We live in a world that is immediate and instantaneous.
With digital photography, we never have to wait to see a picture. Airline tickets, hotel reservations and orders from the corner deli are confirmed a soon as we make them. Whether it is the major news events of the day, the scores of our favorite sporting events or how little Johnny did in school in today, the internet makes it possible to instantly learn information. Modern technology also allows us to follow developments wherever we are, thanks to the proliferation of mobile phones and handheld devices.
But when it comes to elections, we have to wait more than two months before the results take effect.
I am not suggesting that a presidential or gubernatorial transition is as simple a process as placing an online order, but perhaps it is time to re-think how we transfer the reigns of power.
Let’s start with the lame-duck period that results when an incumbent is leaving office. This has been an invitation to trouble ever since 1801 when outgoing President John Adams and a lame-duck Congress created – and filled – several federal judgeships before Thomas Jefferson was inaugurated and control of the Congress switched hands.
Over the years, lawmakers have come to view lame-duck periods as opportunities to act on controversial and potentially unpopular items, such as tax increases and pay raises for elected officials. New Jersey has not been immune to such practices. Among the controversial topics that have come under discussion in the current lame-duck session are bills that would permit same-sex marriage, allow the children of illegal immigrants to attend state college at in-state tuition rates, change the process for how New Jersey fills vacancies for the U.S. Senate, and legalize medicinal marijuana.
In addition to the temptations that lame-duck sessions foster, the benefits of a transition period that lasts from Election Day to Inauguration Day are questionable. In theory, the incoming and outgoing administrations are supposed to work in partnership to ensure a smooth transition for the betterment of the citizenry. In reality – and I say this having been part of several transitions – such bipartisan displays of cooperation are rare. Already this year, there have been news reports about Governor Corzine and Governor-elect Christie – and their staffs – bickering over appointments, budget projections and even the seating arrangements at a New Jersey State League of Municipalities luncheon.
So what’s the answer?
Why not swear in the new Governor at noon the day after the election? When a baseball team fires its manager, the new person takes over the next day. Shouldn’t the men and women we elect to run our communities, states and nation have the same ability to step right into the job and hit the ground running? After all, these are offices for which they have been campaigning for months, if not years. When voters decide that a candidate can do a better job than the person in office, why wait two months to change things?
On a broader scale, if candidates know they need to be ready to take office right away, they may be more likely to have their staffs and agendas in place before Election Day. This would provide voters with a clearer view of what to expect from a new administration. The appointment process would become more transparent and have fewer surprises. Imagine going to the polls and knowing not only who is on the ballot, but also who his or her cabinet and senior staff members will be.
Eliminating the transition period also would remove the need for a transition office and staff, as well as the large transition committees that have come to be the norm in recent years. Regardless of how dedicated these individuals are and how hard they work, nothing can fully prepare a new administration for what lies ahead. The real transition takes place in the initial days and weeks of the new administration when the successful candidate and his or her staff actually begin the process of governing. So why not start sooner?
Long before technology transformed the world into a place in which we have – at our fingertips – the ability to obtain up-to-the-minute information, the rock band the Doors declared, “We want the world and we want it now.” The lyrics, written in the late 1960s, had more to do with the spirit of the era than with the many advantages that technology now provides in our daily lives, but why not apply them to politics and government in the 21st Century?