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June 30, 2022  
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Issue No. 1 - THE VOTE
C O N T E N T S :

Update » No Paper, No Trail: An Open Invitation to Electoral Fraud

Introduction

A Vote That Counts

2002 Elections Underscore Imperative of Major Reform

Libertarian Solutions for Revitalizing Our Democracy

Spoiled? Ralph Nader and Voting Patterns in 2000

Post-Democracy: The Dystopian Future of Our Winner-Take-All Politics

Voter Turnout: How To Hit 90% by 2010

Vote, Organize, Vote, and Win - For a Progressive Society

SPECIAL: G&G Wellness


Post-democracy: The Dystopian Future of Our Winner-Take-All Politics

It's Election Day 2011 in San Francisco. The two major candidates for mayor have spent more than $15 million savaging each other in the absence of any kind of campaign finance spending caps or mandatory public financing of elections. Independent expenditures amounted to even more, carpet-bombing television ads all over the city and making evening television virtually unwatchable for the average citizen during the final 30 days of the campaign. Blizzards of direct mail mean snowplowing out your door on Monday morning.

Campaigns in San Francisco, even for low-profile races like tax assessor, have followed the continuing national trend of using polls, focus groups, and extensive databases to slice and dice the electorate. Westside voters, over 50, with no children living at home, two cars in the garage, and a winter home in Scottsdale have emerged as a leading demographic to be courted and swayed. The electorate has been completely sorted into manageable bites of swing voters, partisan voters, and apathetic voters, the latter being overwhelmingly minority, young and poor. Partisan and apathetic voters are ignored, and all resources - all campaign spin and hype - are directed toward the narrow band of swing voters that determine close elections. Consequently, San Francisco's citywide elections have been reduced to the most provincial of considerations targeting the narrow group of voters in San Francisco who now determine elections: senior citizens who vote by absentee ballot from Scottsdale to keep their property taxes down.

And yet despite all the pyrotechnics, as the evening winds down, hardly anyone has showed up to vote in the 2011 mayoral race. San Franciscans have continued their steady downward trend in voter participation. Recently, cities like Dallas, Charlotte, and Austin have seen voter turnout for mayoral races in the single digits, and in 2011 San Francisco has joined them: only 5% of eligible voters interrupted their Tuesday, a busy work day, to cast a vote for their mayor. Do elections matter anymore? A pall of "post-democracy" seems to be coalescing.

And the trends in San Francisco are mirrored around California, as the Golden State has spiraled into a post-democracy depression. Severe gerrymandering of congressional and state legislative districts during the redistricting process at the start of the last decade created so many safe seats that incumbents of both parties were virtually guaranteed reelection. The use of powerful computers and databases allowed unprecedented packing of each district with so many Democrats, or so many Republicans, that the other side did not stand a chance of winning, not to mention a Green or Libertarian. The two San Francisco congressional incumbents in 2010 crassly illustrated the point by raising over $6 million each for their reelections -- yet not spending a single dime to win their heavily Democratic districts. Instead they pocketed the money into rainy-day funds, legal under law. As it turns out, all across the nation congressional and state legislative districts are now mostly fiefdoms lacking any significant competition for incumbents or the party dominating that district. Most voters need not show up to the polls to decide the winners, because via a computerized redistricting process, the politicians now select the voters before the voters have a chance to pick them.

California has been so locked up for the Democrats in the presidential sweepstakes that the front-runner candidates in 2008, Vice President Dick Cheney and Senator Tom Daschle, completely avoided the state except to raise money. The voters of California were completely ignored -- as they probably will be again next year in 2012. The rest of the country was treated similarly, as the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections came down to a mere six states that weren't locked up for one party or the other. Consequently, the national campaign for president has been boiled down to a handful of issues that appeal to a handful of swing voters in a handful of states. Everyone else has been left on the political sidelines. The biggest of the six swing states, once again, was Florida -- in both 2004 and 2008. Even with new voting equipment, the closeness of the reelection of George W. Bush in 2004 led to scattered incidents of banana republic-type violence, with right-wing protesters in Florida wearing combat fatigues and blackface, holding aloft signs with "Bush or Revolution," written in bloody scrawl.

Elections now generate so little interest among voters, or even candidates, that certain cities in California canceled their elections altogether because there were no candidates to compete against safe-seat incumbents. In fact, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which has raised a public ruckus about the cost of elections when so few voters show up, has begun collecting signatures on an initiative that will cancel elections entirely except for a single election every eight years. In essence, the Howard Jarvisites are asking the few remaining voters to cancel permanently elections and transmogrify the U.S. into a "ratification" democracy with occasional elections more like those of the plutocratic Roman Republic than those of a participatory democratic republic. And polls show it will probably pass.

The onset of this post-democracy has paved the way for the "Berlusconization" of American politics. Silvio Berlusconi was the Italian media magnate in 2001 who managed to gobble up nearly all private media in Italy and then use that resource as a personal stepping stone to a political career. The exquisitely-dressed Berlusconi's campaign for prime minister consisted of sailing up and down the Italian coast in his private yacht and pulling into ports where his private TV stations covered his press conferences by beaming his perennially-tanned face to Italians all over the country.

By 2011, America's Winner-Take-All politics has moved us a giant step closer to Berlusconization. Perhaps a figure lurks on America's horizon - a William Randolph Hearst-like demagogue, part Rupert Murdoch and part Newt Gingrich, who personally controls huge portions of the taxpayer-subsidized electronic media and has diabolically intertwining media capabilities and political aspirations.


Here in 2002, given the trajectory of today's Winner-Take-All political system, such an American future is possible. The Winner-Take-All system, for the most part, is a geography-based, two-choice system that elects one seat at a time and in which only one side can win. It's an adversarial system where "if I win, you lose," and although much is at stake, only one side can win and many voters are shut out of the political process as a result. It's the way we've done it since the 18th century, but in our diverse 21st century society it unnecessarily divides voters into winners and losers. It's horse-and-buggy democracy technology unfit for the modern demands of representation, political discourse, and policy formation.

If we don't enact reforms to create a more consensual democracy founded on a bedrock of proportional representation, instant runoff voting, and public financing of elections, a post-democracy government lies around the next bend in the road. This is the way our democracy will end, not with a bang but with a whimper.

Steven Hill is senior analyst for the Center for Voting and Democracy and author of Fixing Elections: The Failure of America's Winner Take All Politics (Routledge Press, www.FixingElections.com). He was the campaign manager of San Francisco's Proposition A, passed in March 2002 to implement instant runoff voting. Contact Steven Hill at shill@fairvote.org

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