THE ELECTORAL SYSTEM IS BROKEN AND NEEDS TO BE FIXED
In the weeks leading up to the inauguration of the 44th President of the United States, there is a date we should all think about, March 4. For those of you who either don’t know much about history or are simply too young to remember, that was the day on which the President took office until, in 1936, it was moved to January 20.
The reasons this happened were quite simple. The country was in the throes of a depression. When Roosevelt took office for his first term, on March 4, 1933, people believed that, had he been able to assume command earlier, the changes needed to end the depression would be put into place immediately and happy days would, in fact, be here again. The outgoing President, Herbert Hoover, had been thought to be so incompetent that the country would have been thrilled if he had left office the day after the election. That wasn’t to be.
When our country was founded the first date for a Presidential inauguration was April 30, 1789. Four years later, it was moved to March 4. The reason for the long wait between the election and the inauguration was largely based on the lack of speedy transportation between the states. By the time horseback riders got around their states collecting the ballots to give to the electors of the Electoral College, those electors cast their ballots and the riders then brought the total to the capital, weeks or even months had passed. In FDR’s era, the 48 states voted and managed to get the Electoral College vote taken far more rapidly.
And so, the need for change in which the people of that era could believe needed to be accelerated. There was no time to do it during the transition from Hoover to FDR, but, certainly, it was accomplished over the course of the following 4 years, giving us our current inauguration date of January 20, but even that date is nearly three months after the ballots were cast.
There are changes needed in our system of transition from one administration to the next, and the first of those changes needs to be the moving of the Presidential inauguration closer to the date of the election. This would, among other things, lessen the impact that a lame duck President might have on the future.
But that is just the beginning.
The power of the outgoing President to issue a myriad of pardons just as he or she leaves office must be curtailed. While the current President has been remarkably stingy, thus far, there is no guarantee that on he won’t be pardoning every good Republican in sight on January 19. Think of the potential list. It would, of necessity, include Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Gonzalez, Wolfowitz and every other thief and scoundrel who was involved in taking our country into an illegal war, in not protecting our country from the attacks of al Qaida and in turning us into the antithesis of everything we believe by torturing our prisoners of war.
We also need to end the power of the President to issue signing statements on legislation passed by the Congress. If the President is uncomfortable with legislation, it can be vetoed. Signing statements that say that the President is approving a bill but only has to enforce the new law when and if he feels like it must be eliminated. Such statements are probably unconstitutional, and, even if they are not, they go against the spirit that is imbued in that Constitution which makes up the backbone of our American society.
There are tons more, but I will only touch on two, the Electoral College, itself and the system of Presidential primaries.
When our country was formed out of the amalgamation of 13 distinct colonies, it was believed that a large percentage of the population was simply not bright enough to be entrusted with choosing a leader. It was, further, believed that if popular vote, alone, were to decide the Presidency, then, the small states would always be under the thumbs of the larger states. The result was an Electoral College that was charged with actually electing the President. Each state was to be represented by electors equal to the total number of Senators and Representatives for that state in the Congress. That meant that even the smallest of states had at least three electors. Today, with 50 states, there are many more small states than large ones. That means that, in theory, and actually a couple of times in fact, a person could be elected President with a smaller number of popular votes than the loser. That’s not good, and it needs to be fixed. We need to elect the President by a strictly popular vote. It wouldn’t have changed the results this year, but it might have in 2000, particularly if all of the votes had honestly been counted.
Which takes me to the system used to nominate candidates in the first place.
By the time the political parties hold their quadrennial conventions, they already know who their candidates will be. The problem is that the primaries that get them to that point are run in such a haphazard manner that hey are, or at least they should be, meaningless. One state has a caucus. Another state has a primary. Yet another state had both. Some states award proportional delegate. Other states have winner take all primaries. And there are a gazillion different dates on which the primaries are held, giving little states like Iowa and New Hampshire disproportionate power simply by virtue of the fact that they hold their primaries early.
The parties need to have a single set of rules that for all primaries. This must include allowing only members of a party from voting in its primary. There cannot and should not ever be crossover voting in a primary. It give the opposing party the opportunity to force the nomination of a weaker candidate on the party holding the primary.
And the primaries need to be held on one day. That will give the voters a chance to choose their candidates based on their perception of the needs of their party, not on the decisions made by the folks of Iowa and New Hampshire.
The electoral system is broken and needs to be fixed, and these are just a few ideas that could help.
This is more than change we can believe in. This is change we need.
HENRY A HONIG – THE PUNDIT