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ABDUL-HAKIM SHABAZZ Commentary: How to make elections fairer, more fun

November 6, 2006

There's the old saying that when one door closes, another one opens. One could also say the same about political campaigns. On Nov. 7, a number of campaigns will come (thankfully) to an end; the congressional races across the state, the legislative races and my personal favorite, the Marion County prosecutor's race.

But don't get too comfortable. You'll have only a few weeks to rest and think about Thanksgiving and Christmas before we start up the 2007 municipal elections, which include a mayoral race in Indianapolis. And don't forget in 2008 there's a presidential race and gubernatorial election, as well as Congress and a good portion of the Indiana General Assembly. But all these elections don't have to be a horrible experience for you, the voter. A number of things can be done to improve the system and make life easier:

End gerrymandering. If you look at a map of legislative and congressional districts, they tend to look like something from Rorschach's inkblot test or one of my son's drawings from when he was 3. The purpose of such maps is to protect incumbents by giving them primarily Democratic or Republican districts.

The safer the district, the less likely you are to get competition for a legislative seat. Less competition not only means voters get less choice, but also incumbents are less accountable for their actions. Another negative of gerrymandered districts is that we get more partisan politics. When lawmakers know they are safe and will get re-elected, regardless of their floor vote, there is less reason to compromise and work with members of the other party.

Eliminate straight-ticket voting.

This is the worst. Most voters are lazy; straight-ticket voting only adds to the problem. No one should be allowed to walk into a voting both, punch a button or make a mark on a sheet of paper and vote for candidates without even looking at their names.

This is not to say voters can't vote straight-party, but at the very least they should be forced to look at the names of the candidates on the ballot.

Another benefit of eliminating straightticket voting is that it can help keep unqualified candidates out of office. No political party would run clearly unqualified candidates at the top of the ticket, but a number of them sneak in at the bottom and it's usually for offices that are administrative in function.

Does Indiana really need to elect county coroners? Could a chiropractor get elected coroner in Marion County without straight-ticket voting? And here's a dirty little secret: Most political insiders would prefer straight-ticket voting be eliminated. It would save them the trouble of dealing with nuts who get elected to public office because of an uninformed electorate.

Shorten the election season. Move the primary to September, ban campaign ads until Oct. 1, and give the electorate a break. It might seem a little harsh, but, to a lot of voters, campaigns seem to go on forever. By Election Day, they are burned out. Candidates wouldn't mind a shorter season, either.

Another idea: Make campaign contributions tax-deductible for individuals and taxable income for candidates. But that's another column for another time. So until these brilliant suggestions become public policy, stay informed, take your ID to the polls, and wonder why your favorite local columnist isn't on the ballot. Happy voting.



Shabazz is the morning show host on WXNT-AM 1430 and of counsel at the law firm of Lewis & Wilkins. His column appears monthly. He can be reached by e-mail at ashabazz@ibj.com.
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