American democracy is being derailed. Can faith be restored?

Not all votes or voters are treated equally – many are thwarted and undermined at every turn

wolffe

Richard Wolffe


Richard Wolffe – The Guardian/December 20, 2016

Now that the electoral college has formally selected the next president of the United States, it’s worth taking a deep breath and asking: what kind of democracy do we live in?

The will of the people ought to be clear after an election. But as 2016 draws to a close, there are deeply troubling signs that American democracy – after 227 years of seeking a more perfect union – has left the rails.

It turns out it’s possible to win the governorship in North Carolina but find the job is stripped of power before you’re sworn into office.

And across the nation, we abide by the archaic rules of an electoral college that has all but renounced its first responsibility: to elect someone fit to be president.

The Founders may have wanted to prevent demagogues from taking power, but party hacks ignored all that original intent. It makes you wonder why the candidates and voters abide by the rules of a game that nobody is interested in playing.

It doesn’t matter, apparently, that Donald Trump lost the popular vote by almost 3 million. The state-by-state popular vote, and the allocations of electoral college votes, are more important. That would be fine if the electoral college itself did what Alexander Hamilton wanted: ensure that the presidency would “never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications”. But, they didn’t.

Judging from his tweets this past weekend, it’s unclear that Donald Trump can spell requisite. It would also be unpleasant to discuss whether he is eminently endowed with anything.

The nature of what we call democracy is sadly no longer an abstract discussion beloved of political science professors. Trump won Florida by little more than 100,000 votes. Yet as the Brennan Center points out, the state disenfranchises 1.6 million from voting, including one in five African Americans.

Florida is one of just three states to impose an effective lifetime voting ban on anyone with a past felony conviction. Restoring voting rights in Florida is the exception, not the rule. Denying voting rights is the racist legacy of Jim Crow laws, and its survival to this day is a stain on our democracy.


A man holds a sign inside the state capitol shortly after the electoral college cast their vote in Austin, Texas, putting Donald Trump over the 270 votes needed.

A man holds a sign inside the state capital shortly after the electoral college cast their vote in Austin, Texas, putting Donald Trump over the 270 votes needed. Photograph: Tamir Kalifa/AP


Many inside the conservative echo chamber raise the specter of voter fraud to justify their ever-expanding efforts to limit or stop early voting, and impose voter identification laws that discourage older,