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Opinion

8 ways we can improve presidential elections

A woman votes in the primary election in

A woman votes in the primary election in Nesconset, Sept. 13, 2016. Credit: Ed Betz

If there is one thing Republican and Democratic voters can agree on after this exhausting campaign, it’s that our electoral system is broken. Our presidential election cycle is too long, moneyed interests control politicians, and nothing gets done in Washington.

So, here are eight ways we can clean things up!

1. Eliminate political parties. Before they came to dominate the process, George Washington could see that political parties were a disaster: “However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.” To which I add (and I think George would approve): Let everyone run as an independent, not beholden to political parties that often try to sabotage each other.

2. Shorten campaigns. Cut them from nearly two years to two months. If Australia, Britain and Canada can elect leaders in four to six weeks, we can, too.

3. Have one national primary. The current system is terrible and unfair. Why is New Hampshire’s primary first? Why does New York go near the end, when my vote may be meaningless? I suggest Sept. 1 as the National Primary Day, with an Oct. 1 runoff vote to narrow the field to two candidates. Hold Election Weekend on the first Saturday and Sunday in November.

4. Ban public donations. Contributions — especially large ones from corporations and unions — can lead to corruption. Government-financed elections are the way to go. Give each candidate $5 to $10 million to run his or her campaign.

5. Ban TV political ads. England has done so because the ads tend to muddy political discourse. Today, the candidate with the most money can dominate the airwaves with no worries of rebuttals.

6. Limit presidential candidates to those who have served as vice president, in Congress or as a governor. Too many candidates are unqualified. You wouldn’t hire your letter carrier — as nice as he may be — to perform heart surgery. While it’s democratic to let anyone run for office, the presidency is serious.

7. Drop the Electoral College. Keep it simple and meaningful: One person, one vote.

8. Term limits. If we can limit a president to two terms, we can similarly curtail terms in the Senate (two) and House (four).

Last fall, I was in Toronto and watched Canada’s campaign for prime minister. Three well-qualified men debated for 90 minutes on TV. They were respectful and didn’t resort to name-calling. I hated to see it end! Shortly thereafter, Canada voted. We can emulate the Canadians, and the Australians and the British!

Saul Schachter is a retired social studies teacher.

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