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The Infrastructure of American Democracy Is Dysfunctional

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Source: The Nation


Gov. Scott says no to more early voting in Florida. Y'all just keep standing in line
(image by MSNBC)


President Obama's second inaugural address touched on the reality that the United States has a dysfunctional election system. Describing the nation's progress, as well as the ways in which the nation needs to progress, the president declared, "Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote."

Obama drew knowing applause when he spoke that truth in January 2013, as he did in November 2012, when just hours after his re-election the president noted that millions of Americans had "waited in line for a very long time" to vote. Then, in an ad lib that got more attention than his prepared remark, the president added: "By the way we have to fix that."

On Wednesday, the process of fixing the problem -- and of moving America a few more steps toward democracy -- accelerated. A little.

The bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration that Obama appointed last year released a report that recommends:

"1. Modernization of the registration process through continued expansion of online voter registration and expanded state collaboration in improving the accuracy of voter lists.

"2. Measures to improve access to the polls through multiple opportunities to vote before the traditional Election Day and the selection of suitable, well-equipped polling place facilities, such as schools.

"3. State-of-the-art techniques to assure efficient management of polling places, including tools the Commission is publicizing and recommending for the efficient allocation of polling place resources.

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These are relatively tepid proposals. But they move in the right direction on several fronts. Making it easier to register and vote is important; modernizing registration procedures and expanding early and absentee voting programs, can help with this. So, too, can the improved allocation of resources and technology to assure that every voter in every state has a roughly equal chance to cast a ballot in a timely, respectful and efficient manner.

So the president was pleased with the report. He received it with much fanfare and described the recommendations as "outstanding."

Obama says that he and his aides will "reach out to stakeholders all across the country to make sure that we can implement... the commission's report." The president brings to this work a sense of urgency that is appropriate, reminding Americans that "one of the troubling aspects of the work that they did was hearing from local officials indicating that we could have even more problems in the future if we don't act now."

But no one, including the president, should imagine that what the commission has produced is a cure for what ails American democracy.

The commission's report focuses on technical repairs, and places a great deal of faith in new technologies. That's not a fresh approach. After the 2000 fiasco in Florida, and the resulting intervention of the United States Supreme Court to prevent a thorough recount -- and a thorough review of the failures and abuses of voting systems in the state -- there were reports, recommendations and allocations of resources for new technologies.

But there was not a shift in mindset. Indeed, those who would restrict and restrain the franchise stepped up their activism. After the 2010 elections Republicans were put in charge of statehouses across the country. We then saw a wave of new initiatives -- many, though not all, of them crafted by the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council -- to impose restrictive Voter ID requirements, limit early voting and eliminate same-day registration.

The problems that inspired the president's "we need to fix that" line were not necessarily technical or technological. They were often man-made. And the men who made them are still at work; in 2013, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, more than 80 bills restricting the right to vote were introduced in more than 30 states.

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John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Online Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.

Nichols writes about politics (more...)
 

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It is hard to impress people with American Technol... by Bob Stuart on Sunday, Jan 26, 2014 at 12:23:35 AM