Election turnout...and burnout

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel                               October 16, 2008

Nothing can be certain except death and taxes. With apologies to Benjamin Franklin, he forgot elections.

It is 10 months from the first presidential primary to election day. My wife and I met, determined we were soul mates for life and were married in less time.

On Sept. 7, the prime minister of Canada dissolved Parliament and called an election for Oct. 14 ó 38 days later. Britainís national elections work on a similarly tight schedule.

Here, we donít just have the fall primary and election but also the spring primary and election ó the last, best remembered for its nasty Supreme Court contest. Packed on that election ballot were the superintendent of public instruction, municipal judges, state judges and justices, county executives, county supervisors, municipal officers and school board members. Some counties even elected their coroner and surveyor.

On the November ballot are president, vice president, congressional representatives, state Assembly representatives, state and U.S. senators, governors, secretary of state, state treasurer, attorney general, court clerks, county clerks, sheriffs, district attorneys, registers of deeds and county treasurers.

Can you name your county register of deeds? How about some of the other officials you voted for? Do you know what the Wisconsin secretary of state does?

Is it any wonder that turnout is so low? Doesnít that tell us that we have too many elected positions in too many elections?

When turnout shrinks sufficiently, majority rule can slip into minority rule as the few who vote decide for all ó the antithesis of democracy.

Canadaís political system, modeled after the British, has no annual spring and fall elections. There is a single federal election for all members of Parliament every four or five years. The provinces work the same. Below them are city councils and school boards. No cabinet elections. No county elections. No judicial elections.

Turnout is considerably higher for the far fewer ballots in far fewer elections.

Some American positions have terms that are simply too short. Two years for Congress or state Assembly? Representatives barely have time to scratch their name in the desk and learn the rules of lawmaking before they have to start fund-raising for the next election.

How much work for the people gets done? Letís face it, our representatives canít possibly have time to read every word of every bill and ponder the broad implications before they vote. Is this responsible government? Is this good democracy?

We are drowning in too much of a good thing.

Oh, I can hear you say that I am selling out the soul of liberty. Actually, I am addressing its soul. The Constitution separates power between the three branches because it recognizes the imperfection of democracy. It even has a hospital ward for healing through constitutional amendment. That is the soul of democracy.

With so many officials facing elections, on-the-job productivity in Washington, Madison, Milwaukee and Ozaukee takes a big hit. This can only slow down the business of government. Is this why so many politicians were asleep at the switch as our financial system got hooked on steroids and then imploded?

America is supposed to be the Eden of democracy, but the election treadmill undermines that title.

Elections are like food. Moderation is healthy. Gluttony is dangerous.








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