The current presidential election is possibly the most historic in the past half century. Not because a woman and an African American man are both in the position to become major party candidates, and possibly the next president. Nor do we make this claim because it is the first time since 1928 that neither the incumbent president nor the incumbent vice president sought their party’s nomination.
Instead, as turnout in the early contests of the primary season suggests, voters are, for once, resisting apathy and exceeding expectations as they head to the polls. They are, in essence, seizing the opportunity to express their frustration with their current political leadership and diving headlong into the democratic process. Despite the inundation of drivel spun as campaign news in television stations, newspapers and Web sites, voters are doing whatever they feel they can to be heard and involved in the political process. Despite the possibility of massive public participation there are still many signs that many voters are effectively disenfranchised when it comes to selecting each party’s candidates and allowing those candidates equal access to the public’s attention.
Sadly, this election, even though there are a number of exciting, inspiring candidates, will be tainted by the entrenched electoral system. Many still distrust the promises being shouted at them by leading presidential candidates and regret that they have fewer and fewer chances to cast meaningful votes.
This has stop.
First of all, we need an effective form of instant run-off voting, or IRV. This system would allow candidates to run toward their passions, instead of away from them. Under IRV, voters would pick (and possibly rank) their favorite candidate from all parties. Then, the top two vote-getters would compete in a run-off election. This system would eliminate the need for candidates to claim they are "more electable" and voters could vote with their hearts first, knowing that once the final two candidates are chosen they could vote strategically and decide among the two finalists whom they prefer.
Secondly, we need a workable, public funded campaign-finance system. Such a system would mean candidates are less accountable to private interests and more accountable to voters.
To those who believe that money equals free speech and such a system would unfairly prohibit that speech, we need only point to the state of Maine. There, candidates have a choice between running as publicly-financed candidates and accepting limits on the amount of money they can spend, or running as privately-financed candidates and spending as much as they want. To qualify for public financing, candidates have to first earn a set number of $5 donations to prove that they have the support among a broad section of the public. To accept the system’s success, one needs only notice that in Maine, about 95 percent of candidates chose the public financing route.
Some believe that public financing of candidates is an unfair subsidy of politicians by taxpayers. We counter that the current system is just as detrimental to the public. Corporate donations to political campaigns mean large companies are sacrificing money that could be used to pay wages to employees, dividends to stockholders, or for investments in future growth. Less money is spent on corporations’ actual business activities, and the spending is also passed on in the form of higher costs for goods and services. Likewise, the time spent by candidates away from public appearances mean that fewer people have an opportunity to learn about their candidates, and those candidates who already hold public office spend less time doing the governing that our tax dollars pay for and more time raising money from interests that could compromise their independence in office.
Finally, serious action must be taken to stop the corporate media’s ability to set the terms and parameters of the political discourse, we can’t help but be disgusted by our fellow members of the media from efforts to exclude candidates such as Dennis Kucinich or Ron Paul from televised debates. Exclusions of serious candidates from nationally televised debates carried on airwaves owned by the public only reinforce the perception that the current political process is corrupt.
Whoever is ultimately elected this fall should prove that they are truly interested in democracy by doing everything they can while in office to pursue these and other efforts that will level the electoral playing field. That would be a true change, and true leadership.