Electile Dysfunction?
It’s Time We Face Up To Our Two-Pronged Democracy ED Problem

By Matthew Cossolotto
Published October 30th 2006 in News Release Wire

We have a serious democracy problem in America but nobody wants to talk about it. Call it “Electile Dysfunction” – or ED for short.

Yes I know the word should be “Electoral” instead of “Electile.” But the latter is funnier, so I decided to go with that. After all, I want people to read this article!

Our democracy suffers from two glaring deficiencies. One has to do with the unreliable methods we use to actually count votes. Call this the “Counting Votes Problem.”

A second, more profound issue almost never comes up in polite company. This has to do with making votes count, something that concerns the underlying voting system. Call it the “Making Votes Count Problem.”

To make progress on our two-pronged ED problem, we have to address both issues simultaneously. Otherwise, every time the elections roll around we just won’t be able to perform.

Crisis of Confidence

To his credit, CNN’s Jack Cafferty recently hosted an hour-long program about our “Broken Government,” with a long segment devoted to the widely anticipated voting machine crisis. Lou Dobbs, also on CNN, devoted an entire program recently to the looming electronic voting machine crisis.

Here we are just days away from the 2006 mid-term elections and we’re not sure whether we can trust the voting machines to provide an accurate count. Is this any way to run an election? As Cafferty, Dobbs, and many others have pointed out, the widespread use of touch screen voting machines without a verifiable paper trail (what happens if we need to do a recount?) does not exactly inspire confidence. Just the opposite, in fact. We’re facing a real crisis of confidence in our democracy.

Stories appear in the media almost every day calling attention to the fact that we’re ill-prepared for the upcoming elections. Election officials around the country are bracing for what could be a Katrina-like voting catastrophe. (I guess the election debacle in 2000 wasn’t enough of a warning that we had serious problems?)

Instead of levees breaking, the infrastructure of our democracy – the voting machines themselves and our over-burdened cadre of polling-place volunteers – is likely to be swamped with preventable crises.

The upcoming off-year election isn’t some cataclysmic natural event like a major hurricane. This is a predictable, every-two-year event. How can we find ourselves limping unprepared toward something that’s required by the Constitution?

In our relations with other countries, our ED problem is embarrassing, to say the least. Here we are exporting democracy to other countries but we’re having a hard time practicing it here at home. Democracy, like charity, should begin at home. Let’s enhance homeland democracy and then maybe we’ll have earned the right to spread democracy overseas.

Making Votes Count

Nearly every story about the fast-approaching mid-terms mentions the democracy-defying practice of “gerrymandering” – drawing designer legislative districts that protect incumbents and other candidates from the two main political parties. The media tend to unwittingly convey the impression that partisan gerrymandering is inevitable, the natural order of things. Because gerrymandering allows most incumbents to run for re-election in “safe” districts, many of stories say, only a handful of congressional seats are considered even mildly competitive.

In a very real sense, gerrymandering amounts to stuffing the ballot box BEFORE the election. It’s election fraud, pure and simple. Yet by and large the media treat gerrymandering like the weather: something we might complain about, but there’s not much we can do about it.

That’s the problem. The fact is we can change the gerrymandering sham. If the voters and the media would wake up to what’s really going on here, we could actually take back our democracy. Unfortunately, there’s no little blue pill on the market to fix our systemic ED problem.

What can be done? Here’s a short list of steps that we could take to reinvigorate our democracy. We should demand action from the next Congress on the following items.

  • Form a broadly representative, nonpartisan national commission to consider a full range of pro-democracy reforms.
  • Re-examine our traditional winner-take-all voting system. Most of the world’s mature democracies use some version of proportional voting or even instant runoff voting. We should consider these voter-empowerment systems too.
  • Change voting on Tuesdays to voting on the weekend. Alternatively, if we insist on Tuesday voting, make Election Day a national holiday.
  • End incumbent-protection gerrymandering. Take the redistricting process out of the hands self-interested politicians.
  • Get control of the obscene amount of money it takes to run for political office.
  • Finally, increase the size of the House of Representatives. The Constitution envisioned increasing the House every ten years to keep pace with population growth. But we’ve had 435 Members of the House since 1912, when our national population was a mere 100 million. We just passed the 300 million mark! It’s time to increase the supply of representation. Placing artificial restraints on supply is what self-serving, power-hungry cartels do. Hmmmm!

This is by no means an exhaustive list of possible reforms Congress should consider to stimulate voter participation. Let’s fix our ED problem and not go limply into the next election. When it comes to voter turnout and empowerment, let’s get it up America!