I thought about Professor Gerken today with respect to the recent Norm Coleman/Al Franken election controversy in Minnesota as well as the unresolved Scott Murphy/Joe Tedisco congressional race in upstate New York. Eight plus years after Bush vs. Gore, our system remains pathetically dysfunctional. Today, Gerken communicated to me in an email that,
"These races reveal precisely the problem I'm trying to address. We only see problems in the election system when it is close, as with the Coleman/Franken race. Minnesota is widely thought to be a well-run election system, and I have every reason to think that it is. The problems the Coleman/Franken debacle revealed were the problems that exist everywhere. One reason to have a Democracy Index is that it would let us see those problems even in the absence of a close race. That would help us do a better job of diagnosing what ails the system. It would allow us to prevent problems before they throw the results of a close race into question. And it would widen the window from reform, which typically closes the moment the election is resolved and the media turn off their cameras and microphones."Gerken's efforts on behalf of a "Democracy Index" to assess the electoral performance of our states and localities illustrates a bitter irony: America continues to shed blood and treasure in the name of democracy and freedom abroad while its voting system decays at home. Indeed, progress in Afghanistan and Iraq, will partly be measured by our monitoring of upcoming elections in both countries while too many Americans are prevented from registering or disenfranchised at the voting booth.
It’s especially remarkable to consider that we likely have more data collected with respect to the electoral process Iraq and Afghanistan than our own country. As Gerken revealed in our Sunday interview, we don’t even know how many Americans attempted to vote in the 2008 presidential election.
How can we ever hope to help other countries develop their own democracies when ours is in such disrepair? Gerken’s “Democracy Index” suggests a way forward to assess where the problems areas are and effect repairs. Yesterday, President Obama spoke eloquently about a “New Foundation” for our economy and society. A cornerstone of that foundation should include finally addressing the soft underbelly of America’s wobbly election infrastructure.