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Saturday, January 2, 2016

Rise of Trump Highlights Need for Electoral Reform

George Wenschhof

The opening lyrics of the song entitled “For What It’s Worth” written by Stephen Stills in 1966 were “There’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear” is apropos again today.

The absurdity of a charlatan like Republican businessman Donald Trump receiving credible consideration of being elected as president painfully illustrates the need to review the process used to determine who will hold the highest elected office in the United States.

Reviewing how campaigns are covered by the press, how candidates are nominated by political parties and a president elected is long over do.

The present day obsession of the mainstream media with Mr. Trump clearly shows how media coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign is driven by their need to sustain high viewer ratings in what has become a very competitive and lucrative news market in America

Billionaires with right and left wing political ideologies have made the media their latest business investment as they try to manipulate politics in America.

Taking a look at the campaign expenditures by Republicans candidates shows Trump who is by far and away the leader among Republican candidates in all polls, has “only” spent a couple of hundred thousand dollars. While the Jeb Bush campaign has spent $41 million with the Dr. Ben Carson, Senator Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Senator Marco Rubio (Fla.) campaigns all exceeding $20 million.

It is not difficult to connect the media saturation coverage of the Trump campaign to his lead in the polls.

The mainstream print media and television coverage is treating the election of the president of the United States as a TV Reality Show, enabling a Flim-Flam man like Donald Trump to be given serious consideration.

While, the press coverage of the 2016 presidential election is dubious, to say the least, the amount of money allowed to be spent by candidates and their surrogate political action committees is totally out of control.

The 2010 U.S. Supreme Court “Citizens United” ruling paved the way for the unlimited spending in what has become an unfathomable $2 Billion and two year race for president.

In the European Union (EU), many countries do not permit paid for television or radio advertisement by candidates.  The fear is wealthy groups could gain control of the airways during an election and fair play would be impossible.

In the United Kingdom and Ireland, paid advertisement is forbidden with advertising by candidates restricted to weeks prior to the election.  An idea many Americans would gladly embrace.

There are major issues pertaining to mainstream media that need to be addressed in U.S. elections.  One is equal time being given to all candidates by news coverage and another is limiting the impact of big money on the media in elections.

How candidates are nominated by their political parties and the process for a candidate to appear on the ballot are more questions that deserve scrutiny.

In what has become a two year process to become elected president, the nominating process by the Democratic and Republican political parties is confusing, to say the least.

“Why another viable and competitive political party has not emerged in the United States?” is another question voters across the country ask.  Ross Perot was the last presidential candidate who created a viable third party. At the Billionaire’s expense he took on the herculean task of overcoming the roadblocks to get on the ballot in all states by developing the Reform Party.  His entry in the 1992 election is widely attributed to Democrat Bill Clinton’s victory over George H. W. Bush.

Clinton would win only 43% of the popular vote but capture 370 of the 538 electoral votes, more than enough to be elected president.

In the General Election, there are 538 electoral votes divvied up among the 50 states with 270 needed by a candidate to claim victory.

“Why doesn’t the majority vote determine who is president?” is another question posed by many and the common answer again is that is the way it has always been.

In the primary election, Iowa and New Hampshire, two states whose voters are hardly representative of voters across the country start off the nominating process in February of the election year.  No solid reason, again it’s just become tradition.

With media coverage dominating the election, how well a candidate does in these two early states can either catapult the candidate to front runner status or end a candidate’s hopes.

In addition, not all states hold a traditional secret ballot voting system and instead hold a open caucus which can take up to a few hours of time by a voter to participate in a very open manner. Everyone sees how everyone else is voting with the chance to even change their vote after much discussion prior to the caucus vote being recorded.

Caucuses, as you might imagine, bring out the most engaged voter with only 5.4% of the registered voters in Iowa participating in the 2012 primary.  It is mind blowing such a miniscule number of voters can have such a major impact on the nominating process for president of the United States.

Brokered or open conventions are a thing of the past and today The Republican and Democratic parties both have a primary system that involves candidates winning delegates assigned to each state.  How a candidate wins those delegates differ with some states holding a caucus election and other holding a traditional ballot election.

Democrats and Republicans would first both use a winner take all process, where whoever won the primary would receive all of the delegates assigned to that state.

Later, Democrats would split the delegates proportional to the vote by each of their candidates and eventually evolve in what they believe is a more fair two step proportional system where so many delegates are split among candidates by total vote in the state and so many delegates are split among candidates by congressional district.

However, Democrats wary of the popular vote, maintain some of the party boss rule of the early brokered convention days, by including superdelegates in the mix.  These unpledged delegates are elected members of the House, Senate, state Governors, the Democratic National Committee and party leaders. They can sway a close election.

Republicans, traditionally slow to change, would embrace the proportional system and leave the winner take all system in the 2012 election.

Further convoluting the primary election is states use different systems to determine who can vote.  There are open primaries (anyone can vote regardless of the political affiliation), closed primaries (only persons who are registered in the party of the candidate can vote), semi-open primaries (anyone can vote but those registered in the major opposition party – that would be either a Republican or Democrat) and semi-closed (voters must be a member of the party of the candidate or a Undeclared voter).

After writing all of this, I have still not covered all of the particulars of how America elects their president. It leaves even this writer’s head spinning.

Some have even suggested a fairly simple solution to the primary process by going to a one day national primary election day.  Others have suggested shortening the primary election process to 4 dates within one month with each date having the same number of delegates up for grabs.

When it finally comes to the General Election, the average voter turnout has averaged around 37-40%.

A few changes are afoot with some western states going to an auto registration voter system. Some states have embracing a vote by mail system and early voting.

But a uniformed, fair and easy process has yet to evolve in America.

Shortening the presidential election time period, creating a more uniformed voting system, limiting the period advertisement can be used by candidates, giving all candidates equal media access, and getting big money out of politics is not only an admirable goal but a necessary one.

Voters should demand the next President commission a nonpartisan study to recommend much needed changes in how Americans elect their president.

Stay tuned. 

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