Columbia, SC — Many individuals and organizations behaved admirably in this election cycle, from citizens who stood in line for many hours to cast their votes to civic organizations that held candidate forums to educate the citizenry.
However, our country has no reason to be proud of how we select our political leaders. While the problems vary across the country and across elections, from the national to the local level, they are serious and numerous.
It’s true that problems should be expected in a country as large and diverse as America; no selection process will run perfectly. People will disagree about how the selection of our political leaders should operate. Nevertheless, our process has become a disgrace.
State legislatures and governors gerrymander election districts so that candidates (and political parties) select their constituents instead of constituents electing their representatives. This leads to numerous uncontested or noncompetitive general elections.
State and local politicians create requirements and procedures for voter registration, voter identification and early and absentee voting and determine the resources to provide (e.g., the number and quality of voting machines) in ways that make it more difficult for citizens to vote and to be certain that their choices are recorded as they voted.
Candidates, political action committees and outside independent groups often misinform citizens about themselves and their opponents. The media, too often using the framework of a horse race, poorly inform citizens of the issues, the candidates and the candidates’ proposed policies. In the face of many challenges to doing so, too few citizens work to inform themselves seriously about the elections.
A democracy that considered the selection of its political leaders the crucial foundation of its governance would not accept what has become routine in America. Such a country would work with great determination to develop procedures to produce candidates in an unmanipulated manner, inform fully its citizens, elicit their interest in voting, enable them to vote with minimal difficulty and quickly and accurately record their votes.
Surely, America can do better.