This Election Day I worked as a judge in a small Chicago Southside precinct of less than 700 registered voters. Because of my age, this is my first Election Day horror story.
I arrived at my polling station a few minutes late, 5:20 a.m. It wasn’t my own precinct but thankfully only a few blocks away. By 5:30 only the Republican judge and I were there rushing to prepare the site; both of us were first-timers. He, a conservatively religious city worker, and me, a former city contractor with ties to the local Democratic machine.
By 9 a.m. one of the assigned judges showed and we found an swear-in replacement and, thanks to the one very late veteran, the day started to go more smoothly.
During and immediately after my judging experience I began to tabulate a long list of procedural reforms that I thought would improve the overall election process for voters. But since I’ve had time to reflect on my judgeship, I feel that all the beneficial procedural reforms in the world couldn’t enhance a system that fails so fundamentally to do justice to the concerns of my community.
The process of voting is ripe with problems from redundancies of registering and applying, the outstanding long list of positions, the difficulties of a punch-card ballot, the ease of election tampering, biases of judges, and a dearth of general participation just to name a few. But these complex issues are only superficial. Can any amount of mere reform alleviate the deep systematic illness of our election culture?
I will not take this opportunity to rally against the two-party, money take all, system. For even the two-party system is just a symptom of the deeper problem. More important than any new system is a culture that is saturated with politics. In the words, a William McNary, at a recent Chicago PWW/Mundo fundraiser, 'if we (the people) don’t do politics, politics will do us.'
To the end of getting the public at large involved with the politics, we need not just procedural but structural reform. First, voting should be, if not mandatory, then given an incentive, so that hard working people don’t have to risk their livelihoods just to do their duty – a national holiday, or legal sanctions against employers that don’t give their workers time to vote. Too many workers have to rise even earlier than normal just to vote hurriedly with their neighbors.
Our voting system should also include a structural no confidence vote, if candidates are running unopposed, or neither candidate suits the people’s interest. Voting should be done more regularly and for less positions, so that people are encouraged to talk politics all year round, not just in the already hectic holiday season. Of course there are other reforms such as in regards to the lengths and funding of campaigns.
However even more important as even these structural changes that many other nations have enacted is our culture, which sees politics as impolite conversation, which rewards candidate mudslinging, which doesn’t have the time to find out what the issues are.
Getting our culture to evolve must begin somewhere, perhaps deep reforms are as good a place to start as any.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org