Monday, December 10, 2012

PF Jan 2013 Citizens United - Election Process


For part one of this analysis, click here.

The Election Process

In part one of this analysis I discussed how the election process can be defined as the process, or procedures or steps employed in making an election which is a choice.  I was intentionally trying to convey the idea that the election process is much more that casting a ballot, having it counted and then using the count to select electors from the electoral college.  In fact that ballot casting and procedures which follow are the final steps in a long process of selecting a candidate which typically begins some two years prior to the ballot casting and counting.  It starts when individuals announce their intention to seek the nomination of their party for the office in question.  Then begins a protracted process of securing the nomination by means of campaigning, which amounts to trying to persuade the voters the potential candidate is the "best" choice to represent his or her party.  Once the nomination is won, the process continues with even more campaigning trying to persuade the voters a particular party choice (or independent) should be selected to the office.  Finally the polling is done and the votes are counted.  So we see there is a two year process leading up to the final selection which concludes in a very short period (typically a single day) of ballot casting followed by a few weeks to validate the counts.

The resolution asks us to debate whether the Citizen United decision by the US Supreme Court harms the "election process".  Since the Citizen United decision impacts the period of time in which candidates campaign, prior to that single day in November when ballots are officially cast we must assume the resolution is not specific to the events which transpire from November onward.  Let's face it.  Once the ballots are cast, there is no way any super PAC can influence the election or have an impact on the process.  Therefore, despite the very ambiguous choice of words in the resolution, we must assume the intention is to debate about the effect super PACs have on US political campaigns.  I think any team that tries to spin it into a case which claims no harms to the process of final ballot casting, counting and electoral college delegate selection will be non-topical or at best over-limiting. BUT...


Rogues in the Ranks

There is one way Pro can push the debate beyond the date voters make their final choices.  Remember, for presidential elections in the United States we use an indirect method of voting.  Our choices are carried by representatives of the electoral college and it is they that ultimately choose a candidate for President.  In most states the electors are expected to vote according to a plurality of the votes in the district or state they represent.  For example, in Ohio, there are 18 electors.  Whichever candidate wins the greatest number of votes (the plurality) each of the 18 electors are expected to cast their votes for the candidate that won the plurality of votes.  I say expected, because there is no guarantee they will vote as indicated.  Prior to the 2012 presidential election, CNN reported the following:

"An investigation by The Associated Press last month revealed that as many as five Republican electors expressed uncertainty whether they would actually vote for Mitt Romney if he carried their state. These electors appear to be unhappy with Romney and continue to show support for his primary rival Rep. Ron Paul.

In the wake of this news, one of the electors abruptly resigned her position. On another front, a Minnesota elector suggested that he may not vote for the Romney-Ryan ticket if the candidates fail to furnish their birth certificates (in an effort to put pressure on all candidates to furnish their birth certificates).

These potentially rogue electors would effectively disenfranchise hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of voters. The 2012 election will probably be very close. Consequently, in the worst of scenarios, a "faithless" vote might not only disenfranchise voters but alter the outcome of the race. While unlikely, this begs the question: Why do presidential electors still have independence in our current presidential selection process?"


Electors may break ranks, so to speak, and decide to vote according to their own whims or conscious.  Such "faithless" electors are often called "rogues" for breaking the duty they are expected to carry out and if a faithless vote is cast, there is no law to prevent it.

"The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the Constitution does not require that Electors be completely free to act as they choose and therefore, political parties may extract pledges from electors to vote for the parties’ nominees. Some State laws provide that so-called "faithless Electors"; may be subject to fines or may be disqualified for casting an invalid vote and be replaced by a substitute elector. The Supreme Court has not specifically ruled on the question of whether pledges and penalties for failure to vote as pledged may be enforced under the Constitution. No Elector has ever been prosecuted for failing to vote as pledged."

Electors meet December 17, 2012 in their respective states to officially record their votes for the 2012 presidential election and send them to Congress.  This means, a super PAC may still have an influence on the election even after the general election up until the electors cast they votes.  A super PAC may be able to influence a faithless elector to break ranks and change the expected vote and possibly the outcome of a tight election.  There is no evidence I am aware of that an elector has changed their expected vote due to PAC influence so I only mention this a potential point of debate.  In my opinion, the effect of super PACs on rogue electors will not be provable if at all, until there have been sufficient numbers of elections in which to draw conclusions.

Internet and Social Media

Generally speaking, we may assume in the digital age, the Internet and social media has an impact on the candidate selection process in the US.  No doubt one will find research which attempts to measure this influence and the Federal Election Commission has decided it will not do anything to restrict or limit Internet advertising, blogging, or other forms of electioneering.  Despite these facts, once again I must conclude this should not be a contention in this debate except in those cases in which super PACs use the Internet as means of influencing elections.  One can be sure, a super PAC will use any media type to get the message out.  Debaters should be aware that the major issue is not so much what media super PACs use, rather, whether the unlimited use of financial resources is harmful.

The Debate Context

In the first part of this analysis I have presented the basic definitions of the words in the resolution and taken a general swipe at offering an interpretation of the resolution.  In part two, I went into depth in describing the background of the various laws which brought us to the Citizens United Decision.  Finally in this part of the analysis I have defined a context for the terminology "election process".  Based on my analysis, therefore, we can pretty much limit this debate to, does the fact super PACs are allowed unlimited spending harm the process of selecting candidates and issues?  In particular, does the unlimited free speech given to particular groups during election campaigns hurt the American way of making election choices.


In the next parts of this analsys, I will present the Pro position.


For links to other Public Forum debate topics, click here.

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