A review of Fixing Elections by Steven Hill

Have you ever read a book and thought, "I wish they would make this required reading for students?". "Fixing Elections" is one of those books. Hill argues, quite eloquently, that we're not a lazier, less civic-minded people than our grandparents were, or our great great grandparents were for that matter. Voting just seems pointless to many citizens because they recognize the truth: their votes really DON'T count.

His premise is that a vote for Nader may have been a wasted vote, but so was a vote for Gore in solidly GOP Texas, or Bush in Democratic New York, where the state's winner was a foregone conclusion. In legislatures, rigged district lines render impotent the votes of millions of Americans, Democrat, Republican and independent alike. Democrats in safe GOP legislative districts all across the West and South, and GOP voters in safe urban Democratic districts, have become "orphaned voters" with nowhere to turn, no less than third party supporters everywhere. Entire regions of the country are becoming balkanized political monocultures, dominated by one political party or the other as the political landscape fragments into the "Red and Blue America" that emerged during Election 2000.

Hill argues that our current political system is at the root of many of our worst political problems, including:

  • Single-digit voter turnout in elections all across the nation (my hometown of Dallas had 5% vote for mayor last election)
  • A Congress that doesn't look or think like America
  • National policy dangerously adrift from public opinion
  • A president who won with less than a popular majority, and fewer votes than his main opponent
  • A growing divide between city-dwellers and middle-America
  • Bitter national division and regional fragmentation that haven't been seen since the 1960s
  • Political consultants producing McCampaigns of poll-tested blandness
  • Campaign tricks and tactics (polling, focus groups, and the 30 second TV spot) sinisterly suited to Winner Take All's "divide and conquer" incentives
  • An alarming loss of innovative political ideas
For me the book is a refreshing blueprint to resurrect our Founders' democratic vision and, for better or worse (ignorance is bliss), it changed the way I think about American politics.