‘Around the Block’ looks back


And it’s not pretty

I’ve been writing Around the Block on and off since 2012. A lot has happened, good and bad, in those 10 years. That good and bad has meant writing this blog has been kind of like riding a roller coaster; lots of ups and downs.

As you all know, the last six or so years has been overwhelmingly bad; Around the Block has, for the most part reflected that. In fact, one of my readers has been given to calling me “Teddy Downer!”

Of course, another of my readers suggested I run for president:

America desperately needs someone who can take charge (WHOSE NAME IS NOT DONALD TRUMP!) I do not know if such a person even exists in America today, let alone someone who is willing to run for office, but if you do not find someone, soon, someone who can overcome American apathy, America as YOU WANT TO KNOW IT will cease to exist. Which is why I think you should run, Ted.

And I don’t think he was kidding!

In doing some background digging for my last few posts, I reviewed some of my past columns, particularly the ones from 2016. 2016 was a terrible year for the country but a great year for Around the Block; the primaries and all the foolish candidates, both Republicans and Democrats, were easy to satirize and in those days, about half of what I wrote in Around the Block was satirical…I called those posts, “News with a Twist.”

But they all weren’t funny. In fact some, including the one I’m going to re-print today, had a bit of Teddy Downer in it.

That review of my 2016 columns led me to an idea. The election of 2016 could have been one of the worst things that ever happened to this country. Not only haven’t we recovered from the damage inflicted on us from Donald Trump and his minions and acolytes, we may never recover.

With that as background, over the next several days and weeks I’d like to reprise some of, in my opinion, the most memorable or important columns I wrote from that eventful, awful year. For the most part, they’ll be of the Teddy Downer variety. If these re-posts gain some traction with readers, I’ll also re-post some of the more satirical “News with a Twist” columns as well.

I decided to begin with a column I posted on April 26, 2016. Remember, in April 2016, Trump’s candidacy was still a joke. No one expected him to win the GOP nomination. And while many of my posts that year made fun of him…and so many of his opponents…this post was a serious one. It was inspired by a Bernie Sanders’ rant about fixing the campaign finance system. In those days, the app I used required both a title and a headline for the post. This one was titled “It’s not just the campaign finance system Bernie — it’s the whole electoral process.”

Here’s that post from over six years ago. Let me know what you think and if I should continue reprising some of my columns. And then, after reading this piece of ancient Around the Block history, commiserate with me because, NOTHING HAS CHANGED IN THOSE SIX YEARS EXCEPT, THAT IT’S WORSE NOW!

Our electoral system is completely broken

ATB asks: Is this the United States of America or the Banana States of America? 

April 26, 2016

A friend told me she and her kids worked on a delegate election ballot event to select delegates from her area in California.  She said, “We listened to speeches, counted votes, etc. But it’s a bit of an illusion that it is democratic since there are so many other delegates who do not get democratically elected by the general voting public.  It’s absolutely controlled by the parties and the party rules.” 

My friend asked me what I thought. Here’s how I responded:

“First, great that you guys are participating in the process. Unfortunately, the process you’re involved in is seriously broken.

“I agree with Bernie Sanders that our campaign finance system is corrupt. And clearly, Citizens United needs to be overturned. But even more important, our entire electoral process is seriously flawed and overdue for a complete overhaul.

“It is so flawed, in fact, that I fear that we are might no longer be the United States of America but are moving closer to becoming the Banana States of America.

“The following are my observations on what’s wrong with the process and some fixes we should be seriously considering.”

 The Primary system is inconsistent state-by-state and, as I wrote in an earlier Around the Block, by party/by state/by party–by state. If there is one consistency in the process it’s that it’s consistently undemocratic.

I wrote about California in an earlier post quoting an article in my local newspaper, the Marin Independent Journal:

“In California, the Republican candidate who wins the most votes in each congressional district will get all three of that district’s delegates. Each district is allotted three delegates regardless of how many Republicans are registered there.

“This means that the 2nd Congressional District, which includes Marin, Mendocino, Humboldt, Del Norte and parts of Sonoma County and has fewer than 111,000 registered Republicans, can deliver the same number of Republican delegates as the 48th  Congressional District, which spans Orange County and has more than 541,000 registered Republicans. 

“Put another way, a voter in the 2nd District has almost five times the clout as a voter in the 48th.”

