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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 7/27/12

ID Laws Only Part of a Larger Problem

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   The new voter ID laws that are becoming increasingly popular in Republican states raise some very critical questions. What about the thousands of people who don't have photo ID? Is it a coincidence that the affected groups tend to support Democratic candidates? More importantly, what's the point of going after an issue like voter fraud that most states have few if any recorded instances of experiencing?

These are all serious issues, and those on the left have every reason to raise them, but they're just a small part of the larger problems facing voters. For a country that holds elections as often as we do, our electoral system lacks integrity, efficiency, and above all competition. We have an abysmal rate of voter participation, a badly administered voting process, and tightly guarded rules that help the people in power stay in power.

We tend to take for granted that people who dismiss the value of a single vote are at fault, but can you really blame them? Our sky-high re-election rate (which exceeds even that of the former Soviet Union), makes elections predictable to the point of feeling like a mere formality. Rather than changing this by instituting term limits and competition-friendly campaign finance laws, lawmakers preserve their incumbency by rigging the redistricting process to make sure they get constituencies that they can count on for votes.

Even in presidential elections, which tend to generate larger turnout, the Electoral College makes it hard to convince someone outside of the roughly ten swing states that their vote is worth the paper on which it's printed.

Not to mention, our polarized, unvarying political system gives voters no incentive to bother leaving the house. Do the leading candidates truly stir enthusiasm that isn't motivated by fear or hatred of the other? Meanwhile, any attempt at opening up the system is shot down by the two parties that run it. This is a trend we could alleviate by exploring alternative voting methods like instant run-off, ranked choice, or proportional representation to replace our crude "first past the post" system, but the major parties will do anything to keep out competition.

Even if you're content with the two parties, voting in itself is a bigger ordeal in this country than almost anywhere else in the developed world. By adopting simple solutions like a national voting holiday and automatic voter registration, we could do more to advance voter participation than any lawsuit against the voter ID laws will ever achieve.

Another error that makes us relatively unique among developed nations is our state-by-state approach. Rather than having a coherent set of national policies, we have a system that lets states determine their own rules, thereby confusing voters and creating an organizational nightmare for minor party candidates.

We also have an abysmal track record when it comes to organizing elections. We literally elected the wrong leader in 2000 because we didn't know how to count votes! Is it any surprise that Americans are losing faith in the system? Aside from disgracing our national elections, this just goes to show how badly prepared we are for any real competition.

People in Texas and elsewhere have every reason to question the laws that their legislators are introducing, but as supporters of democratic elections, we can't take our eyes off the ball. Our electoral system is broken -- let's look beyond the crack.

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The author is a political activist and outspoken advocate for open and fair elections, and has previously been published in USA Today. He has spent considerable time working on electoral campaigns in various states and pushing for environmental (more...)
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