America has a democracy that would embarrass a Third World country.
It spends huge sums of money and much time fighting failed wars on terror, drugs and crime. But it fosters one of the most flawed democracies in the world.
America ranks 139th in a world survey of voter turnout for national elections.
Sure, apathy is rampant among Americans. But one reason for the dismal turnout is the hoops citizens have to jump through to vote.
What is needed is nationwide voter registration. This means that as soon as citizens reach 18 they are automatically enrolled. No fuss, no bother, no rigmarole.
The U.S. voting system is dysfunctional in many other ways. Its electoral college is an antidemocratic relic that four times has put a man in the White House who did not win the popular vote (Andrew Jackson, 1824; Samuel Tilden, 1876; Grover Cleveland, 1888; and G.W. Bush, 2000).
Other essential measures for a genuine democracy:
• Sunday voting or holidays on election Tuesdays.
• National standards for voting rather than the hodgepodge system of states and counties making rules.
• Polling places with adequate machines to end the absurdity of standing in line for hours.
• Public financing of all congressional and statewide campaigns. Campaign donations are bribes. Money is not free speech as the unjust Supreme Court justices have ruled.
• End the gerrymandering that guarantees a lifelong seat to so many congressional cretins.
• End the bar to District of Columbia congressional representation.
• Require runoff elections if no presidential candidate gets 50 percent plus one of the vote, eliminating minority presidents.
• Bar state election officers from being presidential campaign chairs.
• Require that presidential campaigns cannot begin until election year to end the tedious marathons. Create regional primaries to end disproportionate power of small states and the mad scramble to be first.
• Count prisoners from their districts rather than from the city where prisons are located.
• Allow all felons to vote after they have served their time.
Republicans will oppose all those sensible measures. They want to suppress the vote, not expand it.
The GOP has pushed for voter ID laws, insisting that voter fraud is rampant. But as a New York University law school study made clear: “It is more likely that an invididual will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls.”
The real purpose of ID is to disenfranchise 21 million voters, many of them leaning Democratic.
The Senate is the least representative democratic body in the world. Half its members are elected by just 17 percent of the population. It is undemocratic to have two senators from Wyoming with 500,000 people and two senators from California with 38 million.
Time and time again the House passes a bill yet it fails in the Senate because it takes 60 votes to halt a filibuster. Progressive measures like equal pay for women and unionizing by card-signing are killed by the reactionary Senate. Senators representing just 11 percent of the voters usually stymie progress.
America sends troops abroad ostensibly to fight for democracy while making a mockery of democracy at home.
Final reflections on the presidential race:
• Colin Powell made a moving endorsement of Barack Obama for president. He told Maureen Dowd, a New York Times columnist, that the turning point for him was staring at a picture of a grieving American mother.
She was pressing her head against the gravestone of her soldier son killed in Iraq. His name: Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan.
Powell, former secretary of state, was one of the very few classy members of the wretched eight-year Bush administration. It is difficult to understand how anyone decent, compassionate and humane, as Powell and Obama are, could vote for McCain.
• Sarah Palin, not qualified to be governor of Alaska let alone president of the United States, is a phony. She pretends to be a hockey mom yet wears fancy finery bought at Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. Her campaign entourage includes a makeup artist and a hair stylist.
• One of the many absurdities of the McCain campaign has been his feigned concern for Joe the Plumber. The McCains own 13 cars and eight homes. Cindy McCain went to the GOP convention wearing $300,000 in clothes, accessories, diamonds and pearls.
• Presidential tickets have often been balanced geographically or religiously. But never until the Palin-McCain combo has a bimbo been balanced with a dried prune.
Jake Highton teaches journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno.