Maybe Long Campaigns Aren't So Bad
What has this campaign season taught you about the process that you didn't already know?
Good question. I think a lot of people will be readjusting their attitudes toward campaign finance after this one. Barack Obama's coffers are overflowing to a degree never before imagined. Yet his enthusiastic donors are the same people who once claimed that money -- especially large-scale fundraising -- corrupts candidates and the political process. What happens to the push for publicly financed campaigns in the aftermath of the Obama juggernaut?
I have always been wary of efforts to curb political spending on First Amendment grounds, so this election hasn't changed my mind on that. The belief that this election calls into question involves a far more basic issue: the duration of the campaign.
I have long maintained that our presidential campaigns last too long. For all intents and purposes, Obama and McCain will have spent two full years doing nothing but campaigning for the presidency, and in the past that struck me as absurd.
Such a lengthy, grueling process makes running for president an exceedingly costly proposition, in personal as well as financial terms. It must deter impressive individuals from considering the presidency -- people who don't want to spend two years pandering and groveling for money on a daily basis. And because there is so much dead time to be filled during a long campaign, the campaign's length is one of the reasons we have the "luxury" to devote days, if not weeks, to silly, peripheral issues.
The protracted campaign season also deadens voter interest; the notion of a presidential campaign being a special time requiring our attention is undermined by the fact that it drones on for years. My son would be less excited about Halloween if I'd been talking to him about it every day since April.
Lastly, forcing candidates to spend two years on the road wooing voters is a way of guaranteeing that our presidents are thoroughly burnt out by the time they are sworn into office.
All that said, this campaign season gives me pause. The marathon leading up to next week's vote has served its purpose: It revealed the candidates' characters and readiness for office.
Obama may be the less experienced candidate, but he has shown far more gravitas and grace under pressure (not to mention managerial skill) than his primary opponents and John McCain. Meanwhile, McCain has proven himself to be a gambling, swashbuckling, instinctive and impatient maverick. His campaign hoped we'd pick up on some of these traits, but it can't seem to sell us on the idea that these are the traits we want in our president.
The Arizona senator doesn't have the stamina for this, and I am not sure that would have been clear in a more compressed election cycle. I don't mean physical age-related stamina (kudos to him on that front), but rather the emotional, intellectual stamina required to lay out a vision of what you want to accomplish and run a campaign that adheres to that vision, regardless of what your opponents and the real world throw your way.
There is a lot to admire about McCain, and if the American people were hiring a fighter pilot to undertake daring bombing missions over enemy capitals, we could all agree that he would be a far better hire than Obama. But it is Obama who is better suited, as a matter of temperament, to be the leader who answers that 3 a.m. phone call Hillary Clinton brought to our attention and who decides whether to order the John McCains of the world to go into battle.
And I am afraid it took this absurdly long campaign to make that crystal clear.
This is the first election that I have noticed such widespread "early voting." Doesn't the Constitution clearly state that Election Day is the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November? How can "early voting" be legal? Has this been tested in the Courts?
The Constitution does not say anything about voting on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. What it does say is that "Congress may determine the time of choosing the electors, and the day on which they shall give their votes, which day shall be the same throughout the United States." As early as 1792, Congress elected the first Wednesday in December as the date on which electors chosen by each state would cast their votes, and it provided states a 34-day window leading up to that date to pick their electors. Only in 1845 did Congress pass a law establishing the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November as the date on which states would pick their electors. But let's be clear: The constitutional mandate for voting on a single day doesn't cover what you and I do in the voting booth next week; it covers the subsequent casting of votes by the electors in the Electoral College.
This history and the reminder that our presidential election is technically a two-step process -- we vote for electors, and they choose the president -- help explain why "Election Day" is less sacrosanct than you would think. Many states, as you note, have long provided for absentee balloting, and the more recent trend has been to allow for convenient no-questions-asked early voting. In Oregon and Washington, people vote by mail. The trend to make participation ever more convenient is partly a response to low turnout rates across the country and the fact that holding an election on a workday is inconvenient for many people.
There have been court battles involving early voting and election procedures, but as there is no federal ban on early voting, most challenges invoke state constitutions, as our Maryland readers well know. In 2006, a state judge voided that state's early voting law, holding that it violated the state constitution. Next week, the people of Maryland will vote on a ballot measure to amend the state constitution and allow for early voting.
I am a usually a fan of greater convenience, but when it comes to voting, I am not a fan of the early voting mania. It seems strange to allow voters to cast ballots weeks before a campaign's closing arguments are made, when new information can still come out about candidates. And while it may not be constitutionally sacrosanct, I like the civic value of all Americans sharing one "Election Day."
By Andres Martinez |
October 28, 2008; 12:00 AM ET
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