American political theater made its first curtain call this week with the Iowa Caucuses. While the candidates have been on the trail for well over a year, this week’s vote finally moves from latest polls and talk shows to at least some form of true voter reflection. In all my years, I can’t say I’ve ever really understood the process we go through narrowing down the candidates in order to select one or two to represent their political party in the race for the presidency.
A number of things bother me about the process, but with so much on the line in our country these days we simply have to get it right in this election. I think that thought has been weighing heavily on Iowa Republicans as they consider the candidates. But just voting the person they think most likely to defeat President Obama shouldn’t be their focus. The goal must be to elect the person best suited to unite the country and address the issues we face.
A hundred years ago when election coverage was limited and candidates needed time to travel the country, the state by state process may have made perfect sense in order for the voting population to know the candidates and have an opportunity to see and hear them. In 2012, there are few surprises as there is little we haven’t already learned about the candidates vying for the office. We’ve seen and heard about their blunders, missteps, tears, successes, failures, and scandals. We had the opportunity to watch 20-plus debates, seen and heard the arguments, pro and con. We’ll watch state by state until New Yorkers finally get a chance to register their wishes on April 24. Thirty-four states and voting territories will express their opinions before we get the opportunity to register our two cents.
What I don’t understand is why we don’t have a national primary for president instead of having the candidates run this gauntlet, state by state, with the winner frequently being the one with the deepest pockets. It would seem with all the advantages of this information age we now live in that an effort to adapt to the times would better serve the public and the process. Change as we know comes slowly, especially in Washington and our state capitals where every issue is viewed as a political advantage or disadvantage. Any change to the system or process could well be many more election cycles in the future as election officials seek to correct what they deem to be inequities in the process.
For example, in Virginia, only two Republican candidates, Romney and Paul, secured enough signatures to get on the ballot. While the others pursue legal challenges to get on the ballot, the Virginia Republican party is requiring what they call a loyalty oath. The state's Board of Elections approved the proposal last week. Going forward, voters who arrive at polling sites in March will be required to sign the following statement: “I, the undersigned, pledge that I intend to support the nominee of the Republican Party for president.” I guess if you don’t sign you won’t be permitted to vote.
In Michigan, two new proposals are currently before the Senate. One calls for state certification and training of third party agencies before registering voters. The other calls for requiring photo identification for in-person and absentee voting. Opponents claim the new requirements will add additional stress and undue hardship on voter rights and discriminate against minority groups.
Voting in a democracy should be a simple process with majority ruling the day. Minority issues need to be addressed, but as a nation we need to find solutions to our toughest problems much quicker without haggling over common sense issues and allowing the system to be manipulated by those currently in power. Clearly, in Virginia, the courts will open the door to other candidates and if the loyalty oath is allowed to stand, it’s only a silly attempt to try to keep non-party members from participating in the primary. But since it is not enforceable, and anybody who breaks the pledge will face no punishment, it’s really of little value. The Michigan Laws, despite heavy opposition, are similar to what other states have already enacted and common sense would suggest need to be improved to ensure voting accuracy. But both speak to the difficulties our democracy faces in attempting to improve or update the process. So, for now, we have 44 more weeks of, at times, an agonizing process as we go about electing a new chief executive or re-electing the current one.
Dan Alexander is publisher and CEO of Denton Publications. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.