Presidential selection,—the voter’s perspective

Presidential selection,—the voter’s perspective

Over the years, the presidential selection process has seen many changes. Some have clearly improved the process, while others have been of questionable value over the long term. The League of Women Voters’ presidential selection update looked at these processes and held them up for comparison with League values that favor informed voters, broad participation and other democratic values.

The League has been an advocate for a presidential selection process that incorporates the “one person, one vote” principle. Accordingly, the President should be directly elected by the people the President will represent, just as are the other federal officials in this country. Direct election is the most representative system. It is the only system that guarantees the President will have received the most popular votes, and it encourages voter participation by giving each voter a direct and equal role in the election of the President. Election 2000 highlighted our concern that the President of the United States is not directly elected by the votes of American citizens, but rather by the states.

Although the Electoral College remains a point of contention in the presidential selection process, much has changed in the past 30 years and we need to define and measure our values against other factors that have altered the process. Today, the presidential selection process is dominated by questions of campaign strategy and campaign finance, the role of the parties in the primaries and caucuses leading up to the convention, the role of the media and the effect of developing technologies such as the use of e-mail, the Internet and automated campaign telephone calls.

Just in the past few months concerns over the number and timing of the presidential primaries scheduled in the first weeks of the primary season have changed as some states dropped their plans to hold primaries and some candidates chose not to participate hl them. Most states claimed economic problems, while others argue it is due to the fact that only one party had a contest and the other party, did not want to give them the publicity that accompanies a primary. Candidates who chose not to enter the earliest contests recognized that regional preferences could be muted by their entrance in later races. If the League is concerned about encouraging the best candidates and promoting the highest participation by informed voters, we need to understand the impact of the process on those values.

Statistics dearly show that voters are not as interested in elections as they once were. Turn-out has fallen for a variety of reasons, as has attention to the election itself, judging by the decline of viewers of debates and the conventions, and the diminishing percentage of taxpayers willing to support the check-off for the Presidential Campaign Fund.

Polling tells its that lack of information is a major contributing factor as to why people don’t vote. Media coverage of the horse race and campaign tactics, instead of information on candidate positions, dominates the selection process to such an extent that it appears as though the outcome of an election is decided before a single vote is cast.

Given this backdrop, it is clear that we need to expand our efforts for reform to include areas previously overlooked. With the League’s time honored history of building participatory democracy we believe it is incumbent upon “all citizens, from school curriculum developers to journalists of every discipline, to party, elites at the state and national levels, to election administrators, to elected representatives and to the average voter to help us build a strong and vibrant democracy. To that end the proposed LWVUS updated position on Selection of the President states:

“The League of Women Voters believes that the direct-popular-vote method for electing the President and Vice President is essential to representative government. The League of Women Voters believes, therefore, that the Electoral College should be abolished. The League “also supports uniform voting qualifications and procedures for presidential elections. The League supports changes in the presidential election system–from the candidate selection process to the general election–to provide voters with sufficient information about candidates and their positions, public policy issues and the selection process itself. The League supports action to ensure that the media, political parties, candidates, and all levels of government achieve these goals and provide that information.”

The presidential selection process is a means to an end and our end is a presidential selection process that produces the best possible candidates, informed voters and optimum voter participation.

COPYRIGHT 2004 League of Women Voters

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group