Today, as I filled in my absentee ballot form for the primary in Pennsylvania, something that has bothered me since I’ve been legal to vote bothered me again. While I come prepared to vote for the major offices (president, senators, etc), there is inevitably a slew of candidates for more minor roles about whom I have never heard anything. When I tried to do my homework on the various candidates, all I could find were lists of names, no information. What is the point of choosing between two or more names which are nothing more than that–names? For all I knew, there could be racists, anarchists, or homophobes on the list. (I did eventually find some meager information on some of them, but not all).
The writers of the US Constitution were convinced that for democracy to work, it had to have educated electors. More than two centuries on, American voters still lack an accessible source of information on their candidates. No wonder nothing changes in parties, when no one knows about the candidates at the entry level positions (such as party delegates to conventions). I’m sure this is in no small way a part of both the “Tea Party” and “Occupy” movements’ discontent. In many ways, they are disenfranchised, even before special interests are taken into account.
Today technology offers a cheap way to address this democratic desideratum. All that would be needed would be an impartial web database that enabled voters to find candidates by election, office, and region. Beside the currently available party affiliations, it could include more pertinent information such as political philosophy, voting records for incumbents, and policy statements. This would be especially valuable for local government elections, since the work of these officials is incredibly difficult to find information about, despite relevance to local life. It could even be used to disclose campaign finance information, such as major donors or amounts spent. To reduce cost, all candidates could be required to submit their information for the database if they wished to be included on the ballot.
This kind of service would go miles towards increasing transparency, enabling the public to make informed decisions, and would be a step towards campaign finance regulation that would satisfy the Supreme Court’s demand for freedom of speech. It is also something all parties ought to be able to support, as it would give all their candidates free publicity and perhaps encourage more of the public to participate in elections (even in non-presidential years).
Perhaps a petition campaign could be organized to send to Congress? I would rather have some tax money spent on such a useful and cost-efficient program than on many other regulations for which we pay.