The Perverse Politics
of Election Reform
Why (We Think) Elections Are Run Badly,
and What to Do about It
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.
During the last few years, we've witnessed bridges collapsing, dams bursting, even a giant sinkhole in Portland that swallowed the truck sent to fix it.1 These problems were all caused by a phenomenon long familiar to experts and bureaucrats: deferred maintenance, a phrase that made its way into national headlines when a bridge in Minnesota collapsed in 2007.2 The phrase captures a simple idea: we aren't taking care of the nation's physical infrastructure.3
We aren't taking care of the nation's democratic infrastructure, either. It is made up of people instead of bridges, voting machines instead of highways, regulations instead of dams. The evidence of neglect can be seen