elections test democracy

Students in my Yukon College political science course got their mid-term exams this week. When I prepare an exam, I try to give students as many options as possible.

Students in my Yukon College political science course got their mid-term exams this week. When I prepare an exam, I try to give students as many options as possible. The questions, hopefully, offer the possibility that the writer will find in them something they feel able to dig into. I may ask them to link certain ideas that they chose from a list of possibilities. Or I may offer a series of quotations from which they have their pick for analysis.

This twice a semester exercise should be an interesting mental challenge, not a punishment. Learning becomes rooted in our consciousness from my perspective when we are engaged in and with the subject at hand. As a lecturer you know by the blank stares, a lack of questions or distracted behaviours if college students can’t see meaning and relevance in what is being placed before them.

Education, according to my little Latin dictionary, means to lead or draw out. If college courses become just more hoops to jump through on the way to a certificate or a degree, little of value will be retained. However the possibility always exists that a mental light will turn on, a door will open, a life become enriched or a person truly empowered.

The United States is having its mid-term election next Tuesday, November 2nd. The Obama Administration handicapped by a crippled economy, faces its first major electoral test. As distressing as the political rancour, bile and fear mongering spilling out into the media and over our electronic border is, this obscures deeper problems with the electoral system of our neighbour.

The US electoral system has become dangerously unbalanced in favour of the wealthy or those beholden to them. According to an article in yesterday’s Huffington Post, “a roll call analysis of Senate financial disclosure forms filed in 2010, more than half of the chamber’s membership, 54 lawmakers, reported a minimum net worth of more than $1 million. Another four senators fell short of that mark by less than $100,000.”

The article’s author, Jennifer Yachnin, pointed out that accounting procedures may hide the wealth of further senators. These allowed, for example, Senator Herb Kohl, a Democrat from Wisconsin, to rank as the poorest Member of Congress in 2009, despite the fact that he owns the Milwaukee Bucks of the NBA and likely is among the US Senate’s richest members.

In a Brookings Institution study of the 2008 US election it took on average $1,362,239 to gain one of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives. The average expenditure for a winner of a Senate seat exceeded $7,500,000. Michael Malbin, executive director of the Campaign Finance institute out of George Washington University in Washington, DC, recently wrote that these dollars don’t come from the poor or middle classes.

“Senate incumbents raised only nine per cent of their money from small donors in 2008; House incumbents raised only six per cent. For most state elections, the funding balance looks much like that of the Senate and House.” The current California gubernatorial race highlights this fact at the state level. Republican candidate for governor and former E-bay CEO Meg Whitman has spent over a $120 million dollars of her own money in her bid to go to Sacramento.

Malbin argues that “the best way to prevent the domination of American politics by independent spenders and major donors is for citizens to reclaim their own democracy.” Proportional representation, mandatory voting, a la Australia, and a host of other electoral reforms might augment Malbin’s call for democratic renewal. These are lessons that we here in Canada and Yukon could spend some time studying as well. What will it take to engage us in our own democratic process?

I sent my Missouri absentee ballot in about a month ago.