Why We Need a Democracy Index
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. Partisan officials change the rules of the game to help themselves and hurt their enemies. Election administrators cannot agree on what constitutes a best practice, or even whether there is any such thing. Authority is decentralized, so it's hard to know who's to blame when a problem occurs. Most experts agree that the system we use to run our elections is chronically underfunded, often poorly run, and sometimes administered in a partisan fashion.
*Rather than repeat the phrase “the best evidence we have” in every other sentence of this book, let
me offer a general caveat about the diagnoses offered here. As chapter 2 makes clear, it is difficult to
make precise claims about the current state of the election system because the data are so sparse. What
I describe here are the symptoms that experts routinely see and the field's best guesses as to their root
causes. These assessments are based on the best information available, but better information would be
necessary to state these claims with certainty. One of the main points of the book is that we should be
deeply troubled by our inability to know whether the system is working or not.