May 5, 2009

How To Perfect Our Democracy

THE FIRST 100 days of the Obama Presidency have come and gone in a state of crisis. For supporters of democracy reform, however, that could describe the last eight years since Bush v. Gore. If the 2008 election vindicated their work, it was only a first step toward redressing the fundamental flaws of our democracy.

In the words of Miles Rapoport, democracy reform advocate and president of the think tank Demos, "A lot of the focus for Demos and for other organizations over the last ten years has been work on the state level. That was a result of the fact that Washington was so hopelessly gridlocked on these issues, it was almost better not to have Washington take them up. The situation is different now. The possibilities for federal reform are better now than they've ever been before."

As the data-crunchers digest the numbers, it's clear that 2008 had the highest turnout of any presidential election since the voting age was lowered to 18 in 1972: 62% of eligible voters. More African-Americans, Latinos, and young voters made it to the polls than ever before, and the electorate on November 4th looked more like America than it ever has in the past (proportionally speaking). However remarkable, this milestone was partly the result of a slightly lower turnout (in relative terms) by white and elderly voters, and it was far short of the record-setting spectacle many had hoped for. Voting rates in the US continue to lag far behind many of the world's other oldest democracies. There's still much to do to make it possible for all Americans to make their voices heard, from enacting election day registration and early voting to making election day a holiday.

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