Judging from the views of my respected co-authors in this report, American democracy stands indicted for its performance in November's election. Yet in several important respects, the system performed better in 2004 than it has in years. That's not easy for me to say after such a disheartening election day. But you cannot measure the health of a democracy simply by who wins. Voter turnout increased by an astonishing 12 percent, adding 15 million new voters, many from the inner cities. Racial minorities and younger voters turned out in larger numbers than ever before. The two major presidential candidates enjoyed ample, legitimately raised funding, including millions of small contributions raised on the Internet. The candidates posed stark, well-defined choices.
The debacle of the 2000 presidential election made it clear that we
are operating a badly frayed nineteenth-century democracy in
twenty-first-century America. Voter participation is shockingly low and
declining each year. At best only one-half the eligible electorate
actually votes in a presidential election. Turnout for Senate and House
elections in nonpresidential years rarely exceeds 40 percent. Local
participation is even lower. And on the whole, those who actually vote
are richer, whiter, and better educated than those who don't.