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The Democracy Index

The Democracy Index: Why Our Election System Is Failing and How to Fix It

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    The Democracy Index
    Book Description:

    Despite howls for reform, the only thing separating us from another election disaster of the kind that hit Florida in 2000, and that almost struck again in Ohio in 2004, may simply be another close vote. In this lucid and lively book, Heather Gerken diagnoses what is wrong with our elections and proposes a radically new and simple solution: a Democracy Index that would rate the performance of state and local election systems. A rough equivalent to theU.S. News and World Reportranking of colleges and universities, the Index would focus on problems that matter to all voters: How long does it take to vote? How many ballots get discarded? How often do voting machines break down? And it should work for a simple reason: no one wants to be at the bottom of the list.

    For a process that is supposed to be all about counting, U.S. elections yield few reliable numbers about anything--least of all how well the voting system is managed.The Democracy Indexwould change this with a blueprint for quantifying election performance and reform results, replacing anecdotes and rhetoric with hard data and verifiable outcomes. A fresh vision of reform, this book shows how to drive improvements by creating incentives for politicians, parties, and election officials to join the cause of change and to come up with creative solutions--all without Congress issuing a single regulation.

    In clear and energetic terms,The Democracy Indexexplains how to realize the full potential of the Index while avoiding potential pitfalls. Election reform will never be the same again.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2991-0
    Subjects: Political Science, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: Why We Need a Democracy Index
    (pp. 1-10)

    Our election system is run badly. Although many people are aware of the problem and eager for a solution, reform efforts have gotten surprisingly little traction. This book explains why election reform has yet to catch hold and offers a promising new solution for getting change passed: a “Democracy Index,” which would rank states and localities based on how their election systems perform.

    The best evidence we have suggests that our election system is clunky at best and dysfunctional at worst.* Ballots are discarded. Poll workers are poorly trained. Registration lists work badly. Lines can be too long. Machines malfunction....

  5. 1 The Perverse Politics of Election Reform Why (We Think) Elections Are Run Badly, and What to Do about It
    (pp. 11-37)

    The best evidence available suggests that our election system suffers from the same problem that afflicts the nation’s physical infrastructure: deferred maintenance. We have not invested enough resources in buying voting machines, designing polling places, training poll workers, and updating policies. Politics and localism are the root causes of these symptoms. These unusual features of the U.S. system not only undermine its quality, but thwart efforts to improve it. If we want to get from “here to there” in election reform, we must alter this perverse dynamic. One of the most promising strategies to do so is a Democracy Index....

  6. 2 The Promise of Data-driven Reform
    (pp. 38-65)

    As chapter 1 makes clear, partisanship and localism generate political tides that run against election reform. If we want to get from “here to there,” we need a solution that will redirect those tides. Ranking states and localities based on performance can do just that. At every stage of the process, a Democracy Index should help smooth the path for change.

    This chapter tells a tale of two reformers. The first is Spencer Overton, an election reformer who fights the good fight in a world without data. The second is Dan Esty, who has used data-driven performance rankings to change...

  7. 3 The Politics of Reform and the Promise of Ranking
    (pp. 66-92)

    In the last chapter, I offered a tale of two reformers. Spencer Overton fights for election reform in a world without data. Dan Esty battles for environmental change with an important weapon: an index that ranks countries based on performance. In this chapter, I’ll explain why the Democracy Index could provide a similarly powerful tool for election reformers. Indeed, if we focus on the key leverage points in the reform process—voters, policymakers, and election administrators—it is clear that a Democracy Index could do a great deal to smooth the path for change.

    Voters are a key leverage point...

  8. 4 Is the Game Worth the Candle?
    (pp. 93-109)

    In the prior chapters, I identified the many reasons to think that a Democracy Index could help us get from here to there in election reform. In this chapter I focus on the other side of the cost-benefit equation, examining the problems associated with ranking and strategies to mitigate them. Rankings create at least four kinds of problems:

    People imbue them with an objectivity they don’t deserve.

    They can target the wrong people.

    They may induce institutions to compete along the wrong dimensions.

    They create an incentive to cheat.

    The first two problems are the natural consequences of distillation. Ranking...

  9. 5 Getting from Here to There in Miniature Making the Democracy Index a Reality
    (pp. 110-133)

    Most of this book has been devoted to explaining why the Democracy Index should help us get from “here to there” in reforming our election system, changing the terrain on which reform battles are fought. Here I’ll talk about getting from here to there in miniature—how to make the Democracy Index a reality. As with any other reform proposal, we cannot just add water and hope a Democracy Index will spring up. Even a modest reform like this one will take work to bring it to life. In this chapter, I’ll discuss movement thus far, analyze the key challenges...

  10. Conclusion Getting from “Here to There” Redux
    (pp. 134-138)

    Much of this book has been devoted to describing a promising new strategy for improving the way we run elections: a Democracy Index. The Democracy Index is a quintessentially here-to-there solution. It doesn’t impose standards on how our elections are run. It doesn’t take power away from partisan officials. It doesn’t professionalize the bureaucracy that runs our elections. Instead, it pushes in the direction of better performance, less partisanship, and greater professionalism. By giving voters, policymakers, and election administrators the right information in the right form, it creates the conditions in which bigger and better reform is possible.

    The Index...

  11. Afterword
    (pp. 139-142)

    The 2008 presidential election was one of those remarkable moments in politics when the nation was paying attention. The general election was hard fought, and the stakes could not have been higher. The storybook ending in Grant Park—where a black man accepted the presidency—was one that touched every American, from Obama’s most ardent supporters to the people who accorded him the dignity of voting against him on the merits. I stood twenty feet away when Senator Obama became President-elect Obama. I watched as he pivoted from politician to president, as the paean to our history that had inspired...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 143-172)
  13. Index
    (pp. 173-181)