Editorial: Non-partisanship is essential, needed for election administration
Published: Monday, January 28, 2013
Updated: Sunday, January 27, 2013 20:01
While the nation listened to Barack Obama’s second inaugural address one week ago today, members of the Virginia State Senate were hard at work. One of its members was absent, having travelled on that occasion to witness the inauguration in person, leaving the otherwise evenly-divided upper house one Democratic vote short. The temporary Republican majority took advantage of this situation to pass a new redistricting plan designed to isolate Virginia’s black voters into six majority-minority districts and ensure an almost invincible Republican majority in the Senate for years to come. What’s more, the newly-empowered Republican legislators also passed a bill causing Virginia’s electoral votes to be allocated on a Congressional district basis – if it had been in effect during the 2012 election, Mitt Romney would have won a majority of the state’s electoral votes despite losing the popular vote to Obama. The brazenness of these actions on the part of the Virginia Senate’s Republicans stunned even the state’s Republican Governor, who is currently debating signing these bills into law.
Rarely do political factions attempt a legislative blitzkrieg on this scale to get what they want, but the actual manipulation of electoral laws and procedures for baldly partisan goals in the United States is hardly a new or surprising phenomenon. The administration of elections in this country is a corrupt and partisan affair – political parties and their elected officials will do what they can to rewrite the rules and redraw the maps to ensure that they will have the best chance of seizing and holding power. In many states, redistricting plans cannot be approved without the assent of the state’s legislature and the governor. Most also have a constitutional officer directly responsible for the administration and oversight of elections who is nonetheless elected as a candidate of his or her political party. Even Connecticut’s towns elect partisan registrars of voters – almost always one Democrat and one Republican. But how does that impact Green and Libertarian voters, or independent/unaffiliated voters? Why are those voters not entitled to be represented by one of their own in the election administration process?
It is a simple axiom of politics that those with power will seek to maintain their power, even if the moral responsibilities of that office would seem to discourage those with that motivation from doing so. If any of the myriad problems plaguing our electoral system are to be solved, the first step must be to end blatantly partisan administration of elections. We have much to learn from Canada in that regard – all aspects of that country’s federal elections are under the authority of one non-partisan agency, Elections Canada. Aside from the fact that Elections Canada’s impartiality is basically unquestioned and that its leadership is appointed to office for life, thus freeing it from the influence of partisan power plays, what is perhaps most remarkable is that its Chief and Deputy Electoral Officers are the only Canadian citizens of age not entitled to vote. If we are to avoid another episode like the ones we have recently witnessed in Virginia, Pennsylvania and Florida, among countless others, we have to take non-partisan administration of elections this seriously.