By Popular Demand: Revitalizing Representative Democracy through Deliberative Elections

By John Gastil | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Appraising Radical
and Conventional
Electoral Reforms

If voters look for information about candidates under streetlights, then that is where candidates must campaign, and the only way to improve elections is to add streetlights.

Samuel Popkin, The Reasoning Voter

The severity of the problems outlined in chapter 3 has inspired many attempts at reforming elections in the United States. Some of the most radical critics of modern American elections suggest discarding the representative system for a more direct form of democracy, whereas others embrace the principle of representation but find fault with winner-takeall district elections. In this chapter, I briefly discuss these proposals, but I devote more attention to the relatively modest changes that political reformers have already put in place. In the broadest sense, these reforms (and suggested improvements to them) are all in the spirit of Samuel Popkin's call for adding streetlights to elections so that average voters can make better choices on their ballots. More precisely, this metaphor concerns voters' ability to see clearly the real abilities and beliefs of the candidates.

If political reforms, be they modest or monumental, can help voters tell a sound candidate from an unrepresentative one, then they might open wide the door to effective electoral action. And if voters regularly begin to reject officials who are unresponsive and out of touch with the general public, it may lead to governance that better corresponds with the public's best interests. Ultimately, that is the criterion by which all electoral reforms must be judged.

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