Voting in America: Too Much Democracy?
Jonathan Bernstein reflects on his getting to vote for 52 separate ballot lines yesterday in Texas, with contests ranging from governor to dog catcher.
I love elections, and I do believe that one mark of a strong democracy is keeping the politicians, and not bureaucracies, in charge of lots of things.
But this is ridiculous. The correct word for most of the elections that happened in Texas today, and that happen in primary elections around the nation all spring and summer this year, is farce. No one has any idea what they’re doing (especially in primaries, and in nonpartisan elections, in which you don’t even get a useful cue about what to do). I like the idea that Americans vote more often and for more things that just about any other nation, but we could vote for about a third of what we vote for now and still be very high on the scale, and people wouldn’t have to feel like idiots on election day.
As someone who also considers himself reasonably well informed regarding politics and yet frequently finds myself not having the slightest clue as to how to differentiate down-ballot candidates, I concur.
But beyond the fact that it’s unreasonable to expect that voters will spend the time learning about hundreds of candidates is the more fundamental question of which offices ought to be directly accountable to the public. Key policymakers — presidents, governors, mayors, legislators, and the like — are obvious. I’m less certain about even high level secondary players like lieutenant governors, attorneys general, secretaries of state, state treasurers, and the like. At the federal level, they’re all appointees who answer to the chief executive but most states elect them. My preference is for the latter but I don’t have strong feelings on the matter.
What I’ve never understood is why we elect administrative officials like agriculture commissioners, transportation officials, coroners, dog catchers, and such. But a lot of municipalities do. That seems to me to be asking for corruption, conflicts of interest, and sheer incompetence.
Further, as I noted yesterday, I’m leery of electing key people in the criminal justice system — judges, prosecutors, and sheriffs are the most common cases. Not only don’t we want these people beholden to campaign contributors, having partisan loyalties, and other apparent conflicts of interest but we really don’t want them making day-to-day decisions based on public opinion.