Momentum for Election Reform?

I was just shy of five years old when Richard Nixon resigned. There were some interesting political events when I was coming of age (Reagan was almost assassinated when I was in sixth grade, for example, and Al Haig told us all not to worry because he was in control) but I feel like not much really happened from a constitutional point of view until I was twenty-eight years old and Newt Gingrich’s House Republicans decided to impeach the president over his marital infidelity. Ever since then, it seems like we’ve had one civics lesson after another. The whole world learned about our strange Electoral College in 2000 as they watched people debate hanging chads. Dick Cheney tried to assert that the vice-presidency is its own branch of the government. In 2008, there was a giant dispute between the DNC and the states of Florida and Michigan about when a primary can be scheduled and a party delegation can be disinvited from the national convention. We (and Clinton’s slow-footed campaign team) also learned all about how delegates are allocated on a district-by-district basis and how a candidate can pile up delegates by dominating in the caucus states. Then, as now, we’re having a big discussion about the superdelegates that are awarded in the Democratic process. Four years ago, Mitt Romney watched as Ron Paul poached a bunch of his delegates at county and state conventions, leading him to pass Rule 40 at the Republican National Convention which prevented Paul’s name from being entered into nomination. That same delegate-poaching phenomenon is going on again, this time with Cruz taking a lot of Trump’s convention votes. And Rule 40 could be used to prevent anyone but Trump from being entered into nomination.

The hot topic this week is a strange set of laws in New York State that will have the polls opening at 6am in Buffalo and the New York City metro area, but not opening until noon in the rest of the state. These laws aren’t new, but they could influence the outcome of the primary and how the delegates are awarded.

I’m not sure that it qualifies as a civics lesson, exactly, but the issue of corporate sponsorship of the party conventions is also in the news. Some corporations are going to pull out of the Republican convention because they anticipate a storm of ugliness and disorder. A lot of them will pull out of the Democratic convention, too, just to seem even-handed.

Whatever you want to call it, corporate sponsorship of our parties’ biggest organizational meetings is something most people don’t think too much about until it becomes newsworthy in some way.

I use the following example, not to pick on one party or one corporation, but simply to illustrate the appearance of a conflict of interest:

In 2012, Duke Energy provided a $10 million loan to Democrats for its convention in the company’s hometown of Charlotte, which it later forgave. This year, though, the energy giant still hasn’t said whether it will participate in either convention. Duke does not have a timeline for when it will decide, said spokesman Dave Scanzoni. He declined to comment on the factors that company officials are weighing, but said “there’s no relationship” between the lack of a decision and the field of candidates.

It’s natural for a Charlotte-based corporation to sponsor a major event that takes place in Charlotte, but it this really just advertising when they are providing a $10 million loan and then forgiving that loan?

You know, I don’t really know how Duke Energy would go about calling in that chit. Would a fundraiser at the DNC call up some key senators and tell them that a regulation that Duke Energy doesn’t like is going to hurt their relationship and make it hard to ask them for money (or another loan) for the Philadelphia convention?

It seems to me that this is all part and parcel of a growing sentiment in the electorate that our elections need an overhaul. People are complaining about so many different areas, from Photo ID requirements, to lines at polling stations, to when the polls open and close, to how the delegates are selected, to the caucuses vs. the primaries, to the reliability and security of the voting machines, to Citizens United and Super PACs and corporate sponsorship to the iron-grip of the two-party system. People don’t like the Electoral College and they hate gerrymandered districts where politicians select their voters rather than the other way around.

Maybe all of this can be harnessed into a giant movement for reform, and maybe the Republicans will be so disgusted by their own process this time around that they’ll be some real bipartisan support.

I hope so. We’re having too many civics lessons.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.