The Democracy-Building That Obama Didn’t Do, and That Biden Must

The Democracy-Building That Obama Didn’t Do, and That Biden Must

Despite Trump’s abysmal poll numbers, the deck this November is stacked against Democrats precisely because of the antidemocratic forces that shape American elections. In 2013, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act’s central enforcement mechanism, leaving Republicans free to suppress the vote. Our decentralized election system means some states have stronger, more secure procedures than others. The Electoral College structurally favors low-population states, and in the present that means it favors Republicans. Dark money drowns out the voices of voters. In addition, the pandemic is making it harder than usual to register voters, and experts worry that states’ election systems are not prepared for the uptick in vote-by-mail. Should Joe Biden overcome these obstacles, as well as Trump’s inevitable attempts to cheat, and win the presidency, he simply must devote his political capital to tackling the process issues that eluded the last Democratic president. Yes, he will inherit bigger problems even than Obama did—a pandemic Trump refuses to contain, which is causing an economic catastrophe he refuses to address. But Biden needs to recognize that if the democratic process doesn’t work—which it does not—then neither can democratic governance. He has a long list of reforms from which to choose. In his eulogy for the late congressman and civil-rights hero John Lewis, Obama offered some options, beginning with strengthening, expanding, and protecting the franchise. Because Republicans believe that they lose elections when people actually vote, they have recast the franchise itself as a political tool of the left ...
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