Democracy turns out to be a much more fluid term than our school textbooks indicated. Surely, our academic histories outlined past debates about various groups obtaining long overdue voting rights, but they always presented the results as de facto positives, practically givens at the time that they occurred let alone in the present day. We spend little time discussing the actual process of elections beyond tracking the Electoral College or peeking at a voting ballot.
Obviously, the Founding Fathers did not foresee the twists and turns that their experiment would take. To their credit, they did recognize that change was not only inevitable, but also necessary. A reasonable argument exists whether their designs meant to manage or to decelerate the rate of change. They presumably did not intend to accelerate the rate of change (though allowing for abrupt changes when deemed necessary at the exhaustion of all other options). For the purposes of a discussion on voting, this is relevant to ongoing suggestions for change.
Over time, three significant matters have emerged to impact voting within a democracy. The intertwining of the three topics ultimately leads to our election results. Overlap is inevitable.
• Deciding who gets to vote – Both legislative expansions (such as lowering the age limit) and restrictions (for felony conviction); see bullet 3 for “more subtle” legislative efforts
• Influencing those votes – Primarily through campaigning and all that entails, including advertising and public appearances; also includes attack ads and dirty tricks
• Manipulating the actual voting process – Including legislative methods like voter identification requirements and targeted voting right removal, as well as criminal efforts aimed at changing vote results
Having said that
Before digging into the numbers, my intention is to touch briefly on each of the above bullet points. Many others have provided deep analysis on specific issues. Struggles for equality have often been defined by the acquisition of voting rights, well documented in histories of those fights. Theodore White and Hunter Thompson (among many others) have painted vivid portraits of presidential campaigns, showing the various attempts to manipulate voters. As opposed to the campaigning pronouncements of our politicians, we tend to be much more confident in the legitimacy of our voting process. This leads us to be less creative in our imaginings than those who mean us ill.
Then, I will dig into the numbers and look at what really has happened in our federal elections: House of Representatives, Senate, and President. Are we receiving the representation that our predecessors bargained for with their lives? Perhaps we can focus on some areas of concern. I will then play with the numbers and, in some cases, suggest an alternative approach. Our nation has a long history of trying new approaches to recurring problems.
Ultimately, the discussion circles back to what it means to be a citizen of the United States of America. Despite the limited scope of allowed participants initially, the long-running intention in our country does appear to be an ever-expanding participation in the process of voting for our representatives. I hope that statement does not require a spoiler alert. Representation of the voting public will be a common theme through this series.