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COMMENTARY | Approximately half the Americans eligible to vote in the 2012 presidential election didn't. And many of those who did vote were subjected to waiting hours at polls on Election Day. Despite the typically unimpressive turnout, this presidential campaign was the most expensive ever waged. The Associated Press pegs that figure at an astonishing $2 billion, including $900 million spent on television ads. Two-thirds was dumped in just four states: Florida, Ohio, Virginia and North Carolina. Another five swing states that tally up hefty electoral votes defined the race.
Something is wrong. Here's how we could fix it.
Compulsory voting made easy
The United States should have compulsory voting, accessible online. We should shift from Tuesday to a Saturday or Sunday and introduce voting via mobile app to hospitals and senior care homes. It can be managed; there are 23 countries with mandatory voting, including Australia, Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Thailand, Turkey and Singapore. Many countries have an "opt-out" option for the elderly for illness and for exceptional circumstances.
We manage mandatory local and federal tax collection, driver's license registration and jury duty. Surely we can get this done.
Modern Americans are mobile
The United States should abolish its obsolete electoral college by constitutional amendment. We've changed voting rights around gender, race, age, and now it is time to consider geography. Modern Americans move frequently, nationwide and overseas. Romney lived in France and Utah, and was governor of Massachusetts. Obama attended school in both Massachusetts and New York, and represented Illinois. Where we live and cast a ballot has no relevance in national elections; yet this is currently weighted above all else, giving 30 percent of us little say in the game.
One person, one vote
The winner-takes-all electoral system has created a skewed emphasis on certain states, drilling down by county, by congressional district, practically zooming into streets. National elections are being decided by pockets of voters drenched with negative ads and exorbitant candidate attention. In Cleveland, for instance, the average voter was exposed to 87 presidential campaign spots per week. Las Vegas was the most highly saturated city, with media experts tallying up 10,000 per week during the fall run-up to election day. One mid-September week saw $8 million dumped in Richmond, Va., a tenfold increase over 2008. Last year, Kantar Media Group's President, Ken Goldstein, remarked, "This really is a year when there is such focus on relatively few markets that the levels of advertising we're seeing are really uncharted waters."
Although I've never missed voting in a presidential election, my vote here in San Francisco has never truly mattered.