Last week the President’s election reform Commission published its report with their ideas on reforming our election systems. The ideas seemed to be to improved voter participation, particularly in national elections. Because it was intended to provide a bi-partisan answer to our obvious electoral deficiencies, the solutions proposed, while mostly helpful, were incremental and did not offer answers to our long-standing crisis in our so-called participatory republican democracy.
The crisis has as its root cause the total absence of voting as a right in our U.S. Constitution. This omission historically stems from the compromise necessary to facilitate our nation’s founding to address the needs of the factions demanding that rights of the states be upheld, including those states dependent on slavery to fuel their agrarian economies.
It was heartening to note that the Commission cited Delaware’s voter registration system as a best practice in that area. As a new resident, I was blown away with the efficiency and convenience of this system when I registered my car, had it inspected and secured my driver’s license and voter registration in a one-stop-shopping experience.
Delaware also stood out as among the higher voter turnout states with 62.7% in the 2012 election, compared to the national average of 58.2 %. Delaware also was one of the few states with higher participation than in the 2008 national election.
The Commission report had as its greatest emphasis the need to limit the time necessary to cast a vote to 1/2 an hour. It cites best practices of those states enabling a comparatively speedy voting experience in the 2012 election to assist those states actually desiring to improve the time required to cast a vote.
The Commission also advocated states providing online voter registration and the transfer of personal data from driver’s license records between states. Further, it argued for the positive impact of so called “early voting” and the updating of now obsolete electronic voting equipment, the purchase of which was funded ten years ago or more with federal tax money.
School voting locations were suggested as optimum as well as easily accessed “voting centers” in early voting systems. The wide distribution of sample ballots well in advance of the beginning of voting periods and shortened ballots for Presidential elections to speed up the voting process as well as electronic poll books to simplify verification of voter eligibility. These are all useful improvements but very incremental solutions to our very low participation rates compared to other democracies around the globe.
Unaddressed in the report are the macro-issues which drive our low participation endangering our democracy:
. The absence of national constitutional validation of the concept of voting rights for all qualified citizens, at least for federal elections.
. The plutocracy which empowers corporate and elite domination of our governing bodies, including our judicial, executive and representative bodies of local, state and national levels.
. The funding of campaigns by corporations and elite which overwhelm individual citizen participation and drive the apathy apparent in the electorate.
. Gerrymandering of legislative districts, both state and national resulting in our elected officials picking their voters rather than the reverse.
. The electoral college system in federal elections which dis-empower the popular vote.
. Winner take all runoff systems, prolonging the election process vs. instant runoffs.
. Opt in voter registration systems in contrast to opt-out registration which would enable universal registration of qualified citizen voters.
. Limited mail ballot options which greatly increase participation rates.
Until these issues are addressed, participation rates will continue to be a national embarrassment and non-participation advocated by the likes of Russell Brand will appear to be warranted. Will it take a revolution to achieve a real participatory democracy in America? At the current rate of improvement along with the relentless challenge to voting rights for minorities and the poor by Republicans whose long-standing advocacy for voting rights only for the elite in this society , it would appear revolution may be the only option. The only good news in this area is the courageous turnout in recent federal elections by oppressed voters, overcoming systemic voter discouragement and such anomalies as Seattle and Vermont. These signs of life in the electorate argue for me that participation is a better option.