“Imagine a country where the right to vote is not guaranteed by the Constitution, where the candidate with the most votes loses, and where paperwork requirements and bureaucratic bungling disenfranchise millions. You’re living in it.”
This quote is from the introduction to Electoral Dysfunction, a book by Elizabeth Bassetti which tries to explain the ins and outs of the American election process, and why it is so riven with difficulty and controversy. I recently became interested in our election process, particularly the Electoral College, which every several years gets people angry and confused. I must confess I did not really understand it, and so I went in search of a book that might explain it. This is the one I checked out.
Electoral Dysfunction is a quick read, well-written, and pretty eye-opening. Its basic premise, which comes as a surprise to many, is that there is no guaranteed right to vote in our Constitution. That’s only the beginning. It tells of a system of 13,000 individual state, county, and municipal election authorities who all do things pretty much how they want. It details the long and painful history of providing suffrage to everyone, not just white male landowners, as our Founding Fathers intended.
Most disturbing of all, it tells of the efforts by various factions to make sure large numbers of people are denied the vote. All major political parties have done this at some point in our history. From Southern Democrats with their strict Jim Crow laws–poll taxes and strict registration requirements–to modern Republicans and their ID laws, nobody who’s paying attention can ignore the fact that these are all attempts to disenfranchise the poor and most minorities.
The book is full of interesting and often maddening anecdotes about things that have taken place at the polls. It is all in all a very interesting and informative read, although, even though there was an entire chapter dedicated to it, I still don’t think I understand the Electoral College any better.