5 Serious Problems With the Current Election

by Philip Kotler

The Republican Party started out with 16 candidates and are now down to two highly unattractive candidates. The Republican Party is doing its best to block them so that the party could put forth a reasonable candidate. How has it come to this? In this article, I will comment on five specific issues in this crazy election period that badly need reform.

The five issues are:

1. Our elections go on too long 2. Easier voter registration and easier voting is needed 3. Caucus voting should be replaced by primary voting 4. Superdelegates distort the popular vote 5. Winner-take-all systems distort the popular vote

1. Our elections go on too long

Jeb Bush declared his intention to run for President back in 2013 and others shortly followed. Given that the election would take place on November 8, 2016, these candidates would be running for over 3 ½ years (approximately 1300 days) for this office. It seems that such a long election period is designed not to learn about the candidates' beliefs and values but to see which have sufficient physical and mental stamina. Each candidate will dedicate most of his or her time, money and energy for 3 ½ years to speak to crowds and to raise money. Although this is a good way to test their physical and mental stamina, it is not fair to the candidates nor do the nation for the election period to run so long.

The candidates have to map out for each state which cities and towns they will speak in before that state runs its caucus or primary. With 50 states and assuming that a candidate will speak in an average of six cities in each state, this adds up to 300 speeches but many more given numerous radio and TV interviews. The news coverage will make clear in the first 10 of these 300 speeches where that candidate stands on most issues.

The nation suffers too. So much of the news cycle focuses on these Presidential candidates that most other worthy news gets uncovered. The public hears much less about events in foreign countries and much less about domestic crime, medical issues, educational issues, and other issues happening in their own country.

One of the contributing problems is the very long period between the first primary state election and the last ones. The Republican candidates are first tested in Iowa (Feb 1) and then New Hampshire (Feb 9). South Carolina (Feb20) and Nevada (Feb 23) follow. Then finally Super Tuesday shows up with ten states show up on March 1 (Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, and Virginia. This string of single states and sometimes multiple states continues until the last vote takes place on June 24 in the District of Columbia.

This means that the State elections run almost five months. Ideally all of the states should vote on the same day. Or at least we need more bunching, more Super Tuesdays. If we could have 5 Super Tuesdays over a 5 Super Tuesdays with 10 states voting in each Super Tuesday, the winner will be known in approximately 5 weeks instead of 5 months.

If Britain can run its election period in 30 days, why can't we collapse our election period into a shorter time frame. This will reduce the huge cost of our elections and the great distractions from whatever else is happening in the world.

2. Easier Voter Registration and Easier Voting is Needed

Congress passed the Voters Rights Act in 1964. Ever since its passage, the Republicans have taken steps to make it harder for people to vote, not easier. Many states now require voters to show a car registration or an official government document to be entitled to vote. Just showing that they receive mail at a particular address is not enough. Poor voters, in particular, have to find time to go to a government office to get this proof of citizenship. In addition, the same states are trying to reduce the number of polling places and even the hours of polling. The result is longer lines with more people giving up because they are taking time off work.

Even voter registration could be improved. When students reach 17 years of age, they would be notified to pre-register so that they could vote when they reach 18 years of age. Another proposal is that when young people apply for a driver license, they should automatically receive voter registration at the same time. All of this would definitely lead to more voters voting every two years.

Why is the Republican Party pursuing this strategy? They realize that they would normally attract fewer voters than the Democratic Party and they know that poorer voters would vote Democratic. On the pretense of large scale voter fraud (lacking all evidence), the Republicans argue for their measures. But surely they are infringing on the idea of "one citizen, one vote."

Now that we live in a digital world where information can be sent and received instantly, why do we still use a voting process requiring citizens to take time off from work and travel to a polling center, to wait in long lines to be registered and to be given a form to take into a private voting booth to click off their favorite candidates, return the form and then leave the polling center.

Let citizens vote whenever and wherever they want. They could ask for an early ballot and mail it in. Today 27 states and Washington, D.C. allow voters to Vote by Mail if they prefer. Every requesting voter is sent their ballot in the mail several weeks before the election to fill in and send back. Or the ballot may come to their email address and they send it in. Why, in a digital world, should voting be limited to a certain time and place?

