conventions, primaries, etc. must allow each resident of the state to register their vote for their choice of candidate in the preliminary process via an actual individual ballot would seem to inject more fairness into the system.

That would leave the state’s rights intact while maintaining the right of each citizen to vote as they please.

There seems to be a general consensus that the two dominant political parties have far too much influence in selecting candidates to be on the general election ballot.

Indeed in some states, you have to register with either the Democrats or the Republicans to even be able to vote. Independents or supporters of the so-called splinter parties have to either lie about their affiliation, or just stay home.

Wow. What kind of democracy is that?  It’s certainly not a representative one.

That’s the whole explanation for why both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump chose to run under the banner of one of the two major parties, although neither could be called a poster child for party values.

No one is under the illusion that Cruz was the only  GOP candidate running in Wyoming and Colorado.

Colorado is at best a purple state and Wyoming is in the red column. Yet both of them overwhelmingly “voted” for Ted Cruz, now seen as the most far right of any of the three remaining Republican candidates.

Actually Colorado voted for a slate of 14 delegates, 12 of whom declared for Cruz.

That leaves the Trump and Kasich backers feeling robbed.

There is no proof that the eventual outcome would have been different in either state, had the process been via a traditional primary, which uses only the raw vote total to determine ranking.

Wyoming’s nearest western neighbor, Idaho, also selected Cruz via the primary system. However, under the  proportional GOP primary system in Idaho, Cruz received 20 delegates and Donald Trump, 12.

Far more importantly, it is likely that Idaho GOP voters do not perceive that their voices weren’t heard.

There are various ways that the state could assure the two major party controllers of our elections that their ballot box integrity would be protected.

One way (although not the cheapest for the state) is to hold  primaries closed to all but registered Democrats and Republicans, but ADD a third voting option for all the others.

In other words, you would have a  polling area for the two major players, and another for everyone else.

Another way would be to have a national primary. Candidates wouldn’t like that, because there is no way they could be in all the states at once to campaign close to the voting date.

Just from those two examples, it’s easy to see that re-vamping a national voting process would be complicated.

It’s still an argument worth having for our future.

From → op-ed

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