Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Socialized Elections

Forget about socialized health care. It's not going to happen. (At least, not with this president.) I'm moving on. I'm thinking about socialized elections. How about this?

The federal government doesn’t get anything done. They’re too busy politicking and making deals. They pay too much attention to the people who pay for their campaigns.

Change the way campaigns run. Candidates spend a lot of time trying to woo voters. They spend a lot of money on ads and events. Other organizations also spend money on voters. There should be a central place for voters to go to find unbiased information about the candidates. Candidates and other organizations should not be able to buy ad space. They should be limited in the amount of money they can USE (not RAISE) to spend on their campaigns. Voters should be provided with background information near the polls on election day.

Campaign funding reform. First, a candidate signs up to run for office. To be approved, the candidate must present a certain number of signatures of support and all legal qualifications. There is no limit to the number of candidates who may run. At the deadline for signing up, an amount of money is allotted, equal amounts to each candidate. This money is provided by the government and paid for by taxes (maybe $2 per person). It is much less than what campaigns currently spend.

Lessen the power of political parties. Parties may, at their own discretion, choose a single candidate to endorse. They must be responsible for running their own primary elections, but the result of the primary doesn’t prohibit any other candidates from running. It’s just an endorsement. Other organizations may choose to endorse candidates as well, of course.

Create an even playing-field for candidates. An unbiased* committee gathers information about each candidate, including a short biography, CV, platform, voting record, etc. They solicit short pro and con statements about each candidate. This information is assembled into a website and a pamphlet that are publicized in TV, radio, print, etc. The pamphlet is mailed to each household and available at every public library, town hall, and any business that volunteers to distribute it. Each candidate is given one half-hour of prime-time network TV to speak (alone) shortly before the election. Debates can be negotiated between candidates and networks. This is all paid for by the campaign fund.

*Unbiased is impossible, obviously. But get a diverse group of students and journalists with the passion of reporting the truth and the ability to work in groups, and that might be the closest you can get to unbiased.

Replace non-term-limited elections with confidence/no-confidence votes. In order to keep elected officials working, instead of campaigning, use a confidence/no-confidence vote prior to the end of the term. Only in the case of a no-confidence vote will an election occur, and in that case, the incumbent will be prevented from running. The incumbent will not be provided campaign funds for the confidence/no-confidence vote. Instead, the voter must rely on the record, which will be made publicly available by the same unbiased committee.

Campaign funding is limited so that no candidate has the funds to buy ads that will reach the entire voting population. Candidates must demonstrate their leadership abilities by organizing their cohorts to reach voters. They may travel as much as their budget allows, but it will more likely be by bus than by plane. Candidates or their cohorts will need to make public appearances (that may be covered by the media) in order to pander to voters. Candidates may purchase local advertising to publicize an event.

Other organizations may not purchase advertising space to endorse a candidate. They may purchase advertising to promote an issue. (For instance, you can’t buy an ad that says, “Vote for Candidate A because he supports Issue A,” but you can buy an ad that says, “Support Issue A.”

Use instant-runoff voting. Instead of forcing the two-party system by allowing spoilers, allow voters to rank their preferred candidates. If no candidate gets a majority (>50%) of 1st choice votes, the candidate with the least number of 1st choice votes is eliminated, and those votes are redistributed to other candidates according to preference.

Implement secure internet voting (as well as old-fashioned go-to-a-polling-place voting) to allow people who work or have busy days to vote. Determine a way to keep track of who has voted without permanently linking their personal information to their vote. Abolish the electoral college. Count actual votes.

What do you think? This is idealistic, of course, but would it work? Do you have any other ideas?

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