Elections need makeover

September 22, 2011

Don’t be surprised if there is an epidemic of a new disease during the next few months. No, the disease will not be fatal, although it may create lethargy, frustration and, in many cases, anger. I am talking about “politicaloverkillitis” fever. You won’t find the term in any medical book, but I’ll bet millions will be suffering from it prior to November 2012, when we have the next general election. Many times the result of the disease is apathy and failure to go to the polls.

There was a time when there was a lull between elections. Voters had a chance to relax and begin to gauge the performance of those in office. Then early in the election year, the campaign drums would start. As far as the presidential election was concerned, there was relatively little excitement until after the party conventions. Normally, campaigns didn’t get hot and heavy until after Labor Day.

As we all know, the political landscape has changed and, in my opinion, not for the good.

Now the campaign starts on the Wednesday in November after the election. For the next four years candidates are out on the trail raising money and, hopefully enticing voters. I sometimes wonder how much time is taken by a senator or governor who is away from their duties campaigning. I suspect the figure would be staggering.

Unfortunately, many Americans take the right to vote for granted. Anyone who has studied any amount of history knows that’s not always been true. As we all know it was decades before African-Americans were allowed to vote in many states. There were several nefarious tricks used to keep them away from the polls. In some cases, there was a poll tax or impossible literacy tests. But, the most common method was fear. Sadly, it wasn’t until the 1960s that voting rights were guaranteed to African-Americans.

Women didn’t fare a lot better. It wasn’t until a constitutional amendment was passed in 1919 that women received suffrage. Not long back I read about a debate at a Bonner Springs ladies’ club concerning voter’s rights. One woman argued that no “real lady would want to vote.” She added it was the “Christian duty of men” to select state, local and national leaders. Certainly times have changed and women take an active role in leadership and government.

In colonial times, many states required voters be property owners, which was a custom from England. All of that changed more than a century ago as Americans moved to the frontier and had a much more tolerant opinion of voters’ rights. Labor unions also worked hard to end the property owner provision, too.

The Founding Fathers weren’t sure about the ability of the common man to vote. In the nation’s early days, voters selected representatives in all states, but state legislatures elected U.S. senators. In some ways, it was like the outdated Electoral College.

Personally, I believe it is time to change the Constitution and directly elect the president. That means the candidate with the most votes is the winner, no matter how many states a candidate carries. I wouldn’t mind seeing a national primary election to select presidential candidates rather than the mishmash of straw polls and other events in small states resulting in a big influence on the process of selecting presidential candidates. Certainly it is time for the party conventions to become a thing of the past.

We will be bombarded with negativity during the next 14 months. Maybe it’s time for all of us to begin to study the candidates and their positions individually and not depend on high-priced advertising or political commentators to make up our minds for us. It is our duty and responsibility to turn down the shouting and study the issues.

Originally published at: