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OpinionColumnistsMichael Dobie

Why is the presidential election so long?

A worker adjusts jars filled with corn kernels

A worker adjusts jars filled with corn kernels in the "Cast Your Kernel" election during the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 17, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Justin Sullivan

I apologize.

I did not want to write about the 2016 presidential election. Really, I didn't. I didn't want to provide any validation, however indirect, for a soul-sucking, mind-numbing, interminable process that amazes me more and more every four years for our willingness to undergo it.

Why?

The first major candidate declared more than 19 months before Election Day. Other countries call an election and the whole thing is wrapped up in a few months, if that long. I'm not saying I prefer their systems of government, because I don't, but if our election system is so darn good, why aren't our leaders better? If it's so stimulating, why don't more of us, you know, actually vote? And what's the point of a long trial-by-fire if saying stupid stuff and lying along the way not only doesn't cost you but it drives up your poll numbers?

Then there's the money. In 1996, Bill Clinton and Bob Dole landed about $35 million each in contributions. After Barack Obama refused matching funds in 2008 and after the Supreme Court blew up donation limits in 2010, Obama and Mitt Romney raised more than $1 billion apiece in 2012. It's only going to get worse. A shorter contest would mean less money wasted.

Forget the bromide about a presidential race being a marathon, not a sprint. It's neither. It's more of a tough-guy competition in which we spectators are the ones forced to crawl through mud and muck that leaves us gasping for air and shreds of common sense.

And what, exactly, are we learning in this long vetting process that we couldn't get in a well-organized six months? Are you really that much on the fence with Hillary Clinton? Or Donald Trump?

Why can't we ban anyone from declaring he or she is running until Jan. 1 of election year? Let them campaign for two months, hold debates in March and April, and then the primaries. I'd say we should have one national primary for each party, like we have one national election, like we have one state primary for governors and senators, but I know each state wants its own say and own chance to influence the process.

So let's compromise. Hold regional primaries. Four regions -- Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, West -- four primary days, every two weeks in May and June, and you're done.

No matter how long an ordeal we subject ourselves to, let's make it as meaningful as possible. You want debates? Let's have real honest-to-goodness debates, with ground rules:

You have to directly answer the question asked. If you start talking about something else, the moderator cuts off your mike, reminds you what the question was, then gives you another chance. And if you wander off again, your mike is cut again and that's it for you on that question.

You have to speak the truth. A bipartisan commission will fact-check what you say and deduct time in the next debate for every lie and every "mischaracterization" about what you did or said previously. And if you reach some agreed-upon cap for misspeaking, your debating privileges are revoked.

You have to have actual policies for actual problems, and submit them pre-debate for posting on a website where all can be compared, like a spreadsheet that sizes up competing insurance policies.

Yes, I'm a little cranky. I can't help it. This is madness. Yet there I was a few weeks ago, on vacation, on a wooded campsite on a beautiful summer night, the orange flames of others' crackling campfires licking the darkness around me -- hunched over an iPad scouring the Web until I found the Republican debate being broadcast on Fox News Radio.

Sigh.

Michael Dobie is a member of the Newsday editorial board.

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