This article from April by Ezra Klein in Vox, “This presidential campaign is developing a legitimacy problem,” is worth reading even though it’s now July.
The videos with it were helpful, too. I especially liked the explanation about why we don’t have a single day for primaries – something I’ve always wondered about.
Seems to me that issue rests at the feet of this anachronistic idea called state’s rights. To the point about a lack of national standards made by a friend of mine, when political parties in 52 jurisdictions get to make up their own rules, why would we expect anything but chaos, corruption, and questionable outcomes? I think we need national standards like single-day primaries and the ‘retirement’ of caucuses – another anachronistic idea that serves to exclude more Americans than it includes.
Tax Status of Parties and the Cost of Elections
I found this article, “Tax-Exempt Political Parties Have Money and Resources to Keep Elections Rigged,” from IVN while researching the question of the tax status of political parties. It’s from 2014. Political parties are, according to IVN, non-profit 527s, not for-profit corporations. Perhaps there was a time when they were for-profit? I’m asking because I don’t know.
Another point made in this IVN piece that I hadn’t really considered before is just the straight-up “operational” costs to have polling places.
Candice Nelson, a professor with American University’s government department, balks when asked whether states should do anything to restrict funding, tax-exempt or not.
“[I]t costs money to put on elections — to have a voting booth and have a place to go and vote,” Nelson said. “I don’t think it’s unreasonable for states to pay for the funding of those elections.”
The quote got me thinking about the costs that go into making it possible for us to cast our vote, and that includes campaigning and primaries.
It does cost money, and I do see elections as a function of the public sector that benefits the public good. I think the process should be funded by taxpayers, even those who choose not to participate. That’s their choice. (I’ll get to open vs closed primaries next.)
What I am totally against is privatizing anything that has to do with our electoral process, and that includes how political parties are funded, how campaigns are funded, and how the electoral process itself is funded. Privatizing any (more!) of that would, it seems to me, only strengthen the grip of power those with all the money have already over us and our politicians.
As for open vs closed primaries, I admit to being more for closed primaries under the current process because I tend to think that a party’s members should be the people who choose who represents their party. This is where I’m admittedly not aligned 100% with IVN.
I don’t see primaries as the election. I see primaries as the means by which parties choose whom they wish to represent them. While IVN’s arguments do hold up that, for all intents-and-purposes under the present system, primaries serve in a big way as proxies for the actual election, they are not, in my mind, actually that. Here’s why.
Some people I know will tell you that they plan to cast their vote outside the two parties in November because they don’t like either candidate. If that’s the course they choose to follow because their candidate didn’t get enough support within a respective party, then they still have that as their prerogative.
I also think under the current system that closed primaries are the best way to keep people from rigging the outcomes even more perversely than is claimed that they are today. Democrats don’t want Republicans showing up to cast a ballot in the Democratic primary, and vice versa, just as Greens and Libertarians probably don’t want Democrats and Republicans despoiling their selection processes.
For a really interesting review of primaries in the U.S., see this Wikipedia page, Primary elections in the United States. Per this page, there are only 11 states that have closed primaries.
Now, as I see it, if we had single-day open primaries, then I think these problems are mostly solved. Bear in mind that nothing is perfect; however, under this scenario, everyone can vote, they all do so on the same day so crossing-over is reduced, and unaffiliated voters can participate but, as in any election, only a single vote gets cast. I’d also turn this whole electoral process, primary and general, into instant-runoff voting so that a second, third, and even fourth choice actually has a chance to win.
What I am absolutely all for is more parties. Figuring out how to fund parties seems like the thorniest problem to resolve. I don’t claim to have any answers. I sometimes think publicly funded elections are the best way to go, but then the question becomes how to distribute public funds to the parties? Is it relative and based on size of membership, or is it a flat amount? Then it feels like we’re right back to the question of party membership and open vs closed primaries.
Why have parties at all?
I think it’s human nature. We are not individuals. We are social animals who instinctively, emotionally, and for all kinds of practical reasons need each other to survive. As such, we’re going to coalesce into groups, and groups tend to take positions for or against all sorts of things based on what the group’s individuals collectively want, need, and believe. I think this “for or against” human tendency explains a lot about why there are only two major parties with lots of less popular and less populated parties who haven’t gotten traction. Most people don’t want to be in a group with little to no power and influence.
There’s no question that our political system is clearly broken and rigged to favor the present duopoly. I firmly believe that we need a different way of running our campaign, electoral, and political processes. As those who know me know, I’ve been advocating for years for ideas like the American Anti-Corruption Act and for the work that the people like Represent.Us and MayDay.us are doing on this issue. I support them along with the Independent Voter Network, and hope that everyone reading this will, too.