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October 27, 2012

Nonvoters are trying to tell us something

(Continued)

WASHINGTON —

Can Americans change their system to make it more democratic? A bit of tinkering around the edges is certainly feasible. Two states, Maine and Nebraska, apply proportional principles to the presidential election: electors from these states are awarded in proportion to the number of votes cast for each candidate. In other words, these two states have done away with winner-take-all. Not a bad idea. There's also talk of a far more ambitious plan: getting rid of the electoral college altogether and allowing direct election of the president by popular vote. The demand for this option seems to be growing. But can anyone really expect the two currently existing parties to agree?

One thing is clear: The fact of the matter is that half of the American population doesn't feel represented by the current system, and this disaffection appears to be deepening with time. The sense of exasperation with the existing two-party oligopoly ranges from establishment stalwarts like Tom Friedman to professional malcontents like Noam Chomsky. Meanwhile, the ranks of the abstainers continue to swell — presumably because they feel like they have no stake in a political arrangement that doesn't address their concerns. Call me crazy, but this doesn't seem to bode well for the future of democracy in the United States.

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Caryl is a senior fellow at the Legatum Institute, a contributing editor at Foreign Policy, and a senior fellow at the MIT Center for International Studies.

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