Our Democratic system is the best

Our Democratic system is the best

By Ray Hanania

English: A voter returns his vote-by-mail ball...

English: A voter returns his vote-by-mail ballot in the 2006 General elections in Lane County, Oregon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The news is full of stories about people in countries around the world who have to struggle to have their voices heard.

They’re denied the right to vote, or if there is a vote, it’s usually an election conducted at the end of a barrel of government intimidation. Even in some of the so-called Democratic countries around the world, citizens still face restrictions, government bullying and efforts to deny their right to vote.

This week, Tuesday March 18, we saw how in Illinois how our system is so much different.

Voters from across the state will have voted to select the people who will represent their political parties in the General Elections that will be held on November 4. Offices up for re-election include the U.S. Senate, members of Congress, and government offices at the state, county and municipal levels.

Now, I am writing this before the polls close on Tuesday March 18, but I can predict one certainty, that the turnout of voters will be low.

While people in foreign countries struggle for their right to elect their government leaders, many Americans just don’t care.

Part of the reason is that American voters are required to declare a party affiliation. The two major parties are Democrats and Republicans. There are a few other smaller parties who occasionally offer candidate slates. And many Americans feel that is unfair, that they are forced to identify their political affiliations in a recorded, public way.

Our election system is a two step process. Members of each party elect their representatives in what’s called a “primary.” And then everyone votes on the final slate of candidates in the general election, from those who won the primary.

Chicago has implemented a non-partisan system of voting where everyone votes and the person with at least 51 percent of the total votes wins; or the two highest vote getters if no one gets 51 percent of the vote, face-off in a run-off election.

Yet, that’s not the biggest problem. The biggest problem is that the majority of people who can vote, don’t even bother to register. The numbers frequently change, but basically about half of Americans who qualify to register to vote, don’t. They fear being called up for “jury duty.” Some believe registration subjects them to government spying.

Of the half who can and do register, only 40 percent of them, and usually even far less, actually go to the polls and vote. When you divide that group into two or three groups, you can see how small a minority decides the makeup of government for everyone else.

Let’s use 1,000 voters as a base. Only 500 register. Of that 500, only 33 percent or 166 actually vote. With two candidates in the race, 84 people decide who will represent the 1,000.

It’s because of the refusal of Americans to exercise their power to vote, that some politicians have sought to impose “term limits,” forcing good and bad elected officials out of office after serving only two or three terms.

That sounds good to the majority of the public because they are apathetic and refuse to vote. But it’s a terrible burden that only diminishes the power of voters to choose their own elected leadership.

Rather than impose term limits, I think government should penalize those who don’t vote. I even think we should impose an additional penalty on those who fail to register.

Don’t blame government when things don’t work the way they should. Blame yourself.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and columnist. Reach him at www.TheMediaOasis.com.)


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