American Elections Have Become Undemocratic and Must Be Dramatically Overhauled Term Paper

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American Elections Have Become Undemocratic

The American electoral process has been criticized on several points. This paper addresses some, though not all, of the ways in which the American political process has been criticized. Starting with campaign finance and whether expensive advertising exerts an influence on the outcome of elections out of proportion to its importance, I discuss the difficulty faced by potential candidates in getting their names on ballots when they are not the candidate being promoted by either the Democrats or Republicans. I then address whether the idea of plurality in national elections is a rational one and conclude with a discussion of the Electoral College and whether its presence and influence in the outcome of the presidential race runs contrary to the expressed democratic spirit of the United States.

First, there is the issue of campaign finance. Essentially, the uncomfortable question is this: is the American system set up to reward victory to the candidates with the best ideas, or to the candidates with the most connections and most luxuriously funded political campaigns? If the answer to this is anything other than "victory goes to those with the best ideas" then there is a serious problem.

The role that campaign advertising plays in affecting the outcome of elections is not a trivial issue. When Democrat and Republican candidates "duke it out" in front of the country with boxing gloves made from expensive television and radio ads and over-the-top road shows, how can "Joe Candidate" get his message heard with his shoe-string budget? Maybe he has the solution to all of our problems, maybe not; but the level of advertising "noise" generated by candidates for the two largest American political parties drowns out everything else.

The money squandered on advertising and public relations in election years is incredible, and the sources of the money itself have come under fire. The issue is whether a conflict of interest occurs when a company makes a large financial contribution to the campaign of a particular political candidate when the outcome of the race will have a serious impact on the company's future. The root of the problem is this: if it is true that expensive advertising and public relations campaigns (images rather than ideas) have an undue influence on the outcome of elections, then large campaign contributions from companies with vested interests in elections' outcomes necessarily have an undue influence on the outcome of those elections. Should corporations be free to influence the political process in this way, or does their freedom subvert the average citizen's monopoly on influencing the process with his or her vote?

Advocates of campaign reform want to forbid big companies this kind of freedom, while advocates of the status quo claim that Americans are too smart to be swayed by messages conveyed through advertising. The fact that the country is essentially one of consumers who are consistently influenced by advertising in virtually every product category imaginable should give us pause when considering the argument that, for some mysterious unexplained reason, the disbelief they are willing to suspend for the sake of Calvin Klein or the Atkins Diet remains unsuspended in the case of Bush or Gore.

Since even common people have good ideas, it seems strange that almost all of the candidates who get taken the most seriously emerge from one or the other of the two parties. Someone other than party big wigs should occasionally win a presidential election, a hitherto anonymous Mr. Deeds for instance, but Mr. Deeds would find some difficulties even getting his name on a presidential election ballot.

The Internet's power to disseminate information and promote communication and virtual networking could change the way elections happen in the United States. A Mr. Deeds could choose to run for president, set up a website to promote his message, and (if his message is persuasive enough) could become the most popular human being in the United States. He could do all of this for maybe a hundred dollars a month in domain hosting and related fees. But the Federal Election Commission will not allow a person to register as a candidate until he has spent $5,000 on campaign related expenses, or until someone has expended that much on his behalf (FEC, 2005). But it's worse than this, for there are rules and regulations for getting on the ballot for the presidential election in each state of the Union. In other words, just spending $5,000 will get your name recognized as a candidate, but Mr. Deeds will have to subject his application to the approval process in each state to enable citizens in those states to vote for him (FEC, 2005). In some states the procedures and regulations are more stringent than in others, but this is not a problem for the Democrats or Republicans; these parties have ample resources to get their candidates on ballots in all the states in one fell swoop.

That being the case, the aforementioned Mr. Deeds' being the most popular person in the country on election day won't help him at the voting booths, because his name won't be on the ballots. So the system works to favor the large, incumbent parties and penalize those whose ideas may be immensely popular but too different from the party line for either Democrats or Republicans to embrace the candidate as one of their own. In this sense, the system itself discriminates against citizens by denying them access to precisely those candidates who may have the best and freshest ideas.

In fairness to regulators and lawmakers, were there not fairly stringent procedures in getting one's name on the ballot, the ballots would be interminably long, and would consist not only of sincere candidates but of some candidates who were on the ballot just for laughs, some who were on it for ulterior motives, and some who were on it because "the voices" told them to register as a candidate. Since we do not want to be faced with a ballot like that come Election Day, the system obviates the problem.

Maybe so, but is this the most reasonable way to obviate the problem of potentially lunatic candidates? It is not hard to imagine simple ways that could solve the problem without punishing candidates who lack the "megabucks" and other resources abrogated to themselves by the Republican and Democratic parties.

Another issue is the question of plurality. Perhaps because they wanted to avoid a complicated and lengthy electoral process, the Founding Fathers determined that whoever won a plurality of votes would be president. Thus, if there are three candidates running for president and after the election the votes are split 33%, 33% and 34%, the candidate with the 34% return would technically win. Bill Clinton's victory over the elder Bush was with a mere 43% of the popular vote (Kinsley, 2002). This means 57% of the American people found the official "winner" unacceptable. Should any candidate of whom it can be said that 57% of voters consider him (or her) unfit for an office occupy that office? Does an American election choose the best candidate, or merely the lesser among several evils?

This segues into the issue of how important is the popular vote in electing the president and vice president? The answer that would seem to be the most "democratic" has to be "it is supremely important." However, the actual answer is, it can be important, but not as important as the votes cast by the Electoral College.

The Electoral College's function seems to run contrary to common sense for a democratic process. Either the popular vote puts the president in office, in which case the United States enjoys a measure of democracy in determining who gets to be the most powerful human being on Planet Earth, or the popular vote does not make that determination, in which case the United States only simulates a measure of democracy at that level.

According the U.S. National Archives & Records Administration, "...we do not elect the President and Vice President through a direct nation-wide vote" but through the electoral system. Although the popular vote is supposed to determine the way the electors vote, the NARA admits that "It is possible that an elector could ignore the results of the popular vote..." In the election pitting Al Gore against George W. Bush, Gore won the popular vote but Bush won the Electoral College vote and sits in the White House now. Is this democratic?

Further, under the Electoral College system, no resident of a U.S. territory can vote in a presidential election for the president or vice president, not even if they are U.S. citizens (NARA, 2005). To deny a U.S. citizen the right to vote in a presidential election does not seem very democratic.

There are hardly any outspoken advocates of the Electoral College, though critics abound (see, for instance, The Rest of Us, cited below). Mostly, advocates seem to be those in office who hesitate to change a system, even when sustaining…

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