On November 4, 2008 after another bruising and divisive campaign as the night wears thin it becomes clear for the second time this decade that the Presidential candidate with the most popular votes is not the winner of the Electoral College system. That next morning Americans wake in disbelief with the world asking how did this happen again.
As the weeks pass the popularly chosen candidate decides not to concede, as Democrat Al Gore did in 2000, leading to a Constitutional crisis. In this state of confusion, many Americans take to the streets in support of their favorite candidate, further dividing the nation while believing that their visible show of support could sway the Supreme Court. However, this time the Supreme Court is demanding a political resolution to the crisis.
The United States of America is now the only country in the world with an Electoral College system, which has four times prevented the candidate with the most popular votes from becoming President. The Electoral College system was created as a compromise to the slave owning states, offering greater electoral power without requiring them to extend voting rights to African-Americans. Currently voters in smaller states like Wyoming and Delaware have more than four times the voting strength for President as do Californians and New York voters. With most states either strongly Democratic or Republican, this divisive system leaves only a hand full of states, or swing states, to determine the final outcome of the election.
Now we now know the signs were all around us. In March 2007 an Associated Press poll found that 75% of Americans believed our country was moving in the wrong direction. The percent is even higher after another divisive election season with the candidates, political parties, and special interests spending over two billion dollars advocating for their candidate while criticizing their opponent. During the final weeks before the election, again the two battleground states were Florida and Ohio. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent in the final days to sway those few undecided voters and to suppress the turnout of their opposing voters. Once the beacon of democracy, how did the United States of America become a nation with such a dysfunctional democratic political system?
What is democracy? As President Lincoln proclaimed, "Government of, by and for the people." According to many democracy advocates there is a three step process to creating a government of, by and for the people. The first and most important step is the belief that it is possible and desirable. The second is to learn more about democracy reform efforts. The third step is doing something specific to revive democracy. Additionally, advocates include at least four reforms: Electoral College, national voting system, campaign financing and a National Democracy Day Holiday.
To create a one person one vote election, all advocates agree the path to reviving democracy in America starts by reforming or removing the undemocratic Electoral College system. To do this requires either a Constitutional Amendment or the passage of state compacts. Several states have already taken legislative action to allocate their Electoral College votes to the candidate with the most popular votes. The organization National Popular Vote at http://www.nationalpopularvote.org is leading the effort to create a one person one vote democracy in America.
To have confidence in the election results, an import democracy reform is a national and verifiable voting system. For instance, the Count Every Vote Act of 2007 (HR 1381) is national legislation that would create a nonpartisan uniform election standard. The current highly political fifty state election system with voting machine corporations donating to candidates creates a situation where our vote can not be guaranteed. For instance in 2004, the state of Ohio, the state that ultimately gave the election to George Bush, the Secretary of State was Bush's campaign co-chair and the state's electronic voting machine company donated heavily to the Bush campaign. In a democracy, elections are transparent, professional and non-partisan.
Special interests with big money spent over two billion dollars influencing the outcome of the Presidential election. Taking the special interest money out of the political system has proven to be very difficult. The 2007 Supreme Court decision gave the big corporations, wealthy individuals, and Political Action Committees even greater influence over the outcome of the 2008 Presidential election. In dissent Justice David Souter warned, "This kind of corporate and union spending seriously jeopardizes the integrity of democratic government." After the results of 2008, Americans are now willing to listen to advocates of publicly financed elections, the only way to ensure that the people own the political system and not the special interests.
Like most Tuesdays on November 4th Americans were busy working, some with two jobs and thus they found it difficult to go vote. In many democratic countries the election-day is a national holiday. The National Democracy Day Holiday Resolution (H.R.) 63, entitled Democracy Day Act, proposed by Rep. John Conyers to celebrate those who have dedicated their live to the advancement of democracy and to give all Americans the time to vote is finally getting the attention it deserves.
Will it take a Constitutional crisis for us Americans to act to revive democracy? To create a functional democracy with Constitutional integrity, lets start today by believing we have the power, lets take the time to learn more about democracy and then lets do something to revive democracy.