Like the retail Christmas season, the election cycle seems to start earlier and earlier. Hope persists that maybe this time we can vote the right people in and all will be well and good. However, our electoral system seems to continually produce elected officials who are more naughty than nice. Is it possible that the very structure of our system is at fault.
Imagine an electoral process where representation was alphabetical and not ideological. For instance, people whose names were in the range of Gardner thru Gorecki voted for a congressman to “represent” them. Such a system would be silly, arbitrary, and a poor method for people to express their political will. However, it would in certain ways be superior to what we have now. At least it would be pretty hard to dole out pork barrel projects according to where folks were located in the phone book.
In our system, representation is not based on ideology either, but on geography. The winner-take-all format, all but guarantees a two-party system where vying candidates nudge as close as possible to the center divider of the electoral road. A candidate tends to try to be all things to all people – or at least a smidgen over 50 percent of them. It’s no coincidence that many politicians are suspect in the honesty department.
The latest Rasmussen phone survey shows that just six per cent of likely voters rate Congress’ performance as good or excellent with 66 percent rating Congress as poor. It sounds more like the “discontent” rather than the “consent of the governed.” Wait a minute, aren’t these the same people who elected Congress? Are the voters ignorant? Are our decision making skills when it comes to voting, flawed? No. Our system is fundamentally flawed. Choices that are presented at the ballot box are filtered by a process that have many people voting for what they consider the “lessor of two evils” or as I like to call it - “the evil of two lessors.” For our local readers, do you feel your political outlook is reflected by Representative Heath Shuler? Or, do you think your views were championed by his predecessor, Charles Taylor? The answer to those questions should knock it down to less than six per cent approval for the two combined
Third or alternate political parties do exist in this country, but they are more symbolic than practical. The ladder of success for a third party is convoluted. It can be compared to a physical ladder that has a bottom rung and a top rung, but all the rungs in between are missing. While it is difficult to gain and maintain ballot status (bottom rung) – it does happen. It is at least theoretically possible to win a three-way election (top rung) but extremely improbable.
An alternative to the winner-take-all or plurality system is the proportional representation system where political parties are awarded seats in a legislature based on percentage of votes. If we had such a system here, and XYZ Party received five percent of the vote in a national election they would be able to seat 22 members in the House of Representatives. While that is a small minority, it would still represent a significant voting bloc as well as represent the political views of the XYZers. XYZ would have access to those missing rungs in the political ladder with a real possibility to climb. Apathy turns into excitement when objectives can be approached
In our present system, if XYZ Party doubled, tripled, or even quadrupled their support in a given election – they still would never win. It is no surprise that third parties can not sustain momentum in this country. It’s like starting a business, where you are not allowed to keep any profits until an extremely high threshold is reached. Good luck trying to attract investors or keep employees.
If you share the realization that our electoral system is stuck on a endless loop producing the same results time and time again, there are still plenty of options for meaningful action. Local government is much more responsive than State and National. Involvement in charitable organizations affects positive change without slugging through the political morass. Help a family member, a friend, or a neighbor and consider doing your Christmas shopping early.
George Hasara is a regular contributing columnist for the Macon County News, as well as the owner and proprietor of the Rathskeller Coffee Haus & Pub, located at 58 Stewart Street in downtown Franklin.