On Friday, I was talking to Jan Kelly, the director of the Montgomery County Board of Elections. about a form. Trying to figure out how to accurately fill it out- and the cold hard fact was, it requested information that was totally impossible for a voter, or even the person in charge of checking that form to know what the answer was. The correct way to fill this form out was to leave information required blank.
Bad form design aside, how to find the simplest information about who and what we elect, what the qualifications for each and every public office, term dates, forms required, processes to follow are all over the place online- making getting into elected office way more complicated than it has to be. While the axiom of running government like a business is a common crutch for clueless political wannabes, the reality is that even the way to buy elected office is such a convoluted process that if elected office were an online store, it wouldn’t make very many sales.
The Montgomery County Board of Elections has an online portal to tell you if you are registered and where to vote (it’s recently been fixed so that it will even allow those without a middle name to get their information, a flaw identified by this site a few weeks ago) it doesn’t have the ability to tell you all the people who represent you and their offices.
Who represents you?
We often see a little blurb at the end of newspaper articles about how to contact your congressman with their address and phone number, but, who represents you on the State Board of Elections, who is your coroner, your party precinct captain, your county engineer, your state Supreme Court justices? Good luck at finding all that information in one place, yet isn’t this the most fundamental part of a representative democracy?
One of the reasons we have so many elections is because we have so many offices to fill and we’re attempting not to overload and confuse the voters. It’s one of the reasons the big political parties hand out the official “Endorsed candidate slate list” because, frankly, it’s too hard for most voters to fathom who they should vote for in each election without one- especially when the ballot contains candidates like judges who don’t show their party affiliation on the ballot (at least this used to be the case, I’m not even sure of where this stands right now in Ohio).
I also often get calls asking what the qualifications are for office- not just where you have to live, your age, your experience, but what petitions, deadlines, etc., are required to run for U.S. Congress- you don’t actually have to live in the district you are planning to represent, nor do you have to be born in the U.S., but to run for president you have to be born in the U.S. and have to be at least 35. As to how many signatures are required- it depends on if you are running as a candidate of a major political party or not. All these details should be available to each and every voter. For instance, even though it’s not an elected position- you don’t have to be a lawyer or have gone to law school to be on the U.S. Supreme Court- although it’s very unlikely that Congress (a body made up of a lot of lawyers) would ever confirm a non-lawyer to the bench these days, although as recently as 1941 we had a high-school dropout appointed to the bench.
The last justice to be appointed who did not attend any law school was James F. Byrnes (1941-1942). He did not graduate from high school and taught himself law, passing the bar at the age of 23.
via- Supreme Court FAQ
It would seem to me that knowing who represents you, how to contact them, the requirements of the office and the forms to file should all be available to every voter, with a simple look-up of their address, just like they have for where you vote. This should be required by law, across the land, and every effort should be made to simplify and reduce the number of forms (see this page on the Ohio secretary of state’s office for the really long list of required forms: http://www.sos.state.oh.us/sos/elections/electionsofficials/forms.aspx) My really rough count came up at 238 (not including the ones in Spanish).
The SOS site does have a page with a general description of what is voted on in the next election here: http://www.sos.state.oh.us/sos/elections/Voters/whatsontheballot/whatsOnBallot.aspx
There aren’t enough hours in the day, or dollars you could pay me to try to list all the offices from party precinct captains up to POTUS, but I’m pretty sure the list would overwhelm each and every one of you if it was readily accessible. If we want to see any real reduction of government, or better efficiencies via regionalism, this would be an amazing place to start- a simple look-up by address, of every person you are expected to elect, complete with requirements for office, terms, pay, duties and who currently sits in it.
For the closest example of anything remotely like an information page for running for office- see this page from Armstrong County, Pa.: http://www.co.armstrong.pa.us/departments/public-services/elections-votersregistration/running-for-public-office New York state also has a page: http://www.elections.ny.gov/RunningOffice.html
VoteSmart.org has a look-up list that’s semi-useful, but far from complete or up-to-date: http://votesmart.org/search?q=45410&cx=004674700904797117618%3Aiqzskagjgeo&cof=FORID%3A11#.UwnzGl6gaXQ (Gary Leitzell is still Mayor!). Common Cause has an even less complete version here: http://www.commoncause.org/siteapps/advocacy/search.aspx?c=dkLNK1MQIwG&b=4860375
What do you think?