Thursday, June 2, 2016

The problem with gerrymandering and with the primary elections process

Two of the biggest political problems, in my opinion, are gerrymandering and the current primary election system.

Gerrymandering is where the party in power in a state draws the lines of voting districts.  They do this in a way that will most benefit their own party for elections over the next ten years.  As has been said by others, it changes the whole idea of democracy.  Rather than having the voters choose their politicians, the politicians choose their voters.  And we end up with an unrepresentative democracy.  In 2014 Republican House members in total received 51.2% of all the votes cast nationwide, yet they got 56.8% of the House seats on D.C.  That is not what the Founders had in mind.

Solution? Eliminate gerrymandering by having independent, non-partisan committees draw voting lines in each state, legislated by Federal law.  Or better yet, have a mathematical formula based on geography and population applied to each state so there is no human bias possible in the drawing of the voting districts. Probably a complicated math problem but should be solvable.

The second big problem is what we are seeing in these 2016 elections – the primary voting system being used by both parties to choose a nominee for president. 

The biggest distortion is that the voters who turn out in primary elections are more politically committed, and more ideologically extreme than the general voting public.  So, we get extremists nominated who do better in primaries than they would in a nationwide general election. 

Also, there is a set order, established by tradition, that puts some states at the beginning of the cycle and others at the end.  So, Iowa farmers have an outsized influence on who survives the primary gauntlet.  And South Carolina too, with it’s strange effect of having lots of African Americans voting in the Dem primary, and white not so unbiased whites voting in the Rep primary.  And then California ends up at the tail end despite being the largest state by far.

Primary elections were not handed down from the Founders of America.  They have only been around for about fifty years, and the flaws are becoming more and more apparent.  What to replace them with?  There was something to be said about the old smoke filled room party leaders that chose who would represent their party.  They were a vetting system.  They were natural suppressors of extremist nut jobs.  They were a force for stability.  Turning the selection over to the voters opens up the parties to change, and that is good, but it also opens the doors to extremists and populists, and in this year of Trump it opens up the Republican Party to a populist demagogue who threatens to be an authoritarian despot.  Not good.

My suggestion would be to keep the primary system, but moderate its effect in two ways. 

First, have the order of primary states be on a rotation basis based upon random distribution – with a mix of large population states and small population states having their primaries every two or three weeks in groups of about five or ten until the cycle is complete.

Second, have the total number of delegates selected by the primary voters be only half of the delegates who go to the conventions, where the real election to nominate each party’s candidate happens.  The other half would be professional elected politicians, men and women who have already succeeded in winning their positions at the voting booth.  These folks would be the governors, attorney generals, the state legislators, the city mayors, etc.  The math would have to be worked out and guidelines set as to their qualifications to attend the conventions, but that should be doable.

That way, a populist or ideological extremist would have substantial mitigating forces of professional politicians that would either support or not support him or her.  And at the same time, corrupt or intemperate or unethical candidates would have those who knew them behind the scenes there to stop them as well.  Also, a traditional candidate would have these same elected politicians who might be part of a movement or populist sentiment there to push back against them. 

So I think we need some balance in our electoral system.  End the corrupt, undemocratic gerrymandering.  And balance the popular vote which is now overly influenced by extremist ideologically committed voters and those vulnerable to populist frenzies with professional already elected politicians in each state.  Checks and balances.  We need them, I believe.  A Trump nomination is wake up call for both parties and for the nation.