Sunday, February 13, 2011

One Person, One Vote -- Not in Pennsylvania

Originally posted on Norristown Patch...

I woke up on Tuesday morning to read the following op-ed piece on local news stationKYW by Larry Kane. To us in Philly, Larry Kane is kinda like Walter Cronkite or Daniel Schorr, only a lot younger and a heck of a lot more alive.

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- In one week, voters in Pennsylvania go to the polls to elect nominees for November. In some cases, candidates have twice the chance, because they're cross-filing -- running on both party's ballots.

Cross-filing really means you have a chance to win it all during a primary. That's why many candidates for township commissioners, school board positions--both with great powers to raise taxes and control budgets -- file as candidates under both party's banners. Candidates for judge quite often do the same.

If you file and win just one party's election, you face off against an opponent in November. If you win both, you're the winner. Cross-filing is banned in some states, but in Pennsylvania, the rare exception, it is legal. It's really doubling down on the chance to avoid a battle in November.

There are a few minor quibbles with Kane's assessment that only those really involved in politics will pick up on, but he really does nail this.

Here's a few thoughts to add to this process:

People not registered as Democrats or Republicans (non-Major Party or NMPs) are frozen out of the process.

Given the exceptionally small numbers of people who vote in these elections, an even more minuscule number can decide who runs the show for the rest of us.

In Pennsylvania, we have 12.6 million people according to the U.S. Census. According to a study at George Mason University, there are roughly 9.5 million Pennsylvanians eligible to vote. Just under 4 million people voted for governor in last year's general election. That translates to roughly 31 percent of the general population.

In a primary election, we can expect a turnout of about 15 percent of the registered voters, which translates roughly to about 10 percent of the population.

In terms of who votes, that means in a two-way race, only 5 percent of the people need to vote to tell the rest of us what is going to happen -- 5 percent telling the other 95 percent what to do.

Have you ever thought about how much it costs to run an election from a taxpayer standpoint? Here in suburban Philly, a minimum of four poll workers are paid $90 each. The Judge of Elections gets $120. There may be additional poll workers needed for a busier polling location. There are 425 polling locations here in Montgomery County. So the base price to run the poll in terms of people costs is:

4 poll workers @ $90 = 360

+ 1 judge of election @ $120 = $480

$480 x 425 locations = $204,000

We are not even factoring in transportation costs for the machines, general maintenance of the machines, printing the sample ballots, prepping the machines, counting the votes at the end of election night and all the fun challenges related to the recall process.

Now, how fair is it that only members of the major parties may participate in this process?

Should the two major parties be called upon to foot the bill because, after all, the primary system is set up for their benefit and their benefit alone?

Cross-filing, as Kane brings up, creates a shut-out situation for those not involved in with these political parties. Is it really one-person/one-vote? I am surprised some hot-shot lawyer hasn't brought up an "equal protection under the law" type of argument to make this system fall down.

One fair solution may be to completely open up the primary process in Pennsylvania. The parties nominate as they have before, but anyone who is of age and in good standing may cast a primary ballot.

I realize there may be goofiness on the part of those who want to jack the other party's nominees, but I am sorry, each party will need to be active enough to defend their own ballot positions. (That is like asking for legal protection because your organization is incompetent.)

A formula for who gets ballot access in November can be implemented.

2 x (number of slots open) + 1, with each party entitled to at least one person per slot.

If there is no third-party candidate, then the next highest vote-getter gets the option to play in November.

Example 1: Mayor, a singular position, will allow three highest total vote-getters to vie in the general. If more than three parties are represented, then only one person from the top three parties moves on. If there are two parties represented, each will get a slot with the next biggest vote-getter making it without regard to party.

Example 2: If a school board has five slots open, then the top 11 people move on. You could actually have a situation where the GOP has five nominees, the Democrats have four, and there is a Green Party person and a Tea Party candidate.

In November, the candidates would be ranked by how many votes they got in the primary. The primaries would mean something. (That school board race could actually have all five GOP members at the bottom!)

An open primary is much fairer than barring a larger and larger segment of the population who is checking out of the two-party system.

After all, why should a non-partisan pay taxes to promote the Democratic or Republican parties' nomination process?

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