“If you believe in things you don’t understand, you suffer from superstition.”—Stevie Wonder
Now that the 2010 mid-term elections are over in the United States of America we may place politics on shelf for another cycle. Nope.
Beyond the act of casting a vote (which is very important) is the process of civic awareness and civic engagement. If Americans vote without knowing the structure and components of the political system, they do so with ballot blindness.
However, in order for American citizens to become more civically aware and engaged, several questions must be answered and information mastered. For example, Why are there only two “major” political parties in the United States? Why are additional political parties prohibited from “qualifying” for most state ballots? Why do states have authority over federal elections, including presidential and Congressional? Why are election days held on workdays? Why is the American electoral system so onerous for most voters?
Unlike other democracies around the world, which have multi-political party systems, the United States encourages and statutorily mandates that only two parties officially qualify for state ballots. Voters who do not wish to declare that they are members of the Democratic Party or Republican Party must declare “No Party” or “Independent.” I know, the limited political options that forced me to declare “Independent” political alliance is a major down side of America’s two-party, winner-take-all political system. Another shortfall of our limited two-party system is that it rewards narrow political victories with 100 percent of the elective seats. A prime example is that while the Republican Party claimed a majority of the new Congressional seats they will now control 100 percent of committee chairman.
The reason states are authorized to control federal elections is the 10th Amendment (also known as the States’ Rights Amendment) that reserves for individual states powers not held by the federal government. By such authority, states are permitted to set election rules such as what electoral process is used, including the form of the ballot and the type and numbers of voting machines used in each precinct. As a result, there are more 50 state electoral systems, 3067 county systems; and 13,000 municipal regulations pertaining to who, how, where, and by what rules citizens vote.
My experience in the historic 1994 racially inclusive, multi-party elections in the Republic of South Africa made me further aware of the limited “democracy” of American elections. Under the then new South African electoral system political parties—regardless of platform—were required to secure 5 percent of the primary vote to qualify for inclusion on the ballot in the general election. Following the primary, the percentage of votes garnered in the general election determined the percentage of seats in the legislature for that party. Such a system is known as a proportional based representative democracy.
Moreover, provincial electoral systems and voting machines in South Africa were sanctioned and regulated by the federal government. And, that is not all. Every South African citizen was given a work holiday as an incentive to vote. Makes sense, huh?
If America is to be the Democratic Republic it purports to be, process must trump political partisanship. In other words: Our must demonstrates that its practices match our preaching.
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