Commentary: Steele: Keeping systems, and elections, fresh
By Andrew Steele firstname.lastname@example.org October 8, 2013 12:24PM
Updated: October 14, 2013 8:25AM
This is a boring — perhaps thankfully — political October. There’s no election Nov. 5. But it won’t be long before the machinations of the 2014 election begin. Much of it will never see the light of day, as potential candidates jockey behind the scenes.
The structure of electoral politics is set at the national level, and that’s not changing any time soon. Changing local elections would be difficult too, but if we wanted to do something big, to shake up the set pattern local politics have taken, we (or, ultimately the policymakers in Indianapolis) could. We could make elections non-partisan.
Candidates can, and should, be honest about their party affiliations. And, they can, and should, take advantage of the party structures, in terms of organization and the financing, that exist. A party label can help candidates mount viable campaigns and can help voters situate candidates on the political spectrum.
But, in terms of the electoral process, local elections have been strait-jacketed by the national process in a way that’s completely unnecessary. The two rounds as they exist — a partisan primary followed by a “general” election — structure things in a way that’s unnecessary.
In Lake County, the Democratic primary has become the important election. It shouldn’t be that way. Republicans often get wrapped up in their fealty to the state and national party. It shouldn’t be that way.
The problem is mainly on the county level. It’s understandable why Democrats win there. It’s not because voters want corrupt government, as someone once suggested. It’s because Democrats — again, mainly on the national level — earned the loyalty of a majority of Lake County’s voters.
It’s that sort of loyalty, though, that becomes a problem over time.
But the best thing would be to do two rounds, in the fall, in a non-partisan fashion. Every candidate is on the ballot in the first round; the top two go on to the second. And, don’t list political party on the ballot.
This wouldn’t make politics non-partisan. It would just help nudge things away from partisanship structuring everything, including voters’ perceptions that result simply from the party label next to a candidate’s name.
This will probably never happen, but it could, and it could help open up the political process, at least on the county level.
There’s always a degree of inertia that hinders changes like that, and a very pronounced case of that emerged in Gary last week, when a report by the Indiana State Police spared no niceties in its criticism.
That the department could be in that state of operation, and for the city administration to decide that what’s needed is to get state troopers on the streets, is a good example of how easy it is to be blind to the problems directly in front of our faces.
Systems go stale, and then spoil, very easily, and often without anyone noticing. Sometimes it’s good to consider changing systems simply for the sake of avoiding staleness, and before things get rotten.