Bright: This election is too confusing and too long

Zach Bright, Opinion Editor

This is the third column in “Democracy Do-Over,” a weekly series exploring and making the case for improvements in how we elect public servants and ensure effective representation by all levels of government.

If you’re following the race for 2020, Monday night was certainly a low. The Iowa Caucuses were, in a word, a trainwreck. It’s been over a day since their completion and while Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders are in the lead, the ultimate winner is still unclear as of Tuesday evening. The chaos that ensued exposed flaws in the presidential nomination process and moreover brings to light the undemocratic nature of what should otherwise be straightforward.

The Iowa Democratic Party and to a greater extent the Democratic National Committee have lost legitimacy. Conspiracy theories of a rigged caucus are gaining traction on social media. And with coin tosses used to decide several caucus results, many feel that their votes have not mattered or are just turned off by the election because of failures at large.

It’s clear that Iowa should not be the first state in the nation to choose a presidential nominee, especially after such a debacle. For one, the state’s 90 percent white population does not represent the demographics of America. The system of caucuses can also be inaccessible to thousands of voters who are unable to attend the caucuses. Voters who experience disabilities or don’t have the time for a caucus on a workday can be disenfranchised.

However, the problems are bigger than just the Iowa Caucuses. In its current form, the primary system is simply too complicated. Americans deserve a clear, politically engaging and transparent process that they can understand.

Fixing these problems starts with consolidating the primary calendar. For instance, we could have a national, one-day primary, where the winner of the most votes becomes the nominee. Others who might fear the influence that such an event gives to wealthy candidates and urban enclaves might prefer a regional-based method. This potential reform would split the United States into four geographical areas and have states each vote at a time, based on their geographic grouping, with each area rotating in order for each nominating contest.

These suggestions are numerous, each with their benefits and drawbacks. But implementing most any of these reforms would lead to a system that doesn’t unduly place weight in states based on chronological chance. They would make elections shorter too.

Election cycles can’t continue to be these marathon events with campaigns left and right trying to woo voters to their side. The 2020 race has already been underway for over a year, with nine months to go until November. Compare this to other democracies. Mexico has a law limiting the length of election campaigns to under five months. Japan has one limiting the length to under two weeks.

These restrictions could have consequences like limiting the potential for candidates outside of the status quo to gain traction. But the nearly two year election cycle that we are just over halfway through with can be exhausting to even the most politically engaged. People have lives outside of politics.

Such long elections are huge wastes of time, attention and money. In 2016, $1.5 billion went toward the presidential race, according to the Federal Election Commission. Shorter elections would mean less spending and less political advertising. I’m someone who, at least I like to think, enjoys the political process. But in 2018, those J.B. Pritzker ads came too early and too often. Now in 2020, Mike Bloomberg is following in his footsteps.

The primary process also places too much weight on geographical coincidence. The newest voters, especially college students like myself, drift from place to place. Each state they move from and move to has a different voting day and different number of delegates to offer. This can be difficult to keep up with, especially during such a transitory period of their lives. And when not all states have made the process of securing absentee ballots accessible, having your voice heard becomes all the harder.

Above all, the delegate system is so hard to follow, especially if you aren’t actively campaigning for those delegates yourself. If you’re running for the Democratic nomination, you need a majority of 3,979 delegates to win, not a majority of individual votes, according to 270toWin. As with the electoral college, there is always a chance that the victor might not have the majority support of voters. This runs contrary to the concept of “one person, one vote,” as settled by the Supreme Court.

Historically, the presidential nomination process has been a closed-door affair, where party elites would handpick nominees to run their races. While it has continued to open itself more and more to voters, reforms to simplify and streamline the process are long overdue. When mistakes like the caucuses happen, we need to fix them. Shorter and more straightforward elections are a start.

Zach Bright is a Medill sophomore. He can be contacted at [email protected] If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected] The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.