The apparent disparities in the pluralistic nature of the presidential electoral process in the United States has created, throughout the course of American history, enormous criticism and controversy from state to state, from voter and non-voter to the next. Since 1804, as Fred M. Shelley (2002) notes, there have been numerous debates among Congressional leaders to constitutionally ratify what is considered an outdated and otherwise undemocratic means for selecting the victor of presidential electoral proceedings. Shelley (2002) states that in the presidential election of 2000,, the incumbent, received 500,000 more popular votes over Republican candidate, W. . However, Al Gore lost the Electoral College selection by a slim margin of 271 to 266, with only two electoral votes counted for the District of Columbia (p. 80). One Electoral College member for the District declined to vote, as Shelley (2002) footnoted, who stated that the District does not have statehood status. What Shelley further describes in his article, “The Electoral College and the election of 2000,” regarding the construction and decision making processes of the Electoral College, clearly demonstrates what many disproportionately misrepresented voters of small states, who have a rather limited voice and representation in the College, lack, strong social capital.
Cathy J. Cohen (2001) defines social capital as the set of networks, trusts, norms, and interactions in which people engage daily to make community decisions collectively, democratically (p. 267). Cohen (2001) states that social capital regarding voting processes is dwindling, as residents of the United States are becoming more isolated, socially, autonomous, and private entities who have come to distrust the state and civic arenas (p. 269). Cohen (2001) draws this conclusion regarding American interest based primarily on the studies of(1995), who is concerned that we are no longer a nation of concerned citizens who are actively engaged in political processes due an erosion of trust, interaction, and social norms that define a community, state, and nation’s net value of social capital. With minimal participation of citizens in voting proceedings, areas of great concern among scholars of the concept of social capital, there is a need for politicians to campaign with greater rigor in regions where Electoral College representation is minimal. This is exemplary of smaller states like Kentucky, Vermont and New Hampshire that have less Congressional representation than states like California, Texas, and Illinois (Shelley, 2002).
However, as the Electoral College continues to ensue attacks from both Congressional representatives and citizens as being undemocratic for two hundred years, it also continues to erode the very social capital that it is supposed to represent based on a state’s majority popular vote for a particular vote (Shelley, 2002). Also, Shelley (2002) notes that the presidential election of 2000 is a prime example of how the social capital of small states failed to come together and vote decisively or more unanimously along historical partisan lines rather than let the Electoral College decide the victor. Shelley (2002) further notes that the social capital in larger states also suffered, such as the case with Florida during the presidential election of 2000, as there was not a decisive popular vote that determined who the voters of that state felt should be president (p. 82).
What is interesting to consider in this discussion of social capital and the Electoral College decision making process is the post-election analysis that filmmaker Michael Moore brings to light in his documentary, Hacking Democracy. In this film, Michael Moore highlights the efforts of a woman who investigated how electoral and popular votes were counted in numerous states and regions within states, where each popular vote cast for Al Gore was electronically counted as a negative vote. Other misrepresentations of the voters’ will came to fruition as the she further investigated a rather large set of files that she accidentally downloaded off of an unrestricted website through the use of an FTP (file-transfer-protocol) server. What she discovered was more than just the icing on the cake, it was confirmation of many voters’ skepticism regarding electoral proceedings, and enough to illustrate why, the social capital of small regions, and even underserved communities, continues to deteriorate as fewer and fewer people are turning up at the voting polls year after year (Cohen, 2001; Shelley, 2002).
Cohen (2001) draws this conclusion of poor voter turnout based on inadequate or otherwise nonexistent social capital primarily from the works of Robert Putnam, but Shelley (2002) clearly elaborates on a rather specific, and well known example of how our deteriorating state and national social capital leads many not to even participate in election processes. Furthermore, filmmaker Michael Moore reveals tangible evidence as to how even states with a strong social fabric such as Ohio and Illinois were even victims of a political sham, a sham that lead to further indecisiveness in the presidential election of 2004 between incumbent, President George W. Bush and Democratic hopeful, John Kerry. This sham is even evident in the indecisiveness of within the Democratic Party, as voters in the 2008 primaries are unsure of which is a better leader for our country, a woman, and wife of a recent former president, or an African-American male. While some object to dynastic rule, others fear Islamic ties that Barack Obama has with distant family members in Africa.
As concerning as this may be, despite who the voters choose as their Democratic Presidential candidate with a sufficient majority, if at all, will the Democratic Party create enough of a following to allow for a social capital that fosters a positive change that saves us from the utter economic collapse we are about to experience? In other words, will there be enough of a voter turnout in November to create the change that so many have been crying for since the first day that President George W. Bush took office in January 2001? How can we assure the people of under-represented states, and states with an undecided or rather even vote for either candidate, that their general popular vote does in deed count, at least morally? How can we assure ourselves that archaic mechanical or even “state-of-the-art” electronic voting methods will not be manipulated or tampered with in this, or future “split-decision” elections?
These are just some of the questions that we must ponder as we cast our votes in November. But will larger voter turnout actually lead to a reunification of social capital, both in rural communities where likeminded voters are separated from each other byway of physical acreage and in larger metropolitan communities where individuals fear one another due to too much contact with others who disagree, thus choosing to isolate themselves from community or other macro-level electoral decisions? The vote is still out on that debate, but the vote is not amongst social workers, unless of course the Republican regime continues to ensue as the dominant source of political representation and decision-making processes. In which case, many social services will continue to be cut in favor of an oil-driven oligarchy that mandates funding cuts to even what is most important for the fabric of any sort of social capital for any given community, education for our youth. How will our youth of today be able to respond to the political blunders of the future if they cannot receive the adequate and fair education that they deserve in order to become informed consumers and voters in this capitalistic, democratic-republic nation of states “united” under a common cause?
Cohen, C. J. (2001). Social capital, intervening institutions, and political power. In S.
Saegert, J. P. Thompson, & M. R. Warren (Eds.), Social capital and poor
communities (pp. 267-289). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Moore, Michael. Hacking Democracy. Release date unkown.
Shelley, F. M. (2002). The electoral college and the election of 2000. Political Geography,