Our president wants to change up the presidential selection process by moving the first primary from Iowa to South Carolina, claiming the Palmetto state is more representative of the rest of the country. President Biden is nibbling at the edges of a very important issue however his solution doesn’t address larger problems. If there’s anything we learned from November’s election it is that our electoral process needs widescale reform.
At the very top of the reform list is candidate selection. Too many unqualified candidates slipped through primaries (and sometimes the general election) without proper vetting. The most recent and egregious example is George Santos, who lied about his credentials and whose true beliefs and intentions are unknowable. On Tuesday he became one of 435 in Congress making our laws. Nobody properly vetted him.
Let’s begin with the presidential nomination process, a circus that has turned into a made-for-television beauty contest that is neither representative nor guarantees the best qualified nominees.
Prior to 1968 and the Chicago Democratic Convention, the nominating process started with each state’s political parties selecting delegates to the national party convention. These were week-long must-see events that contained drama, lots of nomination speeches, horse trading for votes and favorite-son candidates. There were genuine debates over the party platform, hammered out through extensive votes. Candidates had to make their case with each state delegation. It wasn’t perfect but the smoke-filled rooms with pols vetting candidates included extensive candidate background checks and records of service, followed by robust discussions, then roll call floor votes. In most instances the process arrived at nominees who best represented their party and were electable. Bottom line: we need a better method for nominating presidential candidates, but the same can be said for state candidates also. It doesn’t have to be the old way, but what we are doing isn’t serving us best. The two parties have become largely irrelevant.
In North Carolina we need to do away with runoff elections. They are prohibitively expensive, turn out few voters and often end up doing the thing they were intended to prevent, namely discriminating against those who don’t vote a second time. Whether we institute ranked-choice voting or some other reform, let’s agree that runoffs are a failed process.
Another must-do reform is to take money out of the process. In North Carolina’s November U.S. Senate race, the amount of funds raised by candidates for their campaigns was miniscule in comparison to the sums that large independent expenditure and special interest groups spent on their behalf. Supposedly those groups don’t communicate or coordinate their efforts with the candidates, but you are naïve if you believe they don’t. For example, The Club for Growth spent more than $30 million to elect Ted Budd and we don’t know who is giving the money to this group or what they expect in return for their support. Yes, Democrats have similar groups boosting their candidates. The point is that our elections should not be for sale to the highest bidder. In too many instances that is just what happens. There may be several solutions, but we must fix this by stopping, or at least drastically reducing the money flow.
If states cannot provide equal access to voter registrations and regulations that are fair and equitable, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act should be passed and enforced. I would make election day a holiday. Nobody should have to miss voting because they can’t get off work. I am totally in favor of Voter ID, but not if it is discriminatory. Other states can do it without all the acrimony and lawsuits; I believe North Carolinians can do the same if our intentions are honorable, ID’s are easily attainable and don’t discriminate. If we can make this happen, we eliminate potential election fraud.
The greatest possibility of election fraud is absentee mail-in voting and greater regulation and oversight is needed without becoming overly restrictive. Early voting has proved extremely popular and reforms need to guarantee accessible sites and ample days and hours to vote, especially on Saturdays and Sundays.
I believe the State Board of Elections should be completely bipartisan and so should our 100 county election boards. Workers should be properly trained and, while it is fine to have election observers, there should be very strict rules and penalties for anyone who tries to interfere with or intimidate voters. I believe North Carolina should settle on one election machine company and the state should pay for and maintain each county’s equipment. After the election the machines should be stored in a safe state facility.
Here’s my spin: We live in a hyper partisan political environment and finding common ground is often difficult, but hopefully all people of goodwill should agree on insisting our elections are fair, efficiently administered and that all people eligible to vote can do so without fear or prejudice. Recent efforts have attempted to undermine our faith in elections. That trust needs restoring, and reforms are needed to achieve these goals.
Tom Campbell is a Hall of Fame North Carolina broadcaster and columnist who has covered North Carolina public policy issues since 1965. He recently retired from writing, producing and moderating the statewide half-hour TV program NC SPIN that aired 22 ½ years. Contact him at email@example.com.