Those of us (Naderites, Greens, and others) who have raised
questions during this presidential campaign about the problems of democracy
in the United States face a historic opportunity. Not since the nineteenth
century has the country faced such a political crisis. Instead of engaging
in recriminations about the "spoiler" role of Nader or lamenting the
situation where the popular vote can be trumped by the electoral vote, we
should seize the time to underscore the need for substantive changes in the
political components of our democracy.
Clearly, at the top of the list is abolishing the anachronistic and
undemocratic electoral system. As a holdover from a period which disdained
an inclusive representative democracy, the electoral college must be
eliminated. To realize the goal of one person, one vote, we need to insist
by demonstrations and other means that the present electors recognize the
validity of the popular vote. Certainly, the AFL-CIO, Jesse Jackson,
NARAL, and all those other organizations and individuals who browbeat Nader
supporters into voting for Gore should turn their energy into mobilizing
their constituencies into rallying around the demand of "one person, one
vote." Instead of waiting around for recounts and technical challenges,
progressives should mobilize and swarm Congress with demands to end this
archaic electoral system.
Other electoral reforms seem to cry out for recognition as a
consequence of this crisis. First of all, establishing an instant runoff
voting system similar to that in operation in Ireland and Australia would
allow voters to rank candidates in order of preference and guarantee that
those voting for a third party candidate could express their second choice.
In a close election, such as the presidential vote in Florida, Nader's
voters may very well have provided the margin of victory to Gore through
such instant runoff voting. Moreover, third party supporters would be
better able to vote both their conscience and their strategic concerns in
close elections. Even more equitable is to move beyond a "winner-take-all"
political system to one where proportional representation would give third
parties, even those with as little as 5%, a voice in the government. Most
democracies around the world have such a proportional system and manage to
engage a much greater percentage of their citizens in elections.
Of course another key factor in excluding people from elections is
the inconvenience built into the voting procedures in most states. Instead
of the 6 states which now have same day voter registration, this should be
extended to all 50 states. Moreover, all states should either move to a
mail ballot, as Oregon has done (with one of the highest voter turnouts as
a consequence) or establish a two day holiday for voting as Italy has. In
Michigan the Republican Governor was incensed that the UAW had negotiated a
day off on election day, especially since it undoubtedly led to the upset
of the incumbent Republican Senator from Michigan. With a voter turnout
still hovering around 50% and making the US 139 out of 163 democracies on
turnout, we need to look for more inclusion rather than more restrictions.
Another key to reversing the restrictive political system is to
enfranchise ex-prisoners and immigrants. Given the racist unfairness built
into the criminal justice system and the drug war, it is no suprise that
African-American men are losing their citizenship rights in massive
numbers. It is estimated that close to 30% of African-American males were
ineligible to vote in Florida because of alleged criminal convictions.
Throughout the South in particular, such disenfranchisement mirrors the
segregationist policies of the past and undergirds the Republican control
of the South.
Another exclusionary structure especially evident in this election
cycle was the two-party dominated Commission on Presidential Debates.
Set-up to exclude third party candidates, Ralph Nader was even denied
access to the site of the debates in Boston and St. Louis. In turn, the
media conglomerates reinforced this exclusion through their own corporate
financial barriers. We need real debates with multiple voices and parties
aired as public service.
Of course, the most corrupting and corrosive influence on the
political system has been corporate financing. Dominating both parties,
corporate money and lobbyists have help enact legislation helping big
business and harming the average American. Apparently close to 3 billion
dollars was spent on this election cycle. Not only does this undermine
fair and inclusive campaign competition, it further erodes the democratic
ethos of society. Real public financing of campaigns is one obvious
On the other hand, in order to revive that democratic ethos and
build a deep democracy into American life, we cannot wait for token reforms
to be handed down by a remote political elite. We must take this moment to
turn a political crisis into an opportunity to promote a democratic agenda.
Whether through teach-ins on campus or mobilization in the streets,
democracy can only be fashioned for the interests of the people if the
people take an interest in democracy. And now is the time when that
interest is on our side. If all those who believe in democracy fail to
take advantage of this moment, we will only have ourselves to blame for the
continuing erosion of our democratic life.
Fran Shor teaches at Wayne State University. His e-mail address is: email@example.com