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Worst system (except for all the rest)

FRANK TAYLOR
Managing Editor

We Americans went to the polls in large numbers over the last few weeks to have our say about who should run our counties, schools, courts, states and nation.
The results were pretty mixed, regardless of which candidates you backed.
Lincoln County and North Carolina generally went with Republican candidates across the board, but not without exception.
Though Democrats didn’t even contest any county commission seats, they held on to one seat on the “nonpartisan” Board of Education.
I had a phone call Friday from someone who identified himself as a former county commissioner who said he had acted during his time in office to make the Board of Education nonpartisan. He said the newspaper had fallen pretty low for discussing the parties of the board candidates.
He’s welcome to his opinion, but my impression is that school board seats are nonpartisan in name only – a ploy to make sure candidates don’t benefit from the straight-ticket vote. Making the board nonpartisan hasn’t kept politics out of our schools, any more than toothless ethics policies have. And it hasn’t stopped parties from publicly backing slates of candidates or candidates from proudly announcing their party allegiance.
And why should it? We elect board members. It’s political. What’s wrong with that unless you favor dictatorship or a return to one-party rule?
The same goes for our judicial elections, or would if any Republicans bothered to contest them. (Congratulations to Judge Meredith Shuford who ran a dignified and effective race against a fellow Democrat and emerged victorious.)
You can see the judicial results at the state Supreme Court level where Paul Newby had the backing of conservatives and Sam Ervin IV was liberal royalty. Nonpartisan? Not so much.
Republicans swept into the governor’s mansion and padded their advantage in the Legislature. That means they won’t have the other side to blame for mistakes during the next cycle. They had better make things happen to prove they belong in charge of state government over the next two years or their time at the top may be short.
Democrats continued to hold a number of key council of state seats despite some Republican challengers who just didn’t cut it. Competency should trump party and in several of these cases, it did. Republicans were wise not to field a candidate against Roy Cooper, who has been a highly effective and even-handed attorney general. The state is fortunate to have him in office for another four years.
At the presidential level, the county and state backed Republican Mitt Romney. The nation’s voters were closely divided, but favored President Barack Obama.
The president’s political team did a fantastic job with numerical wizardry. It’s been revealed since the election that they had such solid data that they always knew which group of voters were going to be swayed by which message and how much. Reminiscent of the “moneyball” approach to professional sports, Obamaball will be the way any serious political campaign is organized in the future.
Conservatives should take some courage from this – they didn’t lose on their candidate’s ability or likeability or appeal to a shifting demographic so much as they just got out-coached.
Now that Obama gets to keep his job, maybe he can put his number-crunchers to work finding ways to generate real job growth for the rest of America.
A lot was said during this political season about the buying and selling of votes by super-PACs. Apparently, it turns out they couldn’t actually do that. In fact, super-PAC money turns out to have been an incredibly bad investment.
It turns out that when you pick up the pen and fill out the ballot, no one owns you. You are free to choose whomever seems best, and you’ll live with the consequences if you get it wrong.
Our system is imperfect on many levels, but fiddling with it would likely just make it worse. Democracy is imperfect because it involves imperfect human beings selecting other imperfect human beings to lead them.
Winston Churchill once said about democracy that it was the worst form of government except for all the other ones that have been tried.
I agree, though a headline from another part of the world did lead me to wonder whether there might not be a simpler and possibly wiser system for picking one’s leaders.
The Coptic Church, based in Egypt, is one of the oldest communities of Christians in the world. Earlier this year their pope died; last week they chose a new one.
The names of three nominees were placed into a crystal chalice. A young boy was blindfolded and drew out the name of the new Coptic pope.
I hope that works out well for them, just as I hope our own leaders make enlightened decisions.
One thing about our system: If our picks don’t work out this time, we’ll get another crack at it before long.
Frank Taylor is managing editor of the Lincoln Times-News.

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