Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Voting machines, endorsements, primaries and our perpetual election cycle

Given all the controversy over electronic voting machines these days, a fun video to watch is Behind the Freedom Curtain, a voting machine sales video circa 1957. Where is Herb Tarlek when you need him? Maybe people would be happier with the new machines if they were named "freedom screens".

but speaking of voting... Sunday is the big day for local candidates seeking election. The Allegheny County Democratic Committee will nominate its endorsed candidates this weekend. How important is the party endorsement? Depends on the race. It's probably safe to say there is an inverse correlation between how important the party endorsement is and how high profile the race is.

The fact that there is an endorsement process raises a bigger question concerning the primary election itself. Or the primary to follow this one technically. There is a growing debate over the timing of the Pennsylvania presidential primary. Is it too late in the primary season to matter? PG covered the question last month, but a more in depth perspective came last week from PA politics guru Terry Madonna in his January 25th Politically Uncorrected column. Today the AP is reporting that a state senator is proposing that Pennsylvania's presidential primary be moved to February 5th. Think about that timing for a minute. That means candidates would have to file by New Years. Would that mean that the party nominations would take place before XMAS? One way or another it's going to be a perpetual election season. We have to get through this election then by fall the presidential primary season will be in full gear. By the time a new president elected the next mayoral campaign will be gearing up.

Which then makes you wonder why do we have primaries at all? Plenty of modern democracies do not hold primaries.. Not even all states in the US have primaries. The caucus system is still in use in Iowa as we will all re-learn a year from now. Can you imagine a caucus system in place here?

It turns out that the direct primary system got its start just outside of Pittsburgh. Crawford County, Pennsylvania created the direct primary in 1842. The local Democratic Party had a chaotic and ultimately failed county convention that year whereupon no slate of candidates was nominated. In the machinations that followed, they ultimately dealt with the situation by allowing all Democrats to cast equal votes for who would represent the party in elections that fall. Seems like a normal enough idea now, but it had never been tried that way before. The idea was so well liked that it transformed from a provisional measure to the permanent method of selecting party nominees. While the idea spread throughout the state and nation, it was not an overnight change. Pennsylvania would not have a comprehensive law requiring primaries until 1913.

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