Victoria Bassetti

  • December 10, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    During his early morning re-election speech, President Obama took note of the difficulties scores of voters faced in casting ballots this year, such as standing in lengthy, slow-moving lines for hours. Something we have to fix the president said. 

    Many of the problems for voters this election year, as noted often on this blog, were created by lawmakers in a string of states apparently bent on making voting a more difficult procedure, though they cloaked the intentions in language about protecting the integrity of the vote. But a closer examination of the actions taken by those lawmakers – limiting early voting hours, clamping down on voter registration drives and implementing onerous voter ID requirements – revealed political efforts to keep certain people away from the polls, namely minorities, college students, low-income people and the elderly. See the ACS Issue Brief by Loyola law school professor Justin Levitt on many of the restrictive vote measures, which he concluded made for poor and potentially unconstitutional policy.

    The Washington Post editorial board in “Repairing America’s elections,” highlighting voting difficulties in Northern Virginia, noted in part, “Poorly trained poll workers get confused by constantly changing laws and procedures. Voter registration and record-keeping are getting more high-tech, but there are still many kinks. Many states lack policies that could take some of the pressure off, such as early voting.”

    The editorial reports that some in Congress, such as Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) and Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) are pushing a measure similar to the Obama administration’s educational “Race to the Top,” initiative. That measure, in part, would “dangle the possibility of grants to states that put together election reform programs” that include expansion of early voting and “more flexible registration rules ….”

  • November 15, 2012

    by E. Sebastian Arduengo

    For all of the grandstanding some politicians do on the virtues of American democracy, one might think that voting here would be simple and easy. Instead, as shown repeatedly here on ACSblog, it is anything but. American voters, who are more mobile than ever, have to deal with the election bureaucracies of all 50 states, which include over 13,000 election districts and 110,000 polling places nationwide. Getting registered to vote in a new location after a move can be time consuming and cumbersome. The only notable exception to the bureaucratic nightmare that is getting registered and voting in the overwhelming majority of jurisdictions is North Dakota, where citizens to not need to be registered to vote. All they need to do is show up on Election Day.

    In her book, Electoral Dysfunction, Victoria Bassetti argues that America is one of the few democracies in the world that places the burden on voters to prove that they are eligible to vote. So let’s look over our lapping shores to other lands to see how they manage the democratic process, and if there’s anything the United States can learn from their experiences.

    Our neighbors to the north and south provide us with an immediate frame of reference. In Canada voter registration is largely done by the Canadian federal government as a means of protecting the constitutional rights of Canadian citizens. The government refers to other governmental records, like tax records to keep the voter rolls continuously updated. For people that aren’t registered Canada allows for same day voter registration. The government is legally obliged to keep its voter registration list private, and information from it can only be shared with parties and candidates at the time of an election, and then only for electoral purposes. Canada also imposes strict limits on election financing, curbing the amount of money political parties can spend. Major parties like the Liberal and Conservative parties were limited to about 20 million CAD total, and in 2006 the Canadian Parliament passed a bill allowing only individuals to contribute to parties and political candidates.

  • October 9, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The efforts by Republican controlled statehouses to create more hurdles to voting, such as limiting early voting, creating onerous voter identification requirements, and making it more difficult to conduct voter registration drives, are hardly a recent trend.

    Victoria Bassetti, author of Electoral Dysfunction: A Survival Manual for American Voters, argues in numerous articles that for a country that prides itself on its form of democracy the burdens on voting do not make good public policy nor provide a solid foundation for a healthy democracy. (This month PBS will air an “Electoral Dysfunction” documentary; the book is a companion piece to the documentary.)

    In a piece for The Washington Post, Bassetti says our system of voting is “mystifying” to other countries, largely because of the burdens we place on voting.

    “In the United States, we put the burden on the voter,” she writes. “And in doing so, we keep company with nations such as the Bahamas, Belize and Burundi.”

    While maintaining that very few would label voter registration “anti-democratic,” she notes that “many political and social scientists believe that our country’s practice of putting the registration burden on individuals, coupled with outmoded, paper-intense registration systems, are major causes of the United States’ perennially low voter turnout. One study estimated that voter registration barriers in the United States depress turnout by 5 to 10 percent.”

    In an Oct. 6 column for The New York Times, Bassetti explores how low turnout “produces poor representation, which produces laws people are disinclined to obey and so undermine the process.” She also mentions a rather interesting study regarding how difficult it can be for men to vote, especially if their candidates lose. The study, produced by scientists at Duke and University of Michigan, has something to do with testosterone levels in men and people with normal serotonin levels. (Simply or crudely put, voting can be tough on men because of testosterone reactions and people with weak serotonin systems.)

    Though interesting, Bassetti says such studies are not especially helpful to handling “complex issues facing our democracy.”

    Some of that complexity centers on the bureaucratic mess voting has become in many states.