With lines stretching for blocks, waiting times of more than eight hours, and many ballots cast early, either in person or by mail, voter turnout is of historic proportions despite all the chaos and turmoil of 2020.
With that in mind, we sometimes forget that we are voting not only for president, but also for members of Congress, state officials, and various local initiatives. It can get very confusing, but that was the case right from the start. In December of 1788–January 1789, the United States held its first election, and it did take almost two weeks to get the results and determine who had won.
There have been so many alterations to our method of choosing leaders that the process has become cumbersome. Constitutional restrictions were gradually lifted over the years, and as we progressed technologically, it seemed as if everything became more complicated rather than easier. In 1844, there were thirty-three states, as opposed to the original thirteen. Getting the electoral ballots to Congress to be counted was difficult, but the invention of the telegraph made matters simpler, allowing information to reach the nation’s capital more efficiently. Women had to wait until 1920 to be able to cast a ballot. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 finally allowed racial minorities equal presence at the polls. These as well as several other pieces of legislation increased the number of citizens allowed to vote.
I am not a historian, presidential scholar, constitutional authority, or politician. Like most of you, I am simply an interested party, one who believes that our system today is out of balance with respect to the process of selecting our leaders. Many sleepless nights have occurred because of the dilemma facing us as we approach another election in which the popular vote could potentially be out of sync with the electoral vote for the highest office in the land.
To find a better way, I have developed a new governing maintenance division, hereby known as the Slatkin Election and Regulation Guidelines (SERG).
Where do we start? Perhaps with my ignorance. I do not understand why we have to use the same procedures for the different branches of government. Selecting a president should be different from electing members of the Senate and House of Representatives, not to mention the various local offices. The immediate solution, in my view, is to think of these positions separately, as the framers insisted on the separation of powers.
Since the head of the country and the vice president serve on behalf of all Americans, shouldn’t they be elected separately? It seems strange that there is not a uniform voting method that applies to everyone exercising this fundamental right. In other words, each person in the country should have an equal voice, the old “one person, one vote” ideal. That means scrapping the Electoral College—though useful in its day, its largely winner-take-all process ignores the will of many voters and puts the focus on certain battleground states. The group of electors generally places all the votes for one candidate or the other, regardless of how wide or narrow the margin of victory within the state. Since we now have the ability to monitor every person who casts a ballot, it should be the vox populi that determines how the country chooses its executive leadership. Just as cities by themselves cannot dictate who becomes governor, states should not select the presidential slot.
Did you know that only fourteen million people voted in the election of 1900? Compare that with 130 million a little more than a century later. The population has grown to the point that the Electoral College, a relic of the past, is irrelevant for our age. Even with the potential of fraud, intimidation, and error, it is certainly possible these days to get close to an accurate vote count. A national referendum needs to be put in place.
That takes us to the day we cast our ballots. Many people ask, “Why is it the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November?” It did not start like that. In 1792, Congress decided that presidential electors would convene to vote on the first Wednesday of December, and elections could take place up to thirty-four days before that date. However, with advancements in travel and communications, notably the invention of the telegraph in 1844, the results of early elections held in some states could affect voter turnout and sway opinion in districts that had not yet voted. To address concerns of potential fraud and manipulation, Congress passed a law in 1845 that established a uniform Election Day across the country. Legislators determined that this Tuesday in November worked best.
History.com sums it up well:
The answer stems from the agrarian makeup of 19th-century America. In the 1800s, most citizens worked as farmers and lived far from their polling place. Since people often traveled at least a day to vote, lawmakers needed to allow a two-day window for Election Day. Weekends were impractical, since most people spent Sundays in church, and Wednesday was market day for farmers.
With this in mind, Tuesday was selected as the first and most convenient day of the week to hold elections. Farm culture also explains why Election Day always falls in November. Spring and early summer elections were thought to interfere with the planting season, and late summer and early fall elections overlapped with the harvest. That left the late fall month of November—after the harvest was complete, but before the arrival of harsh winter weather—as the best choice.
Think about that. The rules were meant to help more people vote as well as accommodate their own needs. Doesn’t that tell us that we need to get up to speed and use what is available to us now?
Not everyone has access to a computer, and it can still take some time to get to a polling station. We are also seeing people waiting hours upon hours in line, well in advance of Election Day. So there has to be a better way, especially with 150 million voters these days.
What about a three-day Election Weekend? Start on Saturday morning and end on Monday evening. Allow everyone to choose to vote in-person, electronically, or by mail. The tabulation would not occur until the polls close on the final day. Another possibility within this scenario is to keep the polling stations open 24/7. Many people choose not to vote because of the hassle. This simple solution would make it easier for everyone’s voice to to be heard.
Keep in mind that the presidential vote is for federal office. Therefore, all states should comply with whatever congressional mandates are put in place. To stave off confusion, a separate ballot for president is required. No more lumping this contest in with all the state and local candidates and propositions as they appear on the ballot now. (We will not get into the fact that the vice president was elected separately from the president in the old days.)
This leads us to the Senate and House. We can keep the same three-day voting period, but those offices would be subject to the voting laws of each state currently in play. There are inequality arguments regarding an underpopulated state such as North Dakota having just as many senators as California, but that is precisely why we have a proportional division in the House of Representatives. As with the presidential ballots, these state offices should be on a separate ballot, hopefully allowing more people to consider these positions independent from party affiliation.
Local and regional offices and referendums should be treated similarly, separately from federal and state positions. Perhaps like many of you, I have trouble deciding which judges to vote for. It might be helpful to be provided with a non-partisan overview of these people and the confusingly worded propositions.
Here is another sad fact. In 2020, nearly fourteen billion dollars have been spent on the presidential election alone. $14 Billion! And we wonder why we cannot fix our country’s infrastructure, education systems, and other vital services. This is in sharp contrast to other democracies, where governments have imposed strict spending limits and the campaign cycles are shorter.
We should follow their leads and consider a different model for our national selection process. Perhaps after a primary election period of two months, the political conventions could be held six weeks before the national vote. Currently, the time between the conclave and the election is around ten weeks. By cutting back, an lot of money could be saved and given to causes that are high on the national and local agendas. It also could help relieve campaign fatigue and boredom.
This concept would reduce the time of the total process, from primary election dates until Election Day, to four months at the most. Technology makes it more possible for every candidate and issue to be brought before a broader public than ever before. Candidates could ask to appear on a news or entertainment program, which doesn’t cost anything. I am sure that most of you are sick of the brutal advertising messages we see on billboards, television, and flyers in our mailboxes. Keeping the campaign timeframe shorter won’t make these attacks go away, but at least they would not last as long.
So, in summary, the SERG wants elections to take place over a three-day period, with separate ballots for federal, state, and local issues and a reduced campaign timeframe of four months. Well, it makes sense to me.
In the meantime, I want you all to know that I am officially throwing my hat in the ring for the 2024 election.