Now that Election Day has passed (even if its drama will be with us for some time), I would like to see some changes before we get to the next election cycle. Because it is clear, with the last two presidential election cycles being evidence, something needs to change.
1. Polling to generate news needs to end.
The news media needs to do some self-reflection. Even if Vice President Joe Biden becomes our next president, and it seems likely at this point he will, the news media and pollsters botched this election and in 2016.
The presidential election was going to be a landslide, we were told. U.S. Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, was going to lose her seat. U.S. Senator Thom Tillis, R-N.C., was going to lose. U.S. Senator Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, was neck-in-neck with Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield.
None of which was true.
Now kudos to J. Ann Selzer, who conducts the Iowa Poll on behalf of the Des Moines Register, their final poll in the presidential race in Iowa and Iowa’s U.S. Senate race was accurate within the margin of error. Her congressional district polling was abysmal. Republicans have historically outperformed that poll. They had the wrong winner in the 2014 gubernatorial race, but, in their defense, was within the margin of error. They also predicted the wrong winner for the 2016 Republican Iowa Caucus, so while more accurate, they’ve been far from perfect.
With a growing number of Americans unwilling to answer their phone, I think polling accuracy will continue to be a problem.
What is the point of public polling like this? Had any votes been cast? All these polls generate news and establish a narrative the media then parrots throughout the election cycle.
It gives a sense of inevitability, which unduly influences an election.
Do we need daily presidential approval ratings? Weekly? No.
Gallup first conducted the first presidential poll in the 1936 election. Before then, voters somehow found a way to select who they wanted to vote for without pollsters. How did our republic ever survive?
It did just fine. Instead of reporting on polls, they should just inform voters on what candidates and elected officials say and do. That’s enough.
Polling has its place. It’s helpful to gauge where the public stands on issues. Internal polling is useful for campaigns.
Public polling no longer serves the public interest.
2. News organizations don’t need to “call” an election.
I don’t know why we have to have a news organization call a race or declare a winner in the election while counting is still going on. We can be patient. Once the counting is complete, then we can know the unofficial results.
News organizations have botched this in the past. I also don’t know why we need results reported while people are still voting.
We can be patient. A state’s secretary of state can state, “Counting is complete, here are the unofficial results.”
We are just talking about a matter of a few hours for most states. Then you won’t have campaigns bickering over a state being called early. Who appointed news organizations to do this?
No one. It should stop.
3. We need different debates.
The Commission on Presidential Debates served its purpose, but its time has now passed. Campaigns can decide how debates are conducted and how many. They should sit down and hash this out when the nominee in each party is known.
Why does a journalist have to moderate? Why does there have to be a moderator at all? Let candidates ask each other questions and give each other time to answer. The arbitrary “2:00 minute answer, 30 second response” rule hardly allows any substance. Let’s also have more town hall debates and questions asked in the order they are submitted.
Here’s an idea: let’s have the debates BEFORE people start voting.
These changes can be made in any election, not just the presidential election.
4. Counting needs to be over on Election Day.
Legislation is required for this change. Count every vote, but every vote, if it is absentee, needs to be counted before or on Election Day. This should not be hard. It is ludicrous that there are still states who do not have official results.
Have a post-mark date requirement early enough to ensure it will arrive where it is supposed to go the day before Election Day. This is not hard. It just requires voters who want to vote by absentee to think ahead. Have early voting locations available for those who can not vote on Election Day to vote still if they miss the absentee deadline.
Don’t change the rules amid an election. I don’t give a rip if there is a pandemic. We need fair elections that people can trust. Changing the rules in the middle of the game (whether it is Republicans or Democrats doing it) erodes confidence.
Having counting complete on Election Day takes away any possibility for anyone to ask, “how many votes do we still need?”
And, yes, that has been done in the past, this would eliminate the temptation.