And for California Democrats:

“CA has been allocated 546 (could change + or – 1 or 2) which includes 71 Superdelegates (Governor Brown, Senators Boxer & Feinstein, House members and DNC Members which includes the Chair & Vice Chair of each State Party), 317 district level delegates distributed in each of the 53 congressional districts (4 to 9 per district), then there are 158 total allocated statewide. If candidate A gets 55% of the state vote then that candidate would get 87 and candidate B would get 71. CA also gets 40 Alternates for a total Delegation of 586 and with spouses, partners, over 1,000 going to Philly.”

Wait, what?

How about Pennsylvania?

In Pennsylvania, which has 71 Republican delegates, 54 are unbound so no matter how the public votes, these folks cast their vote for whomever they want. In this primary then, more than 75% of the delegates are not actually part of the primary process, which begs the obvious question — why have a primary? 

And, while the ballot lists the names of the delegates, it does not indicate for whom their supporting. 

I heard today that one potential delegate has spent over $30,000 in his campaign to BECOME a delegate – he told reporters that he’s a Trump supporter but voters at the polling place wouldn’t necessarily know that. 

Another potential delegate said she was voting for Cruz in order to represent the Cruz voters in her district, even if Cruz gets only a handful of actual votes in that district. 


And Indiana?

In Indiana, delegate selection is extremely complicated as detailed in Chapter 10 of the 47-page “Rules of the Indiana Republican State Committee.” I didn’t have the patience to sort through exactly how it works.

And a Republican operative from West Virginia said on MSNBC that state’s primary rules are, believe it or not, “the most complicated” in the country. As much as I wanted to, I didn’t comb through the Mountain State’s Republican rules to vet that statement

Whether Trump’s allegations that delegates are being stolen from him (Louisiana is a case in point), or he just doesn’t know the rules, there’s a problem with the rules if one candidate receives the majority of the popular vote but gets the minority of the delegates. 

On the Democratic side, roughly 15% of the delegates are appointed superdelegates, who have the potential to swing the outcome despite how the people vote.

There are more injustices but I think the point is made.

The national presidential election is inherently undemocratic due to the Electoral College system and (predominately) winner-take-all state-by-state rules.

Have you heard about the concept of one man (woman), one vote? The Electoral College system thoroughly undermines that concept.

State voter suppression laws disenfranchise significant segments of the voting population and have been put in place for purely political purposes, not to address real voting problems or irregularities.

Particularly in Republican-controlled states, barriers to voting are disenfranchising multitudes of voters — younger, elderly, people of color — for no other reason than they are more likely to vote Democratic.

Citizens United has turned elections into a fight not for votes but for money from oligarchs and special interests

This is exacerbated by the advertising this money buys — unregulated and not verified for content veracity like product advertising is. 

So, what’s a democracy advocate to do?

       Completely overhaul the presidential primary system

  • Within each party, make the rules the same state-by-state (Yes, I know states rights zealots will recoil in horror, but remember, these parties are private enterprises so states rights are not relevant).
  • Make the outcomes completely proportional, based on the actual vote with no winner-take-all rules, no allocations by district, no unbound delegates and no superdelegates. If Candidate A wins 52% of the vote, Candidate B wins 35% and Candidate C wins 13% and if there are 100 delegates in play, A gets 52, B gets 35 and C gets 13.
  • Make the number of delegates by state based on population with no additional delegates based on mysterious, inexplicable rules. For example, Indiana has more than its share of Republican delegates because “Indiana has been good to the Republican party.”
  • Eliminate caucuses as they are inherently undemocratic for so many reasons:
    • Small percentages of the voting public participate;
    • They take more time than voting, further suppressing participation;
    • They have arcane, inconsistent rules;
    • They subject voters to peer pressure at the caucus site – imagine a general election where candidate advocates stand by you as you place your vote; those signs that say “No Electioneering Within 50 Feet of the Polling Place” are there for a reason.
  • Shorten the process. January to June for primaries plus another month or so until the conventions is simply too long. 
  • Bundle primaries, a la Super Tuesday, 10 or so at a time and get the entire thing finished in two months. Make-up those bundled primary days with dissimilar states so there’s as little as possible regional/demographic momentum.
  • Consider plurality vs. majority to win at the national conventions
    • This is a tough one and I’m not sure if it’s doable. The problem is, with majority-wins rules, the potential is that all of the above would be irrelevant as the nomination would then be thrown to delegates with no allegiance to the actual primary voting results.
    • But, there is some electoral precedent: Bill Clinton won the ’92 presidential election with a plurality of the vote; Al Gore lost the 2000 election with a majority of the vote. (Oh yeah, that nasty Electoral College — more on that below).

