Voting in America is Broken, so How Do We Fix it?
To commemorate the one-year anniversary of the buckwild 2016 election, we’re taking a look at what’s working and what’s not when it comes to the electoral process in the United States, and how we expand voting to more people.
In Vote Now we'll be addressing some of the systematic failures that have led to a flawed democracy in America, and aim to drive support for grassroots efforts to expand the basic right to vote for more people.
Whether you’re vibing on making America great again or are still in a year-long election depression stupor, most Americans agree that voting in America is broken. Public trust in government is at an all-time low, and voter participation rates in the United States trail about 27 other developed nations, even though the country spends the most money per capita on its elections. This was the case long before 45 was in the White House, but for many people across the political spectrum, the results of the 2016 election and the disruptive primaries that led up to it have been a necessary (if largely unsettling) wake-up call.
Polarization and partisan divide may be at an all-time high, but one thing that can be agreed on is that the political establishment on both sides seriously miscalculated the hurricane caliber winds of disruption at play.
The country has been asleep at the wheel when it comes to insulating the democratic process from the destructive domestic threats of money in politics , gerrymandering, and Americans collectively fall short at exercising the fundamental right to vote that defines the founding principals of the nation. For a variety of reasons, millennials in particular haven't been particularly keen to exercise their power, and one can only guess how civically engaged Generation Z will be unless substantive changes are made.
The brutal truth is that democracy in the United States was on weak legs long before Russian bots and rigged primaries came into the picture. Back in January, and before chaos enveloped the executive branch of the federal government, the country was downgraded from a “full” to a “flawed” democracy by the Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU), a business intelligence group that helps businesses, financial institutions and governments understand global trends. The EIU stated that based on past data "popular trust in government, elected representatives, and political parties has fallen to extremely low levels in the U.S.”
As political consulting and media buys have turned politics into a multi-billion dollar business, public trust and interest in civic life has been on the decline for the last few decades. While it’s encouraging to see strong public demonstrations like the Women's March and Convention, more first time and diverse candidates running for office, and new civic groups popping up around the country, there are some fundamental flaws with how people get elected to public office that need to be addressed if the country is to be "full" again.
The good news is more people appear to be taking a hard look around them, and asking questions that may have been taboo not that long ago.
So, what are we going to do?
The systematic failures hindering the American electoral system are largely played out in states and municipalities year-round, and must be addressed now, long before the 2018 midterms and especially before the next presidential election in 2020. One glaring reality that consistently keeps people out of the democratic process is that 6.1 million people across the country can’t vote because of a prior non-violent felony conviction. In Florida alone, around 1.5 million people can’t vote because of regressive disenfranchisement policies. This disproportionately impacts people of color and one-out-of-every-five African-American adults in Florida, and one-in-13 African-Americans nationally are prevented from voting because of it.
Considering that in the 2016 presidential election the state was won by 122,911 votes, the issue is a game-changer for whoever holds power, and directly related to how ex-offenders successfully reintegrate into society. That’s why we’re going to be working in support of the ACLU’s Let People Vote effort to knock down barriers to voting in Florida and other states.
When it comes to turning out to vote, Americans can do much better. Turnout for midterm and municipal elections is abysmal, even though so many issues of national importance, from climate change to reproductive rights play out at the the local level. There are a number of reasons for this, ranging from voter suppression to the outdated reason that elections are held on a day of the week when most people have work. But considering that 60 percent of adult citizens have never been asked to register to vote, and only 50 percent of eligible young people—about 24 million youth, ages 18-29—voted in the 2016 general election, there’s plenty of work to do when it comes to getting people registered and out to the polls. So we’ll be working to support leading voter registration efforts to close the gap.
It’s been a year, but if we’re serious about getting the country back on track, and really being the great democracy we can be, the real question that Vote Now wants to help answer is not figuring out what happened, but rather what have we learned and where are we going?