As I write this, the election still is two days away; as you read it, the dust might already have settled, with the presidency entrusted to one of the candidates for the next four years.
Or not. The race is so close and contentious that every vote in every crucial county will be subject to extraordinary scrutiny and the declaration of a winner could take a while, as it did in 2000.
But let’s hope not. Whatever the race is like, a good election is transparent and decisive. May this one be.
And may it provide a little breathing space for us to consider our electoral process before the race for 2016 begins, which will be soon enough.
First: It’s probably time to do away with the Electoral College. The best book I know of on this subject is “Why the Electoral College is Bad for America,” by George C. Edwards III, a professor of political science at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. He argues that the Electoral College might not have been such a bad idea at the beginning, but the founders would have had a hard time imagining how unsuited its original purposes are for the modern United States.
Edwards’ arguments are cogent and convincing, and they’re couched in his justified reluctance to tinker with the U.S. Constitution. Still, he points out that when the Constitution has been amended in the past, often the direction is toward more enfranchisement — of blacks, of women — rather than less, and abolishing the Electoral College would enfranchise millions of Democratic voters in Texas and Republican voters in California.
Of course, the abolishment of the Electoral College has been proposed many times in the past without success. But maybe it’s time to do some bold thinking on this subject for the good of the republic.
Second: In Mexico, you cannot buy a drink on Election Day — no cervezas, no margaritas, no alcohol of any kind. Believe me, I’ve tried. The presidential election is always conducted on Sunday, a day when many Mexicans are off work. Furthermore, beginning on the previous Wednesday, campaigning and political advertising are forbidden by law, and polling organizations aren’t allowed to release the results of their polls until after the election.
I’m not necessarily holding Mexico up as a paragon of democracy and, of course, some of these measures would violate our allegiance to free speech. Still, why not, every four years, make our presidential Election Day a national holiday, set aside for the important business of voting? For many of us, voting has become an afterthought, an inconvenient civic duty that we neglect or just send in the mail. Why not honor it every four years with a national holiday in which we do little else? Let’s call it National Voting Day.
Third: Shakespeare’s plays, 500 years old, still are legible in contemporary manuscripts, and I suspect that if the ballots that elected George Washington to the presidency are archived somewhere, they’re still legible, as well. But where’s the ballot that I cast last week by dialing through a series of computer screens and pressing buttons?
Electronic balloting is faster and potentially more accurate, but its transparency and verifiability are questionable, leading some smaller countries, such as Sweden and Switzerland, to continue to use traceable, recountable, unhackable paper ballots.
The fact is, the integrity of the electronic ballot is beyond the capacity of the ordinary person or local election entity to verify. And your faith in our electronic electoral system might be shaken by Victoria Collier’s “How to Rig an Election,” which appears in the November edition of Harper’s Magazine. Collier argues with considerable credibility that the development of computerized voting technology and the outsourcing of elections to corporations have produced highly suspicious vote totals over the past few decades.
Nothing is more important to democracies than elections. Ours needs attention. Let’s get started. The race for 2016 begins at any moment.
John M. Crisp teaches in the English department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.