Sunday, Oct. 31, 2004
Maybe it's time
to look at new voting methods
SC Statehouse Report
31, 2004 - - With many eyes focused on Tuesdays local,
state and national elections, it may be a good time to look
at how we elect people to office and whether its time
for some changes.
In South Carolina, registered voters go to the polls on the
first Tuesday in November and cast ballots for their choice
for offices. Generally, they vote for a Republican, Democrat
or third-party candidate. Some municipalities and school districts
allow voters to pick candidates on a non-partisan basis. In
general, the candidate who gets the most votes on the day
of the General Election wins - - even if that person gets
less than 50 percent of the vote.
Report's Andy Brack will help to provide election commentary
Tuesday night with Walter Edgar on the stations of SCETV's
Radio. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. Tune in.
Because the two main political parties are so powerful, most
candidates run as Republicans or Democrats. Those candidates
are picked in partisan primaries earlier in the year. The
way the current system is set up, most contested General Election
races offer two candidates because third-party candidates
have a hard time getting traction with voters.
So all in all, the system generally is skewed to provide
voters a limited choice in candidates. Meanwhile, voter turnout
over the years has eroded. This years election, however,
seems to be countering the trend due to more people registered
- - especially in the late stages of the election season -
- in South Carolina and nationally.
Regardless, critics of the current way elections are held
say there are compelling reasons to consider changes. For
example, the primary system results in a lot of costly runoffs.
Minorities have a harder time in the current system getting
elected. Gerrymandered districts polarize electorates. Campaigns
cost more in the current system, which discourages challengers
from taking on incumbents. With generally only two candidates
opposing each other in contested races, the politics of personal
destruction and attack are on the rise.
There are, however, a number of ideas being explored across
the country that South Carolina lawmakers might want to consider
to improve the way we hold elections:
Instant runoff elections. In democratic elections from
San Francisco to Australia, voters use a system that allows
them to rank several candidates in contested races. The top
two vote-getters in a race are tallied and if one does not
have a majority, the candidate with the fewest number of votes
is dropped. Ballots of supporters of that candidate are recounted
and allocated to their second choice for the seat. The process
continues until one candidate gets the majority.
WORLD: The new Halloween
Who's up and down
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Same-day registration. In states like Minnesota, residents
can register to vote as late as election day and still vote.
This is a tool effectively used to stimulate more voter participation,
which many agrees makes the democracy healthier, but it has
to be closely watched to deter fraud. (You might remember
former Gov. Jesse Ventura. He effectively used same-day registration,
in part, to win as an independent in 1998).
Mail-in voting. Some places, such as Oregon, allow
voters to cast ballots by mail for a month before election
day. The technique has improved turnout, but candidates often
dont like the system because it makes it harder for
them to get out their messages. Instead of concentrating much
of their volleys on the last two weeks, they have to extend
the length of pointed campaign messages.
Change the voting day. Voting on Tuesday, a work day,
is a pain for many, even though your employer has to let you
off work to vote. Many suggest changing to a weekend voting
date - - or a several-day period for voting - - would boost
turnout and interest because it would be easier.
Online voting. Talk about convenience. If voters could
click buttons through the Internet and vote, life would be
much easier for many.
At this point, South Carolina lawmakers see no major reform
efforts ahead, in part, because there are no proposals in
the offing. House Judiciary Chairman Jim Harrison says, however,
that if proposals are offered, lawmakers will have hearings
and give them serious consideration.
Look for something serious next April when the League of Women
Voters of South Carolina is expected to present findings of
an ongoing study thats looking at ideas for alternate
In the meantime, were stuck with the system we have.
Make the most of it on Tuesday.
Other news doesn't provide as much comfort:
Unemployment is up. South Carolina's unemployment
rate rose to 6.9 percent in September. Tourism and construction
jobs were down, but some seasonal jobs were up.
Not reflected in job loss figures for September were two
just-announced plant closings. Delta Woodside in Piedmont
said it would close a mill by Nov. 20, which would be put
361 people out of work. Nearby in Oconee County, Piedmont
Home Textile Corp. said it would close, which would leave
122 without work by the end of the year. Both closures reportedly
are due to foreign imports, a new wave of which is expected
to flood the market in January when quotas are lifted.
Fuel prices are up. Anybody knows gasoline is now
above $2 per gallon in many places. But energy experts predict
home heating costs to rise this winter because natural gas
futures are up more than 300 percent and coal prices are expected
to rise stiffly too.
As one top-level energy executive recently noted, higher
energy prices might dampen growth from higher sales and a
slightly rebounding economy. Ryan's Restaurant CEO Charles
Way told reporters recently he anticipated a difficult business
environment to continue because higher oil prices would sap
Hefner agreed that consumer confidence might go down if gas
prices hit $3 per gallon, but that wasn't likely. If prices
went, say, to $2.10 or $2.20, people would continue to spend
because Americans see travel as a necessity. He predicted
consumers likely would continue to spend - - even if they
had to go deeper in debt - - unless things got real bad.
The unpredictability of the economy presents a challenge
Wednesday to the state Board of Economic Advisors, which is
expected to present an economic forecast that is the first
step in next year's state budget-making process.
If the BEA is too conservative, lawmakers will face another
lean budget year and potentially cut more services, which
many already believe are on life-support. If forecasters paint
too rosy of a picture, lawmakers may face an easier time in
2005, but have shortfalls to deal with down the road.
10/31: The new Halloween
The latest from cartoonist Bill McLemore:
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SOUTH CAROLINA SCORECARD
Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various
political events from the past week:
Voter registration. It's good news for the process
that there are more than 300,000 more voters registered than
a couple of years ago.
Wingate. Thumbs down to GOP Senate candidate Ken Wingate
for not denouncing an out-of-state group that's trying to
push its narrow anti-public school agenda in the Senate 22
Sanford. It seems odd that the governor is pushing
his income tax reduction plan in the last week of campaigning
when members of his party are trying to get their messages
through to voters. Sanford's plan would weaken the state's
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Notes veteran lawmaker Sen. Glenn McConnell: "Statehouse
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