Does it seem like we are living in a world of perpetual campaigning? At the federal level, we have elections for president and both houses of Congress. At the state and local levels, we have elections for governor, state legislature, attorney general, secretary of state, various judicial seats, city and county boards, school boards, sheriff, coroner, mayor, and likely a dozen other offices that vary from community to community. It is also very likely that none of these elections take place at the same time. David Nir pointed out in a diary a little over a year ago that there are more than 500,000 elected officials in the United States. No wonder it seems like we are constantly having elections.
This presidential election cycle started on March 23, 2015 when Texas Sen. Ted Cruz threw his hat in the ring. The first statewide contest for president would not be held until February 2016, when Iowa voters went to the caucuses. Five Republican candidates dropped out of the race before a single vote was even cast.
And of course other elections don’t stop just because there is a presidential race going on. Often, smaller races—like school boards for example—get lost in the shuffle of all of the noise generated by a presidential election season that seems to start earlier and earlier every year.
What good does it do to to have an election season last 20 months, much less have a half dozen or more state and local elections take place during that same time? It’s no wonder we cannot get anyone to vote, let alone run for local offices.
In Great Britain national elections last around four months. In Canada they last 78 days and in Japan, 12 days. Other countries have laws governing how long their election periods are:
In Mexico, a 2007 law limited the length of campaigns (to 147 days). In Argentina, advertisements can begin only 60 days before the election, and the official campaign itself can start only 25 days after that. In France, the presidential campaign is generally only two-weeks long.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we need a campaign season that lasts almost two years? Is it so candidates can raise more and more money to run longer and longer campaigns? Or have the campaigns grown longer and longer because of the amount of money raised?
Our disjointed primary system contributes to this nightmare of the never-ending presidential campaign. Why does each state have to have a primary on a different day? Wouldn’t it make more sense to have a single primary day, one or two months before the general election? Or is that not enough time to dig up dirt on the candidates for mud slinging?
Our election system is broken. Too much time and money is spent on a dog and pony show that serves no purpose and turns voters off with the endless campaigning, constant ads, and news networks that focus solely on candidates to gain ratings. When you add in the attempts to disenfranchise voters with gerrymandering and voter ID laws, it’s a wonder anyone votes at all.
Shortening the presidential election season and moving to a national primary would go a long way toward bringing some sanity back to our elections. Twenty months is just too long, and sours everyone on the process.