November 12, 2010

Our View: New politics may emerge from election

In the wake of last week's squeaker of a gubernatorial election, a number of reforms have been proposed which, had they been in place, could have altered the outcome of the race.

Independent candidate Eliot Cutler and his supporters have argued that early voting hurt his candidacy by letting people cast their ballots before he got a chance to make his case.

They also argue that Maine's tradition of fielding viable third-party and non-party candidates offers no way to narrow the field and thus consistently elects governors with a minority of the vote.

Cutler says an instant runoff system, like Portland's just-approved ranked- choice voting system, would be an improvement.

One thing is for certain: The duly elected government will not be where reforms like this are hatched. Don't expect officials to see the flaws in the system that just elected them.

If changes are made, it will most likely come from the people, through petition drives, like the efforts that gave us publicly funded elections and term limits. But Cutler does not think that change is far off, and he has a point. The last two elections have shown an electorate impatient for change and not very enthusiastic about the political parties that fail to deliver it.

Like many traditional institutions (including newspapers), political parties have been rocked by the information revolution. Parties used to be the organizations that brought diverse interests together and mediated their differences to build the coalitions that can win elections. Now technology gives the interests direct access to the voters. The parties are no longer necessary for communication, leaving an opening for some new kind of political organization that can bring coalitions together and win elections.

It's too early to say what this organization would look like, or whether it would be centered around a candidate or a set of issues.

But Cutler's close race shows that Maine's independent nature makes this a place where we could see some real changes in the way electoral politics will work in the information age.


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