Miles Rapoport is the president of Demos, a national research and advocacy organization. He was secretary of the state of Connecticut from 1995 to 1998 and served 10 years in the Connecticut legislature.
The 2004 election confounded those who have blamed the flaws in our democracy on apathetic voters, apolitical young people, and a generalized culture of disengagement. More than 120 million citizens cast ballots, a turnout of 60 percent of eligible voters. When something important is at stake, voters will brave barriers.
The last day of the election season, I am seized with the same anxieties that so many people are. But we should also take note of some major positives in this election, which are already true, regardless of Tuesday's outcome. They confound some of the accepted critiques of our democracy and create a base to build on for the future.
We both work in New York City, where the deepening inequality documented in the preceding articles is palpable in everyday life. Housing prices in Manhattan recently reached an average of $1 million, a cost that requires annual earnings of about $400,000 to amortize. Looking at the country as a whole, CEOs in the financial sector receive compensation packages in the tens of millions, about 500 times the median household income.
Six months after the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) -- whose passage was sparked by the disputed 2000 presidential vote -- became law, the action on election reform has shifted to the state level. State governments are now charged with implementing the legislation, and while that poses the danger that some states will take the opportunity to cook up new methods for voter suppression, it also offers advocates of election reform the best chance in a long time to improve the way elections are carried out in the states. The issue of election reform has unfortunately received little attention as the drama has moved out of Washington and into state capitals. But the dangers and opportunities presented by HAVA make it a topic that liberals ignore at their own peril.
The disenfranchisement of people convicted of felonies is one of the great exclusions of civic life in the United States. The problem's dimensions are large and growing larger. As of 1998, according to the Sentencing Project's groundbreaking 1999 report Losing the Vote: The Impact of Felony Disenfranchisement Laws in the United States, 3.9 million Americans were barred from voting as a result of felony convictions and a patchwork of inconsistent laws governing the restoration of voting rights. Current estimates raise this figure to 4.2 million. Almost one-third of these disenfranchised citizens are African-American men. In eight states, individuals convicted of felonies can never get back their rights.