In the national presidential election, eliminate the Electoral College or, alternatively for Electoral College “the United States is a republic, not a democracy” advocates, keep the Electoral College but eliminate winner-take-all and have the votes in each state allocated to electors on a completely proportional basis.

  • Proportional voting is inherently democratic — it’s the essence of one man (woman)/one vote. As a side benefit, a Democratic vote in California and a Republican vote in Texas would finally mean something in a presidential election governed by a proportional allocation system.
  • With a direct vote and/or proportionally selected electors, the specter of a presidential election thrown into the House of Representatives or, horror of horrors, the Supreme Court, would be much less likely.

Voter suppression takes so many forms — Voter ID laws, limitations on voter registration, limiting voting hours and polling places, cutting poll workers and other resources, etc. — that articulating a comprehensive fix is impossible in this space, so I’ll limit my comments to the two ideas and one wish that I believe must be fundamentally achieved.

  • Voter ID laws are not going away, at least as long as the other inhibitors to voting are in place, inhibitors resulting in Republican-controlled states setting the rules and gerrymandering districts, resulting in a self-perpetuating cycle. 
    • So, I’d advocate consideration of a National Photo ID. 
      • Yes, I know a national ID cards conjure up visions of fascist, totalitarian states (“your papers please, Fraulein”), but isn’t that really a “red herring? Which is worse, a universal ID or inconsistent, unfair, rigged state ID laws that disenfranchises citizens who might not support the party making the rules?
  • Standardize the rules across the country for registration, voting hours, voting forms, polling places, etc., at least for presidential elections. Yes, yes I know — states rights. Oh, those pesky states rights. But really, is the concept of states rights more important than a citizen’s fundamental right — the right to vote? 
  • After instituting standardized rule for presidential elections, establish that standardization at the state and local election level as well, a move that might break that self-perpetuating cycle described above.
  • *Finally, elect a Democratic president, take the senate, reload the Supreme Court and reinstate all the rules of the Voting Rights Act.
    • Or, at least confirm Judge Garland.

(*This one is the wish!)

Current campaign financing regulations subvert democracy and the will of the people. 

  • I’m not an expert on how to limit the influence of money on elections, but consider going back to some sort of public financing, limit/eliminate PACs and Super PACS allowing candidate only spending and re-visit McCain-Feinberg, review what worked and what didn’t and pass a new, better law.
  • Establish a “ceiling” on any candidate’s spend in a market (based on some combination of population and media costs/media efficiency) and nationally.
  • Establish a review board that vets all political TV and radio ads for content veracity and reject all ads that don’t pass board scrutiny.

Published by Ted Block

Ted Block is a veteran “Mad Man,” having spent 45+ years in the advertising industry. During his career, he was media director of several advertising agencies, including Benton & Bowles in New York and Foote, Cone and Belding in San Francisco; account management director on clients as varied as Clorox, Levi’s and the California Raisin Advisory Board (yes, Ted was responsible for the California Dancing Raisins campaign); and regional director for Asia based in Tokyo for Foote, Cone where he was also the founding president of FCB’s Japanese operations. Ted holds a Bachelor’s degree in communications from Queens College and, before starting in advertising, served on active duty as an officer on USS McCloy (DE-1038) in the U.S. Navy. Besides writing Around the Block, Ted is also a guest columnist for the Palm Beach Post.

One thought on “‘Around the Block’ looks back

  1. Complex, complicated, and leading to disaster, is how I would categorize the things I just read. I already knew I did not understand American politics, and now I understand it even less. Simplification is a definite necessity. The rules and regulations need to be written in words and sentences a 5th grader could understand.
    As for campaign spending, all donations should be put into a sepatate non-party fund, then distributed equally to all candidates running in a riding, or precinct, or whatever you call an electoral district. We all know money can buy elections, and that applies to money spent on political advertising. Allowing money to affect how well a campaign is presented to the public is often a deciding factor in who gets elected. This is as unfair as hell. Pooling donations is critical. As is setting a date on campaign funds to be donated by. Last minute infusions of funds can be a deciding factor, as we learned in Canada. It creates an unequal level of media supports. This is undemocratic to the nth degree! It also takes away the power of donators to buy elections. And anyone caught using non-distributed funds gets his or her name removed from the ballot, even after the election has been decided! BE HONEST, OR BE DISQUALIFIED!


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