Friday, April 28, 2006

The problem with parties

Diverse and Contradictory has a post discussing why political parties are congenitally incapable of governing.

The Republicans and Democrats have tried so hard to be the party of everyone, that it's impossible to gain any real consensus among their members.

Republicans have fought this weakness by creating polarizing issues and then standing for them. The Democrats haven't fought that weakness, which leads to a muddled message and no clear direction. The only thing this leads to is the ability of the opposing party to point out the weaknesses of the other's strategy.

Parties are literally unable to do this and remain the large, overarching, all-issue, conglomerates they want to be. They squabble internally, and rip themselves apart by overindulging in the stands they think they want to take. There can actually be no strategy for them to implement.

The solution is the obvious one: vote for the individual, not the party.

The problem, of course, is that doing so takes a bit more work than simply walking into the booth and voting the straight party ticket. And as economists point out, there are no tangible cost-benefit incentives to go vote. Thus a lot of people don't bother to vote, and many of those who do don't bother to educate themselves. It's quite rational, if a little sad, and destructive to democracy in the aggregate.

So let's make things easy on voters. Specifically:

Make election day a holiday, so people don't have to take time off work to vote. And what about holding them earlier in the year, when the weather is better? Then we could put on ice-cream socials or something at voting stations, making going to vote an event rather than the rather beige experience it is now.

Implement instant-runoff voting, so voting for the individual has more meaning.

Make ballots easy to read. I'm not a big one for micromanagement of local elections, but it's high time we paid a competent graphic designer to create a standardized, easy-to-understand ballot that can be adapted for use in every race. Think of the nutrition labels on food as a model: the same information presented the same way no matter what product you're buying, making it easy to understand and compare.

Lower barriers to voting, notably by not forcing people to stand in line for hours to cast their ballot.

We could also try lots of little things to help people vote and vote intelligently: street signs with "Election Day today!" and arrows pointing to the local voting site; standardized reference sheets at voting stations, listing the candidates and their positions on key issues so people can refresh their memory; things like that.

Very few of these ideas are attractive to parties in general or incumbents in particular. So they won't happen without serious pressure from below. But since elections are implemented by local governments, a small number of voices can make a difference.

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Blogger Dyre42 said...

Here here! *toasts Sean*

4/29/2006 1:26 AM  

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