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Columbia Missourian

GUEST COMMENTARY: Now is the time to make changes to elections

By Paul Wallace
November 12, 2012 | 10:22 a.m. CST

Electoral crisis isn’t necessary. Electoral crisis in Florida paralyzed the Al Gore/George Bush presidential election in 2000. Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and other states could have provided parallel crises in 2012.

Countries with a nonpartisan, nationwide election commission don’t have this problem. For the U.S. such an election commission could be conceived as a fourth branch of government empowered to run fair elections. This commission also could be mandated to form electoral districts so that “gerrymandering” and other anti-democratic drawing of electoral boundaries can be avoided.

India borrowed from British experience to establish and maintain an electoral commission widely applauded by bitterly contending political parties. The Electoral Commission of India also is a model for electoral commissions in several other countries established since World War II. The U.S. is the oldest continuous democracy in the world. However, we continue to operate with creaking, even dangerous, electoral institutions. We can do better, and now is the time to do so before the next election cycle overwhelms the possibility of constructive electoral reform.

Major considerations in establishing an electoral commission include:

Framers of the U.S. Constitution constructed a system of checks and balances that necessitate compromise. That system is in danger of collapsing under the triple threats of electoral fraud, extremist political confrontations and gridlock. An effective electoral commission can provide for fair elections and contribute to the founder’s goal of a U.S. political system based on compromise and moderation.

Paul Wallace is a professor emeritus of political science at MU and a Columbia resident.