Mark Washburn

November 12, 2008

Lest election glow fade, let's change the system

Change was a popular theme in this election. Take that as a sign we should change the ways we do elections.

Change was a popular theme in this election. Take that as a sign we should change the ways we do elections.

Early voting stays. That's the best electoral innovation since the purple fingertip.

Our much-misunderstood Electoral College goes. Most people think it's where Reddy Kilowatt got his degree.

Way back, the founders thought it was a good idea to vote for people who would go on horseback to the state capital and choose a president. Folks had trouble getting around in those days – construction on I-485 was lagging even then – and it seemed a convenient solution.

Other convenient solutions of those days included outdoor privies, witch trials and using leeches to treat the flu. We've gotten rid of those, but the Electoral College hangs on.

One person, one vote is the myth of the land. Electoral votes are determined by how many representatives a state sends to Congress, and that is set by overall state population.

It has nothing to do with the number of registered or active voters. It doesn't even necessarily reflect the number of actual U.S. citizens in a given state. It's fraud at the polls.

It also warps the way campaigns are conducted. By the time the general election rolls around, pollsters know what states are up for grabs and which ones aren't worth the bother. Guess which ones get all the attention?

N.C. voters were eagerly courted by both presidential campaigns while S.C. voters were ignored.

But it turned out North Carolina didn't matter on election night. It was too close to call and the other states made the decision.

One person, one vote isn't a bad idea, and it's technologically possible to do now that two-thirds of 485 has been paved.

Next, we're going to find a better way to select judges.

Our rule for electing them in North Carolina goes back to roughly 1868. If it were your ride, it'd be an ox cart.

This election, that ox cart rolled down Main Street with comic effect.

On one side of the ballot was Ben Thalheimer, a veteran jurist widely respected in the court community.

On the other was Bill Belk of the Belk retail family. Belk has a law degree, but most of his courtroom experience involved sitting in one during a testy divorce. Thalheimer was the judge and Belk was sore his ex-wife got a generous settlement.

So he ran against Thalheimer. And he won.

While it is true that Belk probably had the sympathy of 50 percent of the divorced voters (still angry), it is also likely that many people on election day (morons) got down the ballot and were surprised they were expected to offer an opinion in something called a District Court race.

Having pretty much expended their democratic energy on the marquee races of president, senator and governor, they remembered their charge card and pushed the button.

Note to the general public: Judges are actually important in the court system and should be chosen by people who know them by more than a single verdict.

Not a bad idea is to have a commission nominate candidates and let the governor pick one. Make them eligible for recall if they don't work out.

This was a good election. There were good candidates in most races and clear choices. People got involved in a big way.

Now, before the glow wears off, let's make the next one better.

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