"...except for all of those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
Speaking to the British Parliament many generations ago, Prime Minister Winston Churchill actually was paraphrasing an earlier writer, Robert Briffault, who was seriously proposing that we question if democracy is indeed the only system consistent with justice.
This election cycle has caused some Americans to question if our system is really the best political system? Or at least, is there some way for us to improve our electoral process?
• Many voters felt stuck with inferior candidates, given a choice of the lesser of two evils.
• Many voters wanted a centrist candidate, not polar opposites.
• Again the electoral college system selects one candidate while the popular vote goes to the loser.
• Many voters in the primary were surprised to find they also voted for delegates, not candidates.
• And the year-and-a-half of campaign divisiveness produced a public anger that lasts into the next term, harming chances at public harmony and political compromise.
These problems were already anticipated by Mickey Edwards in his book “The Parties versus The People: How to Turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans” published in 2012. Edwards was an Oklahoma Congressman for sixteen years and used his firsthand experience in Washington to provide a inside look at how the Party system has come to distort our form of democracy.
This may be a good time to consider what might be changed with our current political system. Many voters wanted to send someone to Washington who would exercise independent political judgement, perhaps in the model of Jimmy Stewart’s character in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” Unfortunately, independent-thinking centrist candidates were not on our ballots.
Edwards points to our current two-Party system as limiting ballot choices, causing polarization, and preventing candidates from truly representing their local constituencies. He points out how the majority Party has the sole power to control which bills will be considered and who will be allowed to testify in hearings. And with voting levels in primaries low, a relatively small number of voters determined who the candidates were in the fall elections. He describes how “lose to a small band of committed party loyalists and your candidacy is over, no matter how skilled, qualified, smart, or honest you might be, or how popular you are with the majority of your state’s voters.”
Edwards goes beyond listing the deficiencies of our current system to proposing solutions. One proposal is to move to non-party-based primary elections. Every candidate who can secure the required number of petition signatures gets to run on a single primary ballot. Then the top two run against each other, even if from the same party. This system is already in place in Louisiana, Washington State and California. This would allow a “Mr. Smith” to go to Washington who is not held to the rigid Party system that he describes as “power-seeking private clubs” that choke off centrists and political options.
His second proposal is to take away Parties’ control over redistricting, a procedure that locks in place the numbers of representatives the controlling Party can hold at the state level.
A third revision is to reduce spending and increase competition. He notes it is difficult to limit contributions under our campaign finance laws. But if candidates are to represent their constituents, then the contributions should only come from their constituencies. Instead, huge amounts of money from outside entities pour into a local district to promote a candidate making the winning candidate indebted to an agent outside his or her district. That may remain unsolvable in an age of super-PACs and widespread corporations, but this money stream poisons the democratic system.
Edwards also recommends that states modify their laws for “equal time” for all candidates, a strategy that has now become even more critical after our successful Presidential candidate was able to garner tremendous press attention by being sensational and outrageous.
Edwards also proposes that we establish a nonpartisan Congressional leadership, and other changes.
Many Americans ask why we did not have a better selection of candidates at the local, state and national level. Edwards suggest continuing to work in a polarizing two-Party system will not solve the problems of a majority-centrist country.
Democracy is not the worst form of government. But Mickey Edwards suggests how our particular form of democracy could be improved.