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US electoral process is deeply broken

  • 02 November 2018


With under a week until one of the most important midterm elections in the history of the United States, things are looking dystopian. It's difficult to keep the news cycle straight: 5200 troops sent to the border to bar a caravan of weary migrants from entry to the country's asylum system; a massacre of Jews in the deadliest attack on them in US history; the pipe bombs sent to democratic figures seems like ancient history — who even remembers Brett Kavanaugh?

Given their proximity to the election, it's tempting to for punditry and laity alike to wonder what effect they will have on ballots. They will — but perhaps not in the way we might expect.

None of these tragedies will inspire voters or lawmakers to think creatively about civic solutions to the myriad problems facing the United States — immigration reform, anti-semitism, gun violence, sexual assault — but they will have an immense impact on how many head to the polls.

It is tried and tired, but most political scientists and pundits when pressed will tell you: it all comes down to turnout. What base is fired up enough about what issue. And so we're left with a politics that's focused more on convincing people to show up the polls — using either fear or inspiration — rather than campaigns focused on big ideas and legislative ingenuity.  

To posit that the results of an election come down to who shows up at the polls is to admit that America's civic life is broken. Moreover, analysis from the perspective of turnout overemphasises the will and passions of voters and ignores the structural flaws embedded in the country's electoral process.

Even if someone might be fired up enough to want to vote, the barriers put on voting are onerous enough to suppress the average engaged citizen. Anyone who has scrambled to buy a gift or card at the last minute ought to understand how arbitrary registration deadlines disenfranchise voters. Elections are held in the middle of the week — with schools and business all still open. Depending on what state you live in, you may be entitled to paid time off to vote, but that too will depend on your class and profession.

Beyond whether or not a particular voter will have the discretionary time required to vote, many are faced with the question of whether or not they'll be able to cast a vote if