Niketa Brar: Five ways to spend $5 billion

One more day, and it will finally be over.

Gone will be that questioning voice in commercials asking you to rethink your candidate. No more half-hour infomercial candidate ads. And I’ll finally be able to get through my day without a phone call telling me why the other guy is actually the devil incarnate. While I am certainly thankful to be rid of this, it would be foolish to completely discard the memory of what has become staggeringly expensive campaign season, for fear of losing the lesson that can be found in this madness.

Last week, the Center for Responsive Politics released a report estimating the cost of presidential and congressional elections will total $5.3 billion. That’s right. Billion. With a big ol’ capital B.

Now perhaps this is just the cost of doing business – after all, election turnouts are projected to be the highest ever this year. But do we really need to spend the equivalent of the Bahamas’ GDP on an election season? Isn’t there something better we can do with five billion bucks?

Turns out there are. Here’s five possibilities, in no particular order:

First, expand the diplomatic corps. It goes without saying that foreign affairs are not our strong suit these days. While invading countries for weapons of mass destruction that never existed, we’ve managed to lose the trust of our allies and give our enemies more reasons to hate us. Continued efforts in Iraq only further obliterate our credibility, but trying to fix these problems through solid diplomatic efforts is a step in the right direction.

The American Academy of Diplomacy and the Stimson Center report that doubling the current number of diplomats would cost $3 billion. We could use the spare $2 billion for additional resources and expanding understaffed missions.

Or we could go in a completely different direction by investing in stem cell research. Conservative objections to such research rooted in the claim that using discarded embryos is unethical are no longer valid. In 2006, scientists developed a method to remove single stem cells from an embryonic cluster without destroying the embryo. So let’s amp up investments in this century’s defining breakthrough technology and start working to solve modern medical problems that affect every American.

If that falls through, we could always turn to something a little less controversial – education reform. Five billion dollars could bring more than 100,000 new teachers into public schools. But it could also fund innovative education programs designed specifically for certain neighborhoods. Successful pilot programs can then be replicated in similar school systems, and maybe we could finally get closer to closing the education gap.

If none of these ideas make sense, perhaps this should. With all that investment in getting people out to vote, shouldn’t we at least ensure their vote will count? After tomorrow, Virginia and Maryland, among others, will revert back to paper ballots, which were shunned after the grand debacle in 2000. Apparently, the risk of voter fraud and hacking is too high to use electronic voting. Meanwhile, pundits are predicting extremely long lines at voting booths, as early voters have already witnessed.

Now, I’m not sure how much a voting booth costs, but I’m sure you could get a whole bunch of them for $5 billion. Isn’t that the investment we should really be making?

And if none of these ideas float your boat, consider this. Instead of spending $5 billion on campaigns, let’s just pay every eligible voter roughly $23 to study up on the candidates and then take a quick quiz to ensure that they actually know what they’re voting for when they vote. Once voters are put through that, it will inevitably lead to a sincere investment in national politics.

This isn’t buying votes – this is buying educated voters. And isn’t that what we all really want in the end?

-The writer, a senior majoring in international affairs and political science, is a Hatchet columnist.

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