3. Caucus Voting Should be Replaced by Primary Voting

Caucus voting involves party members showing up in a few cities in the State, talking with each other and then sorting themselves into voting groups favoring the different candidates. Party headquarters receives information on how many votes went to each candidate. The problem with this system is that it takes time to get to the caucus polling places and particularly that the party members who show up turn out to be the more extreme members of the party. They often don't represent the central attitudes of most party members. The result is that more extreme candidates are favored by the caucus system.

Primaries voting consist of setting up many more polling places and persons can come, go into a voting booth, vote and leave. This takes up much less time. Or they can mail in ballots ahead of time without having to go to a polling place. I would argue that primary voting give a more representative picture of the attitudes of most voters than caucus voting.

4. Superdelegates Distort the Popular Vote

In the American election system, the votes for candidates are turned into votes for delegates to the Electoral College. These delegates show up at the Party's National Convention to vote for the candidate they represent, at least on the first ballot. If no one secures the Party's nomination on the first ballot, some or all of the delegates are free to choose other candidates in order to finally put together enough votes for one candidate.

In the early 1980s, the Democrats introduced a system of "superdelegates," delegates who were free to vote for whoever they want on the first ballot. They could disregard the decisions of the voters of their State. This allowed the Democratic party to have some control over who gets the final nomination. These Democratic Party superdelegates include well-known party leaders, sitting Democratic governors and all Democratic members of the House and Senate. Additional superdelegates are chosen during the primary season.

The vote of one superdelegate at the Democratic National Convention could be equivalent to roughly 10,000 votes from ordinary Americans. There are today 712 superdelegates out of a total of the 4,763, or 15% help determine the Democratic nominee. "Superdelegates" are clearly a departure from the principle of "one citizen, one vote."

Hillary Clinton won a higher proportion of the popular vote than Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary race, but because Obama secured a lion's share of superdelegate support, he ended up winning the candidacy and subsequently the White House. The writer Zack Boehm observed: "It seems intellectually dishonest to call that true democracy, or even representative democracy." Superdelegates represent a step backward toward the determination of the nominee in the smoke-filled rooms of past elections.

Do the Republicans have superdelegates? Yes, technically. However, Republican superdelegates have less power and autonomy than Democratic Party superdelegates. Republican superdelegates are only 7 percent of the total number of Republican delegates. Superdelegates consist of three members of each state's national party. Republican superdelegates do not have the freedom to vote for whichever candidate they please. The Republican National Committee ruled in 2015 that their superdelegates must initially vote for the candidate that their state voted for.

5. Winner-take-all System Distort the Popular Will

We would like the winner of an election to be the person who received the most popular votes. In a few of our past Presidential elections, this did not happen. For example, Gore received the popular vote in the 2000 election but did not win the Presidency. The Supreme Court ended up causing George Bush to be elected as the President.

Part of the problem is that all but two states work on a winner-take-all system. In this system, the candidate who wins a plurality or majority of the votes wins all the votes. This candidate probably shares many of the same ideas and values as the largest voting block in his or her constituency. This system ensures that the will of the majority prevails.

But this system also can leave the will of the minority underrepresented. If the minority vote in all the states is added up, it might be quite considerable. And it is made up of certain ethnic or religious groups, their interests will be underrepresented in the legislature. Winner-take-all system represent a deviation from the principle of "one citizen, one vote."

In Conclusion

No political election system is perfect. I have chosen five features of the current system that deserve more discussion and possible reform. The five elements work but the question is whether they deliver the best candidates that we can hope for. Hopefully more research will be carried out on these issues and give us the answers.

For more on this topic, see Philip Kotler's current book: Confronting Capitalism, and Democracy in Decline, Rebuilding the Future (forthcoming - Sage, July 2016).

What do you think? Join the debate. And please tell us what you think in the comments section below.

Philip Kotler is the S.C. Johnson & Son Distinguished Professor of International Marketing at the Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management in Chicago. His most recent work is "Confronting Capitalism: Real Solutions for a Troubled Economic System."