The special election in November to fill a Court of Appeals judgeship illustrates how complicated, costly and difficult we’ve made elections and how we might simplify voting.
The Court of Appeals election was triggered when former Chief Judge John Martin stepped down after the May Primary Elections. Martin is a practical and seasoned jurist who understands both the letter and intent of our Constitution. We wouldn’t be surprised if he timed his retirement so as to avoid some of the ugliness in recent elections.
A one-week window allowed candidates to file for the November election. 19 candidates did so, perhaps because the campaign won’t be dragged out by primary and runoff elections. The top vote getter wins outright. While it is a large field this election demonstrates we can simplify and streamline voting.
We can further this simplification in redistricting. Federal law specifies how many congressional seats our state will have and how the districts are to be drawn. Why not use those congressional boundaries for our North Carolina state Senate seats? If we allocated two or even three Senators for each of the 13 congressional districts we would have 26 or 39 instead of the current 50 members. And instead of those really strange-looking House districts why not return to the long-followed tradition of electing one Representative for each of the 100 counties in our state? We can just imagine larger counties arguing they deserve more representation, but if we can justify having 100 counties isn’t it only fair that each has an equal voice in the House? This new configuration would reduce the current 170 members, would cut costs and probably simplify and shorten the legislative process.
With the virtual demise of political parties we no longer need to stage primary elections. There is no proof the electorate is better informed or better served by them. Broadcasters, campaign consultants and pundits won’t like the idea but most voters don’t know or especially care the political affiliation of candidates. We should shorten the election cycle to no more than 13 weeks between the filing deadline and Election Day. At the least this would reduce the ugliness and take some of the costs out of modern political campaigns. We must eliminate the expensive and discriminatory practice of runoff elections. In far too many instances the winning candidate receives votes that represent 20 percent or less of the total number of voters. These changes might encourage better candidates to run for office.
It is past time to shorten our state ballot by having the Governor and Lieutenant Governor run together as a team. A case can be made for an independently elected Auditor, Attorney General and Treasurer, but most voters couldn’t provide the names of the rest of our Council of State members and they should become executive branch positions. Unquestionably some of these changes would require amending our Constitution but the electorate could be persuaded to vote for them.
We want to ensure no one is advantaged or disadvantaged in voting but we shouldn’t have to beg people or go to extreme measures to get them to exercise their privilege to vote. It is our individual responsibility to learn the issues and the candidates and our corporate responsibility to ensure elections are as uncomplicated as possible.
*Tom Campbell is the Executive Producer and Moderator of NC SPIN