Wednesday, November 9, 2011

I’ve got your number

What a week! Earth welcomed its 7 billionth person.  (Hi to Danica May Camacho!) Global debt hit $40.6 trillion. (Putting millions, billions and trillions into context: the average person takes 672 million breaths in a lifetime.)  In the U.S. there are 300 million people and total debt just passed $15 trillion. That’s essentially $50,000 per person. Given that the average American household income per the U.S. Census Bureau is $49,455 - each American basically owes one dollar for every dollar they earn in a year. But the really important number is that there are 350 shopping days until Election 2012.

 

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This week marks the one year point when the quadrennial Presidential contest will be held. This election season is estimated to cost $8 billion, up from the $5.3 billion from 2008.  The 2008 Presidential winner, Barak Obama, spent $7.39 per vote. McCain spent $5.78. If the estimate for 2012 is right then the winning candidate will spend approximately $10 per vote.  

What will Americans get for all of this money? A constant barrage of back-and-forth between the two major parties. “The rich must pay their fair share.” “We do not have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem.” Democrats will accuse Republicans of being heartless capitalists out to balance the books on the backs of the poor and needy. Republicans will accuse Democrats of being tax and spend liberals who have recklessly destroyed capitalism and are steering the nation towards socialism and extinction.  For all of the hyperbole it's all rather predictable.

Election 2012 will produce a popular vote that is nearly 50/50 as they have been for most the history of the USA. There will be a hard fought fight over a few thousand votes in Florida or Nevada or some other “swing state” that will determine the Electoral College victor. It’s guaranteed. The campaigns (most of which have been in full swing for over a year) are angling for every possible vote.

A recent New York University School of Law analysis by the Brennan School for Justice found that new voting restrictions may affect more than 5 million votes. 63% of the electoral votes in 2012 (191 out of 270) are impacted by a change in the voting rules since the 2008. Both parties are trying to jerry-rig the results. (The harder it is for people to vote, the easier it is to control the result?)  From the Brennan study:
  • 34 states introduced legislation that would require voters to show photo identification in order to vote. Eleven percent of American citizens do not possess a government-issued photo ID.
  • At least 13 states introduced bills to end highly popular Election Day and same-day voter registration, limit voter registration efforts, and reduce other registration opportunities.
  • At least nine states introduced bills to reduce their early voting periods, and four tried to reduce absentee voting opportunities.

The voting age population turnout in 2008 was 56.9%. Just over half of Americans over 18 who could vote did so. Compare that to Tunisia. In December 2010 the small country bordered by Algeria and Libya launched the “Arab Spring” with its people demonstrating for change and peacefully overthrowing the ruling party. In late October 2011 the emerging democracy held its national election. More than 90 percent of eligible voters voted.

Americans no longer perceive voting as impactful. (That may be because it isn't!)  More likely the political stalemate results in little change. It may be because the promise of candidates are rarely met with their results as elected leaders. Money is an element. So is cynicism. It may be after 236 years it’s no longer considered a vital component of being a citizen.

I have a friend who loves going to the polling station on Election Day, waiting in line and going into the cardboard and plywood booth to color in the circles of the ballot. The pageantry and ceremony of the process is exciting. Once. Maybe twice. Then most people just want to do their duty. Voting should as easy as using an ATM, not like going to the Post Office.

Democracy is the process by which we measure our freedoms. Participation is the contribution we make to preserve those liberties. We must as a nation, and as a people, practice our commitment to these ideals through more than lip service, sound-bite campaigning and expensive marketing and branding efforts that provide an illusion of patriotism. We must find ways to include people in the process. The cost of exclusion may well be democracy itself. That’s a number we can’t afford.

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