Wrestling with Democracy: Voting Systems as Politics in the 20th Century West
The following is an excerpt from the new book Wrestling with Democracy: Voting Systems as Politics in the 20th Century West, which examines why voting systems have or have not changed in western industrialized countries over the past century.
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So you want to stop Harper. Happily, you stand with a solid majority of Canadians, who are unhappy with what he represents. His government has the support of only about one Canadian in three.
Unfortunately, the opposition to his regime, a.k.a. one-man rule, is divided. Four opposition parties share prospective anti-Harper voters. Not everybody who wants to stop Harper is as engaged politically as Brigette DePape, the page who was terminated for brandishing a Stop Harper sign on the floor of the Senate.
People remember 1929 as the year of the stock market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression, the global economic disaster which remains the only one in history that dwarfs the one in which we now find ourselves. It was also the year Martin Luther King Jr. was born, who wouldn't live to see 40 years. And it was the year that Langston Hughes graduated from Lincoln University, outside Philadelphia.
Hughes, the grandson of abolitionists and voting-rights activists, was an African-American writer. His poem "A Dream Deferred" begins:
"What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?"
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Parliament took its summer recess last week. MPs return to their riding looking for signs of support, and indications of dissatisfaction. Political scientists proceed more formally to assess how parties are performing. How many citizens qualify as partisans of one party or another? To what extent do people identify with a party without being a member? And how do we evaluate voter intentions?
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As the election season heats up, an increasing number of states are working to limit the number of people who are allowed to vote. Already we have a shamefully low percentage of those eligible to vote actually participating. Florida, a key swing state, is preparing for the Republican National Convention, five days of pomp promoted as a celebration of democracy. While throwing this party, Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott, along with his secretary of state, Ken Detzner, are systematically throwing people off the voter rolls, based on flawed, outdated Florida state databases.
All eyes are on Iowa this week, as the hodgepodge field of Republican contenders gallivants across that farm state seeking a win, or at least "momentum," in the campaign for the party's presidential nomination. But behind the scenes, a battle is being waged by Republicans -- not against each other, but against American voters. Across the country, state legislatures and governors are pushing laws that seek to restrict access to the voting booth, laws that will disproportionately harm people of colour, low-income people, and young and elderly voters.