hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


Editorial November 2022



Saving democracy might require more than electoral reform


In nearly two decades of reporting on elections and politics across our region, we’ve covered lots of ideas for making our political system more open and accessible -- and for giving voters more meaningful choices.

On our editorial page, our guiding principle has been that anything that gets more voters to participate in elections, and gives them more of a stake in our politics, is a good thing.
So we’ve endorsed ideas such as instant-runoff voting, nonpartisan redistricting, open primaries, no-excuse absentee ballots, and same-day voter registration. In general, we’ve supported reforms aimed at fostering competitive elections while reducing or removing barriers to participation for both voters and candidates.

But all of this has been based on the assumption that voters would have access to reasonably accurate information about candidates and issues – and that the candidates themselves would feel bound to stay within a certain distance of the truth. And over the past six years, those assumptions have been shaken to the core.

Partly this is a function of the declining role of daily newspapers, which historically set the highest standards for detailed, probing reporting on political candidates and public issues. Over the past decade or two, many small and mid-sized dailies have been trapped in downward spiral of declining readership, shrinking revenues and staff cuts that have gutted their ability to provide in-depth political reporting. Even some major metropolitan papers have been caught up in the maelstrom.

Newspapers’ decline has been paralleled by the rise of cable networks like Fox News or MSNBC, which often seem to choose which stories to report – or ignore – based on the ideological makeup of their target audience. (Fox took this to new heights this year with its brownout on coverage of the Jan. 6 committee hearings.)

At the same time, more voters are finding out about politics and campaigns mainly through online and social media platforms where basic fact-checking standards are low to nonexistent. Much of the “information” here comes from partisans who are far more interested in manipulating public opinion than in even a pretense of fairness or accuracy. Worse, a social media post might even come directly from one of Vladimir Putin’s troll farms, created for the express purpose of whipping up discord and division within American politics.

All of this is a long way of saying that, as this issue goes to press a week before the Nov. 8 midterm election, our system of democratic self-government seems very sick. Its very survival could be at stake. And if that system collapses, it won’t be easy to put back together.
For now, voting is the best tool we have for fixing the damage done over the past few years. A good place to start would be by voting out or refusing to support candidates whose behavior has been most destructive to our democratic values.


November 2022 Editorial Cartoon ©HCO


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