Democracy - A Second Look

I’m noticing in myself that after a decades long personal evolution to wrest myself from my early Southern Baptist indoctrination and even question the basic tenants of faith, I have in my twilight years also begun to question other sacred cows. And one of those is democracy itself. And this is at a higher level than implied by such Churchillian quotes as, “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried”, or my favorite, “"The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter." My journey has brought me not only to just question religion, or to question free will, but to now question democracy. To question the very sacred tenets upon which democracy is supposed to rest: that the people can or should govern themselves, that the majority really should rule, that men do really have inalienable rights, that the “will of the people” is really the will of the people.

In any event, American democracy is not working, is corrupted, is a farce, inhabited by career politicians beholden to their own self-interest and brazenly more of a popularity contest that is a high school class president election.

I did a bit of looking at the statistics. And I went a bit further, all politics being local. And drilled down to state and county data. Here they are run through my spreadsheet. Voter turnout varies from country to country for a host of reasons, and turnout is not necessarily related to the quality of governance.

The United States here ranks quite low, however the data used is from a midterm election where turnout is always lower than presidential election years.

The historic data for United States voter turnout looks like this:

And Virginia places in the bottom 30% when compared to the fifty states.

The Virginia Election Board data suggests that there is even a tendency over time towards lower voter turnout, especially on off year elections.

And when compared with Chesterfield County, a similar pattern is noted: Of particular interest is the 19% turn out in Chesterfield County in 2003. This is 19% of registered voters – 31961 county residents voted in that election, in a county that in 2003 was 278,000 – 11.5% of the population actually voted. The majority won the various local offices, by even smaller margins for local district races. This was rule by majority that was in fact rule by a small minority.

I won’t broach the liberal versus conservative mind but I will recommend John Dean’s book, Conservatives Without Conscience, which is a good primer on the subject, other than to say it is much easier to lock step march conservatives to the polls, especially if there is a social issue that plays to their belief systems.

I will though add that the power of incumbency is used worldwide to secure elected position, with everything from erecting barriers to participation by selected groups, e.g. registration and voting barriers, to blatant gerrymandering. Particularly offensive is the disenfranchisement of felons.

"23% of the African American population in Virginia are disenfranchised, according to a breakdown of data by state by civil rights advocacy group, The Sentencing Project, where they report a whopping 2,331 disenfranchised African Americans per 100,000 of the total population of the Commonwealth. 7% of the total voting age population in Virginia have lost their political voice. 

You can apply to have your civil rights restored, but the process is lengthy. There's also no guarantee that your application will be approved. The number of newly disenfranchised felons in Virginia each year exceeds the number of ex-felons who are able to regain their civil rights. 

Despite evidence that bringing ex-felons back into the franchise actually reduces the recidivism rate, Virginia continues to disenfranchise any and all convicted felons regardless of the nature of the crime. The waiting period keeps many ex-felons from being eligible to have their civil rights restored, because disenfranchised felons are more likely to be reoffenders. What this really means is that Virginia continues to adhere to a policy that actually creates more crime. 

Virginia is one of only two states remaining in the United States that disenfranchises all convicted felons and require personal action from the Governor in order to restore the rights of ex-felons."

But all this begs the question, democracy – does it actually work? Can democracy compete with China’s “single party, part socialist, part capitalist, authoritarian/totalitarian oligarchy with figurehead leaders.” Does democracy offer the best quality of life for the largest number of people?


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