America Has an Embarrassing Problem: Electoral Dysfunction

And we need to cure it by 2016.

We seem to only think about the electoral system for one day every four years, and when that day passes and a winner has been declared, it’s out of sight out of mind. It’s like Groundhog Day with dangling chads. Every four years, like clockwork, we are shocked and appalled at how fragile, incompetent and prone to breakdowns our system for choosing our leaders has become. If our electoral system was a car, we would have traded up decades ago.

Let’s replay some scenes from Tuesday: voters waiting eight hours in line to vote in Florida; voting machines in Pennsylvania that recorded every vote for Obama as a vote for Mitt Romney; voters turning up at the polling place where they’ve pulled the lever in election after election only to discover they had been purged from the list of eligible voters; storm-ravaged voters huddled in darkened tents conducting the primary transaction of democracy in the dim beam of a cop’s flashlight. This is unacceptable. This is how banana republics hold elections, not the standard-bearer of modern liberal democracy.

Which is why I am calling on the President of the United States to immediately appoint a blue-ribbon commission to diagnose the systemic dysfunction of the American electoral process and carefully consider the following remedies:

1. Get rid of the electoral college. It has outlived its usefulness as a quaint totem of federalism. It warps our democracy and reduces nationwide elections to a series of seven or eight battleground states, so that the president of a nation of 300 million is chosen by a fraction of its citizenry. Let every vote count and let We the People be the decider. All the people.

2. Professionalize the voting process. Sure, we all find it cutely Rockwellian that the democratic process of the most powerful nation on Earth is administered by Lunch Lady Doris and her emphysemic blue-haired gal pals, but it’s become patently obvious they are no longer up to the task. When the election has been decided before people who have been waiting eight hours in line have had a chance to vote, it’s time for a federal standard for elections administered by well-trained professionals.

3. Remove all partisanship from the administration of elections. Simply put, it warps the process because how could it not? In 2004, Ohio was, much like this year, the decider. That year, Ken Blackwell, the Ohio secretary of state—the Buckeye State’s chief election officer—was also the co-chairman of George W. Bush’s Ohio campaign. Despite exit polls that strongly favored Kerry, not to mention an inordinate number of irregularities, Blackwell’s guy won Ohio, and with it the whole enchilada. That’s the equivalent of an NFL ref scoring the Super Bowl-winning touchdown.

4. Devise legislative remedies to the Supreme Court’s ruinous Citizens United decision. You know democracy in America is not long for this world when the Koch Brothers are able to buy up all strata of government in the state of Kansas; when casino magnate Sheldon Adelson pumps $100 million in gambling receipts into the election in the hopes of neutralizing a Justice Department investigation being carried out by the incumbent’s administration; when Karl Rove can bundle hundreds of millions from a shadowy cabal of super-rich corportists to game elections across the land and install into office sympathetic cronies, reliable stooges and useful idiots, i.e. the Tea Party. Detractors call these steaming shitloads of unrestricted and unaccountable campaign cash “dark money,” because like its namesake dark matter, it neither emits nor absorbs light. Dark money has become the root of all evil in electoral politics. Deliver us from evil.

5. Bring in the Justice Department to investigate widespread allegations of voter suppression and disenfranchisement, such as: voter ID laws of dubious constitutionality, rammed through Republican-controlled statehouses just months before a presidential election with no contingencies for ensuring that all registered voters actually have valid ID, specifically those least likely to have it, such as the old and the poor who typically vote for Democrats; misleading advertising campaigns—telling voters they will be required to show ID in order to vote despite the courts striking down said voter ID laws as unconstitutional—that continued to run on broadcast media, billboards and buses up to election day; inexplicable restrictions placed on provisional ballots and early voting, in some cases cutting the number of days in half, despite the fact that one third of the electorate now votes prior to election day; ballots so loaded with long-winded ballot initiatives written in dense legalese that it takes the average voter a half-hour to complete; and polling places, almost always in predominantly minority precincts, that are routinely under-resourced election after election, resulting in voters having to wait in line upwards of eight hours to exercise their birthright as Americans.

The actions of ALEC, Florida governor Rick Scott, and Ohio secretary of state Jon Husted should be scrutinized closely for civil rights violations. Investigate the voter roll purges by the states of Texas and Florida that disenfranchised thousands of minority and elderly voters who were mistaken for dead or ineligible. Likewise investigate self-appointed election watchdogs from the Tea Party that targeted minority polling places for “monitoring.” Lastly, trace the sources of intentionally misleading robocalls in Florida, Arizona, Massachussetts and Virginia that gave out false information about how, when and where to vote to thousands of voters, many of them elderly. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, there’s a more complete list here. All wrongdoing should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Lastly, in the name of poetic justice and restoring karmic balance, there is only one man who can lead this blue-ribbon commission and save American democracy: Al Gore. Because who better to spot a crime than a victim? Plus, now that global warming turned out to be a false alarm, I’m pretty sure he’s available.

Jonathan Valania is editor-in-chief of Phawker.com.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Connie-Tucker/1260842461 Connie Tucker

    I happen to be one of those “blue-haired gal pals” and I object to this writer’s claim that they are not professionals. Have you ever worked the polls, Mr. Valania? Well I have, and I don’t have blue hair. I am in my late 60s, and this is why I have the time to do this kind of work. The hours can be long, and the work is detailed, requiring a sharp mind, organization, and an excellent memory. I live in a small town in Maine, and like most small towns, our town clerk is responsible for choosing poll assistants. We all live and work here and know everyone who comes in the door. If anyone was trying to vote illegally, we’d know it! (As if.) But that doesn’t mean we don’t follow procedures, and even if we’ve known a voter since childhood, we still ask each person to state his or her name and address before handing out any ballots.

    Did you ever sit and count by hand hundreds of paper ballots with up to 15 different candidates, referenda, and bond issues? It is a solemn responsibility, and we all take it VERY seriously. I did not work this most recent election, but I did in 2008. We all stayed until well after midnight to complete our count, double check all the numbers, and certify and seal all documents–then calls had to be made to headquarters with our tallies before we all made the dark trip home, watching carefully for moose in the road, and while you were curled up in your little bed by then, no doubt.

    You should thank all the dedicated folks who work at the polls. It is a thankless job in many ways, but it is a serious and solemn duty and one that your so-called “professionals” couldn’t do any better. Besides, what would these professionals do with themselves in between elections? And you want to dispatch thousands of professionals to every little backwater across the U.S.? How much would that cost us? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Leave the poll ladies to do their work and go find something more important to crab about.

    • Jonathan Valania

      Points taken, and I salute your service. Nothing personal. I was specifically referring to the ‘blue-haired gal pals’ at my polling place, who are barely up to the job frankly, and you got wrongly painted with the broad brush of satire. I apologize for that, but you’ll have this with humor. As for what professional voting staff would do off-season, I’m sure we could find something for them to do — or just make it a temp job. That’s the least of our worries as a nation. As for the cost, spare no expense I say. Why are we spending $2 billion to tear each other down instead of investing in an electoral system that does the people’s business with accuracy, precision and fail-safe reliability.