With the League of Women Voters of Billings asking people to nominate someone for the Joan Harwood Galles Making Democracy Work award, I’m asking, “What does it mean to make democracy work?”
The United States is a representative democracy that has evolved over 238 years, starting with a Constitution that allowed only white men with property to have the right and responsibility to make decisions to current laws allowing universal suffrage with the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
According to Freedom House, 118 of the 195 countries in the world have electoral democracies. Not one is like ours. Robert A. Dahl of Yale University asks why other countries haven’t used the U.S. as a model of democracy in his book, “How Democratic Is the American Constitution?”
Here are some of Dahl’s findings comparing the 22 most developed countries across several decades: The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate; fourth greatest in income gap; 21st lowest in voter turnout; 19th lowest in energy efficiency. What can we do to make our democracy work better?
• Develop a fair framework for an election process where everyone has easy access to register to vote, vote, and run for office.
• Support free, public education so all citizens know our history and can think critically.
• Look for independent media that research and report the issues.
• Expect transparency in government with opportunity for public comment.
• Guarantee that equal treatment is shared by all segments of the population.
• Stop economic exploitation in our policies.
Each of us can find ways to make democracy work. We can and we must if we are to survive as a people and a country.