Sunday, December 21, 2014

An alternative to electing Republicans: Don't elect Democrats or Republicans?

In a column today, Stu Bykofsky calls on all Philadelphians to vote for Republicans. Stu's a Democrat, but the Democrats in this town, he says, have "been in the driver's seat for a tortoise's lifetime and have driven the car into a ditch." Electing Republican Michael Untermeyer (the candidate for D.A.) or Al Schmidt (Controller) would, he believes, send a message to Dems to shape up and be more responsible with taxpayer money.

An alternative to electing Republicans: Don't elect Democrats or Republicans?

In a column today, Stu Bykofsky calls on all Philadelphians to vote for Republicans. Stu's a Democrat, but the Democrats in this town, he says, have "been in the driver's seat for a tortoise's lifetime and have driven the car into a ditch." Electing Republican Michael Untermeyer (the candidate for D.A.) or Al Schmidt (Controller) would, he believes, send a message to Dems to shape up and be more responsible with taxpayer money.

Leaving aside the merits of these particular candidates and their opponents, I have two doubts about this plan. One is that I'm not sure how much electing a single Republican in a single election is really going to disturb a long-established, well-entrenched party. The other is that it just seems bloody unrealistic. Philadelphians, in significant numbers, are probably not going to vote for Republicans.

There's another possibility, however: Philly could change the way we decide who spends our money. The way we do things now is not actually the only way to do them.

More than 80 percent of the country's largest cities use some form of nonpartisan elections, for instance. That means no Republicans, no Democrats. I wrote an article about electoral reforms for City Paper a couple of years ago and explained it this way:

This form was popularized in the early part of the 20th century, when the Progressive movement held that local governments should focus on fixing potholes and picking up garbage, and that ideological political parties were irrelevant to these tasks.

[snip]

The elections themselves are straightforward affairs: Candidates get on the ballot by collecting signatures, and then they enter a primary. If no candidate gains a majority of the vote, the top two advance to a runoff.

Think of it: No more automatically voting for someone because of his party. Candidates would have to make a case on the merits (or, at least, they'd have to make some case).

Of course, there are potential downsides: Eliminating party-based mobilization efforts means an even bigger premium is put on money and TV ads (although maybe if accompanied by some campaign finance reform ...). And some research suggests that nonpartisan elections depress voter turnout, particularly among people of lower socioeconomic strata.

I'm not sure if nonpartisan elections in Philly would lead to smarter taxing and spending policies. And I'm not sure a change of this magnitude is that much more realitic than Philadelphians voting for Republicans. But I'm pretty sure that, if you're interested in breaking the hold of one-party rule, eliminating parties altogether is something worth thinking about.

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About this blog
Every year, city government spends slightly more than $4 billion. Where does all that money come from? More importantly, where does it go? Are we getting the most bang for our tax buck? “It's Our Money” is a joint project between Philadelphia Daily News and WHYY, funded by the William Penn Foundation, designed to answer these questions.

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