Election Day, Primary Edition

It’s Oregon primary time, and today or maybe Monday I’m casting my ballot.

Multnomah county primary nominating ballot with blue "Birdie" Bernie Sanders campaign sticker

What? Isn’t the whole point of an Election Day that it’s one day, so it all happens at once and what happens earlier can’t influence what happens later?  To that I say, “Ha.” The primary in general is ridiculous — a traveling circus of states that lasts half a year!

From Iowa in February to California in June, it’s one long drawn out “what happened yesterday decides what needs to happen tomorrow” roadshow based on an era before we had such things as airplanes, cell phones (hell, phones at all!), and the internet. It doesn’t take 6 months to address the whole country these days, and there is no good reason for primary season to last this long. All the money that we spend on contributing to political campaigns, if put instead toward the programs the candidates promote, could fund a lot of  programs. About $350 million has been reported* in spending so far in 2016 (view by candidate). And primary season isn’t even over yet — then we start on the spending for a general election in November. In 2012, about $2.4 billion was spent on the race between Obama and Romney. Mark Jaquith wrote a post back then pitching how we could improve elections that I liked, though it wouldn’t solve it all. Anyway, we really need election reform. Which brings me to voting and to this tweet that I saw this morning:

Making Election Day a national holiday wouldn’t work. The people who don’t have enough schedule flexibility to vote on a single day currently are working class people — the same people who always have to work on Labor Day and other national holidays because they work in non-unionized service-based jobs and don’t actually get the day off. In fact, based on sales and tourism, many of these jobs get extra staff added on Labor Day (a cruel irony given the intent of a “workingmen’s holiday”).

And even if they shut down the whole country except for election booths (which would obviously be impossible, but let’s pretend just for the length of these couple of sentences), it still wouldn’t work. No one would run even a 5-question survey on the internet for just one day — across the board with surveys it’s a couple of weeks to ensure people have time to learn about it, to be reminded to do it, and to actually do it. Sure, you get the bulk of responses when you first open the voting, but the trail over the next couple of weeks, including the surge at the end before the deadline, makes up a significant chunk of responses. Now why is that okay? Because the results aren’t made public until the voting period closes. Ongoing publicized “returns” aren’t the norm, so as not to influence later votes. We can do this with voting.

With a vote by mail system like Oregon has, you get a ballot in the mail (this has some issues when it comes to the homeless population and to peripatetic wanderers, but those are solvable) and you have a couple of weeks to turn it back in, either by mail or in person. In this case, if I wanted to mail in the ballot, I would have needed to get it into the mail by yesterday, May 12, and since I didn’t, I’ll need to drop it off at any dropbox between now and election day. On election day, the dropbox location turns into a voting center for the day. Mine is the neighborhood branch library, located on a major street on a major busline, making it an easy stop for someone on their way to work at Fred Meyer (for example) if they didn’t get around to mailing it. I will say that I think the ballots should be no postage required… getting stamps is a hurdle for a lot of people.

But this system works. Sort of. For someone who wants to vote, it’s easy. You have enough time to research candidates if you’re into that sort of thing. There’s no long line or anxiety-causing crowd. You have a couple of weekends to do it. It’s about the least effort per vote there could be, short of making it an online survey someone could do on their phone. For people who don’t really care about voting, or who don’t open the mail because of anxiety, it’s less effective, but realistically those people probably wouldn’t be chomping at the bit to go to a voting booth — and in any case, they still have that option on election day. And they simply don’t reveal the votes until the end, just like with a survey. So you can vote at the beginning or you can vote at the end, and it makes no difference, since no one knows how each precinct is skewing along the way. You can even register online to track the mailed ballot to ensure they receive it. We should adopt this system nationally. Oregon has plenty of problems, not to mention a horrendously racist history, but it’s got the best voting system as far as I’m concerned. (Coincidentally, it was also the first state to adopt Labor Day as a holiday.)

So I’m voting for Bernie Sanders. I think Hillary Clinton is entirely capable — before Bernie entered the race I was planning to support her, and if she wins the nomination I will — but Bernie Sanders is just a lot closer to my values. He also doesn’t really have that politician flip-flop thing, which Clinton does. I loved him as my VT representative, and then as my VT senator, and he’s just the best. Pretty old, and a white guy, which gives me some Feelings that are less comfortable, but my gosh, of all the old white guys in the world that we could put in the white house, he is The One. You know, because Stephen Fry isn’t even American. :)

*Speaking of reporting money, if you haven’t heard of dark money, it’s worth a quick primer.

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