Stateside: Fourth of July Special
"As the pamphlet 'Common Sense' was to the American Revolution, so 'Fixing Elections' could be to the movement for alternative voting systems in our day.... It deserves the widest readership possible." So says Richard Winger, editor of 'Ballot Access News', reviewing a book being published this month by Routledge Press - 'Fixing Elections: The failure of America's winner-take-all politics' by Steven Hill, who is a co-founder and Associate Director of the Center for Voting and Democracy.
There was a gap of only six months between the publication of Thomas Paine's pamphlet in January 1776 - calling for independence from Great Britain and a republican revolution - and Congress's adoption of the Declaration of Independence on 4 July. In contrast, the movement for electoral reform in the United States has been plodding along for decades now and continues to be its own worst enemy if today's front page story in the 'Berkeley Daily Planet' is anything to go by. "We were just assuming City Council would put this on the ballot so advocates weren't mobilizing," Hill is quoted as saying in response to the council's June 11 vote on whether to leave the instant runoff question up to the voters in the November election.
Well, shame on me too. There I was over the bay in San Francisco persuading voters in that city to endorse IRV, when I should have been bending the ears of Berkeley city councillors. Mayor Shirley Dean, who voted with the noes on June 11 is quoted in today's paper as saying: "The technical questions have not been answered. Instead of inventing the wheel, let's watch someone else do it first and work off their experience and information." Alas and alack, search as I might in the 'New York Public Library Book of Chronologies', I can find no section on poultry so am still none the wiser as to which came first - the chicken or the egg.
My copy of Hill's book hasn't yet arrived so I can't review it for you, but excerpts from reviews by journalists, writers and academics are published on the book's website. The graphic on the website - of a trash can with the label 'Your Vote Here' - pulls no punches, and the list of chapter headings seems to indicate Hill has all the bases covered, including the distorted role of the Fourth Estate and of what is often called the Third House - lobbyists. Not to mention what he calls "pollsters-geists and consultants". An excerpt on the website seems to rely rather too heavily for my tastes on comparing the present state of US democracy with people getting voted off the island in the TV series 'Survivor', but also makes the point that more people watch 'Survivor' than vote in elections.
Anyways, for anyone in the US wanting to explore some ways of putting an end to the present system of politicians being a means to their own ends, instead of representing their electors, this book is a must read. Media organisations in other nations should read it too, so they can put an end to their erroneous representation of the United States as being of one mind. I was appalled that the BBC reported US reaction to Bush's 'ditch Arafat' speech in terms of one sentence about an approving poll result. When what is arguably the best news organisation in the world treats the US public as one discrete and indivisible blip on a graph, it becomes that much harder for that same US public to see itself as a scatter graph, with a whole range of opinions that deserve representation not just in the media, but in the legislature.
The saddest line in the Declaration of Independence states that people "are more disposed to suffer ... than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed." Maybe I'm having a bout of the post-vacation blues, but it is truly difficult to imagine anything that would make voters in the US think their present life is insufferable and heed advocates for change like Steven Hill. Go on, prove me wrong!
Thursday, 4 July 2002