Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Nov. 4: Is This Any Way To Have An Election?

By Sylvia Gurinsky

We'll know the "What" later. Now, a discussion of the "How."

Election 2008 attracted the most voter attention in many years, primarily because of dynamic candidates and new ways for people to participate in the process. The first interesting result will be nationwide voter turnout; it could break records.

Someone is going to break a barrier, whether it's the first black president or the oldest elected president and the first female vice president. The presence of candidates such as Barack Obama, John McCain and Sarah Palin, and Hillary Clinton (during the primaries) helped engage the public.

This campaign depended on a combination of the old and new: Multitudes of Internet sites combined with shoe leather and door-knocking; questions asked by Bob Schieffer and David Letterman. (And two things I never thought I'd see together in a sentence, from this morning's Miami Herald, PBS and Twitter.)

And now, the bad news.....

The ambient anger of the last 15 years or so remains. Aspects of the campaigns brought out hateful sides of some supporters of candidates from both sides of the political spectrum. Whoever becomes the next president - and vice president - will have to address this.

For the first time, it felt like the most challenging questions of the candidates didn't come from the one profession that's protected in the U.S. Constitution - the press. While newspapers, radio and television continued to suffer from staff and quality shrinkage, comedians Letterman and Jon Stewart asked some of the best questions.

Talk radio and cable channels were a disaster, spreading as much propaganda as any political ads and contributing to climates of hatred. Sadly, some mainstream journalists started picking up cues from them.

On the voting front, there still hasn't been enough progress to make sure that voter rights, access and technology are the best everywhere. When The New York Times reports a snafu when the actor and activist Tim Robbins tried to vote this morning, what's the status of millions of other Americans?

Here's a link, incidentally, to the article about Robbins:


There's reassurance in knowing that tradition and democracy continue in Dixville Notch and Hart's Location in New Hampshire, where they cast the first Election Day ballots just after midnight. The towns pride themselves on 100 percent turnout, and presumably a well-informed electorate.

The rest of this country deserves no less. So there's work to be done in how we vote - and how we learn.

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