The campaign America really needs: Reform electoral system

Originally Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2012, 6:00 am
Last Updated: Nov. 11, 2012, 12:02 pm
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By Don Wooten

Election night closed with two excellent speeches: Mitt Romney's graceful concession and President Obama's spirited call for compromise and action in the next four years. Both addresses brought an overly-long and exceedingly ugly contest to a satisfying conclusion.

For the Republican contender, the outcome was anything but satisfying. Romney truly believed he was going to win. He had worked hard to bring reluctant conservatives and evangelicals to his cause and adroitly shifted gears in the final month to appeal to independents. He ran his campaign by the book, yet still came up short. It had to hurt, but he handled his disappointment well.

The surprise was that neither the weakened economy nor the flood of money at Romney's disposal were equal to the Obama camp's subtle, simple grasp of electoral fundamentals: identifying their supporters and getting them to vote. Pundits chided Obama for his campaign's enormous, early expenditures in setting up a national network of workers and volunteers, but the investment paid off handsomely.

The best thing about both campaigns is that they are over. But don't get too comfortable. Jockeying for 2016 is already underway. Neither party has a natural successor to Obama or Romney. Both factions will have wide open primaries. I fear we are fated to repeat this year's exhausting GOP primary in duplicate.

We ought to start dealing with our electoral problems now before we find ourselves in the same unhelpful, infuriating process three years hence.

Obama made a brief reference to electoral reform when he cited the long wait to vote in precincts across the nation and said, in passing, that we had to fix it. That will be a difficult task. Voting procedures are left up to political officials in individual states. As we have seen again, especially in Florida and Ohio, you cannot blindly trust them to do an honest job.

In fact, voting will never be free from corruption until we get it out of the hands of politicians. There has been a hue and cry this year over in-person voting fraud, a virtually nonexistent problem. In fact , voter ID laws are, themselves, attempts to corrupt the process.

As I have repeated to the point of tedium, you cannot object to any electoral outcome if everyone who wishes to vote can do so and ballots are fairly counted. Easy to put into words, but almost impossible to put into practice.
There are a few basic reforms we can make to "True the Vote," to turn this year's cynically abused slogan into an honest endeavor. I cannot imagine how it can be done, but we ought to try.

The overall goal should be to take the complete process out of politics, from redistricting to election management. Neither party will want to lose the advantage partisan control can give it, but the country's interests must take precedence over a politician's ability to game the process in order to stay in office.

Redistricting should be a simple matter. Divide a state's population by the number of house seats that number dictates. Then, start at one corner of the state and mark out compact areas with a roughly equal number of voters, trying to keep political units (counties, precincts) as intact as possible. Political affiliation must not be a factor in the process. Right now, voter registration is the dominant consideration; which is why Congressional districts wander all over the map.

This will eliminate "safe" districts for both parties, forcing real contests all across the country. That would insure that our democracy truly expresses the will of the people.

Then, devise a means of transferring management of elections from elected officials to nonpartisan committees. This will be tough to do, but it would solve the persistent problems in Florida, Ohio, and other states where polling stations are not allocated according to population needs; where voting days and hours, and capricious rules are designed to make it hard for some citizens to participate.

Finally, nothing but paper ballots should be used. It has been amply demonstrated that every electronic system now in use can be hacked. The great virtue in paper ballots is that they can be counted by hand, if necessary. Even if touch screens systems are not rigged -- something very difficult to prove -- computer glitches are a constant threat.

There will always be winners and losers in politics: that's the nature of the process. But, like financial dealings, we can accept any outcome as long as we are confident that the procedure is honest, open, and well-regulated.
Don Wooten of Rock Island is a former state senator and veteran broadcaster;


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