Imagine if your telephone had a hand crank and linked into a party line, your radio was a giant console that got static reception, movies were silent, vehicles were pulled by horses, and air travel was limited to barnstorming pilots in biplanes. Of course, all this would be totally archaic in our age of the Internet, Interstate and iPhone. In the past 100 years, everything in our lives has changed ... everything, that is, except arguably the most important thing -- the way we choose our nation's leader.
Our current nominating system dates back to 1910, when the first presidential primary was held in Oregon. At the time, this was a radical step to take the nominating process away from political bosses. Now, a century later, we're overdue for another radical step.
Our current system is bordering on the absurd, providing comic relief for comedians and pundits worldwide. It all starts with Iowa, a state with less than one percent of the nation's population, which holds a caucus that is nonbinding and, in the case of the Democrats, doesn't even use secret ballots. One week later, the attention shifts to New Hampshire, a state with less than one-half of one percent of all Americans, which holds the first primary. After that, the process gets even more curious and convoluted.
This very unsystematic system is random, chaotic and undemocratic. It's truly effective at just one thing: forcing candidates to cater to supporters with the most extreme views in that particular party and the biggest pocketbooks.
There is painful irony in all of this, since it is taking place in an age when digital technology is making everything else in our lives more efficient, more accessible, more competitive and, yes, more democratic.
Just look at my field of entertainment. I started out working as a page at NBC. I thought I had won the lottery because I had managed to land a job at one of the nation's three television networks, which were then watched by virtually every American. Today there are hundreds of television channels (though not a lot of page jobs), and anyone with a computer, a video camera and a funny cat can create their own "network" and broadcast to millions of people around the world on the Internet.
Similarly, people living anywhere from New York City to New Amsterdam, Indiana (population 1) can comparison shop for the best bargains, access an unlimited number of books and periodicals, conduct free video chats with people halfway around the globe, or just sit back and listen to their own personal radio station on Pandora.
Of course, there has been a lot of trial-and-error to get to this stage. And it's all still evolving, as old models continue to be disrupted and replaced with new ones.
So, this year, let's do some real disrupting. We have it in our power to do some serious party crashing. It is important to remember that nowhere in the Constitution is there any mention of a two-party system. This was not envisioned by the Founding Fathers, who would likely scratch their powder-wigged heads at the circus our nominating system has become.
This is why I am supporting a non-profit, non-partisan organization called Americans Elect which, this June, will be conducting the first national online primary. You can go to www.americanselect.org for the details, but the bottom line is that, with a click of your mouse, you can become a delegate and help nominate a well-qualified candidate who will appear on the ballot nationwide, resulting in a genuine three-way race for the presidency.
To help ensure that this candidate will be a problem-solver who represents the great majority of American society rather than fringes or the special interests, he or she will be required to pick a running mate from a different party. For example, if the candidate is a Republican, the running mate must be a Democrat or an Independent. The Americans Elect candidate will be on every ballot in every state, will campaign across the country, will appear in all the debates, and, though certainly a long shot, just might become the next President of the United States. And, regardless of the outcome, Americans Elect will help the public accept the digital political world so that, in 2016, we can have a more perfect democracy.
And let's be clear. The goal of Americans Elect is not to simply find a clever new use for all those silicon chips dancing in our devices. The goal is to have better government. Poll after poll has shown that most Americans are in broad agreement on most of the major issues of our day. But we are burdened with a system that gives a bullhorn to the smallest voices and makes the majority feel unheard.
Americans Elect gives all of us our voices back, and our system its self-respect again. America has always prided itself on being a forward-looking nation. Yet our election system is mired in the past. Just eight years ago, the presidency was decided by some dangling pieces of paper on ballots poorly punched by some unwary Floridians. Surely, we can do better. We can rescue our election system from the horse-and-buggy era and infuse it with the dynamism of our digital age. It's happening now. It's as close as your computer. The future is just a click away.
A version of this post first appeared in the Los Angeles Times.