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April 02, 2013 3:52 PM Republicans Are Right, Everything about American Elections Takes Too Long

By Rhiannon M. Kirkland

If the RNC ‘autopsy’ report got anything right it’s that the Republican primary cycle is too long, and too expensive. In particular it talks about a need to have fewer debates. Stuart Stevens writes:

One of the problems it addressed was the troubling explosion of primary debates. In 1988 there were seven Republican primary debates. In 2000, there were 13. In 2012, the number soared to 20.

Seven debates is probably too many to begin with, and that is just for the primaries.. But the proliferation of debates is just one of the symptoms of the problem of the length of American presidential elections. Before last year’s presidential election Dave Seminara wrote neatly summing up how many felt about the election:

Americans go to the polls to elect a president on Nov. 6 and no matter who wins, many will simply be relieved that the whole ordeal is finally over. No other country spends anywhere near as much time or money in electing its head of state than the United States.

The primary season lasted so long that by the time a Republican presidential candidate was selected I had half-forgotten it had an endpoint, that it wasn’t just a permanent feature of daily news. (Then I remembered there was still a lengthy presidential campaign left.) It was exciting at first, but as the state results began to blend into each other, as each nutter had their turn at the top of the polls, it became something more insidious. Like running a marathon, you’re invigorated at the start, in pain by halfway, and by mile 20 quite sure you will die before the end.

Most other countries have federal election cycles that are short and to the point. Germany’s is the second longest after the United States at 114 days (about four months) while most other countries have elections that can be measured in days or weeks, not years. Australia’s upcoming federal election will last from August 12-September 14, a mere 32 days.

In Canada—where I am from—our last election lasted just under six weeks, and there are only two federal debates (one in French and one in English). This is the perfect amount of time for the parties to get out their platforms, drive circles around the country, say things they will regret, and for voters to figure out what is going on and who they like. The few debates that are held are actually meaningful because candidates get a couple shots , not twenty. There is enough time for the action to unfold but not so much that we just get bored and stop caring.

It also has the benefit of giving the people who win the election the time to govern and get some work done. If you don’t have to worry about it again for another three or four years then you can put aside the campaign mentality and actually go about the business of governing. Instead, in the U.S. as soon as one election is over the looming inevitability of the next set of primaries is on everybody’s mind. The New York Times wrote in mid-March:

There are more than 1,000 days before the 2016 Iowa caucuses, but several polls have already been released testing national support for prospective candidates for the Republican and Democratic nominations for president.

Barack Obama had barely started his second term and yet we were already talking about 2016. Four years isn’t a very long time when presidential elections last for nearly two of those.

The RNC report was right about a lot of things, especially that when it comes to elections less is more, and the United States could go with a lot less. The Democrats ought to sign on as well.

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Rhiannon M. Kirkland is an intern at the Washington Monthly.