I’ve spent considerable time studying ballot access laws and election results, I’ve even written a book on the topic. One thing that is obvious is that election rules are rigged to support the parties in power. This is so obvious, that according to a recent poll by Rasmussen, 68% of voters think election rules are rigged to favor incumbents and are unfair to voters.
Often times, someone or some group will tout a proposal to reform the election rules in some way. Among the recent proposals that have picked up some significant level of support are: Top Two elections, “Clean Elections” campaign financing, and independent redistricting commissions. However, these have all failed.
The myth of Top Two, which was first approved by voters in Washington in 2004, is that more moderate candidates will get elected, and that elections will be more competitive. However, the truth about Top Two is that voter choice is virtually eliminated at the general election, and some voters are given the choice of voting for two candidates from the same party. This alone should be seen as disenfranchising every voter who is not a member of that party. The claim that more moderate candidates get elected has been debunked, as well. Ballot Access News reports, “Political scientists who have studied primary systems invariably find that top-two election systems do not elect more centrist candidates.”
Clean Elections financing, which has been implemented to some degree in 7 states, is where “the campaigns of candidates who choose to participate in public financing programs are financed solely with public funds; these candidates are prohibited from raising funds from private sources.” Another 7 states provide for taxpayer funded matching of campaign funds. The rules for matching funds are often times written in such a way as to only fund the campaigns of Republican and Democrat candidates, while the Clean Elections financing is offered to all candidates and can be rejected. Both Clean Elections financing and matching funds are often rejected by Libertarian Party candidates who believe that financing of campaigns should not be controlled by governments.
Independent Redistricting Commissions are currently used in 13 states. Many of these so called independent commissions are nothing more than partisan commissions where elected officials are able to hand-pick the members of the commission; even the supposed non-partisan California Citizens Redistricting Commission, which is chosen by a combination of government auditors and members of the commission, “must include 5 Democrats, 5 Republicans, and 4 members from neither party.” To be approved, the “boundaries need votes from three Democratic commissioners, three Republican commissioners, and three commissioners from neither party.” This is probably the closest thing there is to an actual non-partisan redistricting committee, however the major parties still have considerable influence over the process. A better way to create new legislative districts would be to make use of computer algorithms. Computer redistricting could eliminate political influence, especially if the only data put into the system are the populations, jurisdiction boundaries, and the number of districts needed. However, convincing a legislature to give up some of it’s power may be difficult.
Two election reforms that are rarely given much attention are reform of ballot access laws, and modification of the method of elections. The New Hampshire legislature heard a proposal a few years ago to implement approval voting, however without simultaneously reforming the ballot access laws to allow more than two parties on the ballot, such a change is meaningless. It’s past time that we have a serious discussion about changing the method of electing those who supposedly represent us, and any serious discussion would include a complete overhaul of the current election system!