Theresa Amato, Grand Illusion: The Myth of Voter Choice in a Two-Party Tyranny. New York, NY: The New Press, 2009, 432 pp., $27.95 (hardcover).
In grand illusion, Theresa Amato has written a passionate plea for wholesale reform of the American electoral system. The book is a combination of scholarly analysis and personal memoir of the author's experience as campaign manager and inhouse counsel for Ralph Nader in 2000 and 2004. Her goal is to demonstrate in "gruesome detail" "how difficult the two major parties have made it for third parties and independents to compete in the electoral process ... and ask why we treat our third parties and independents this way when most of the rest of the civilized world has embraced multiparty democracy" (pp. 16-17).
Grand Illusion will not disappoint anyone who is already frustrated with the workings of the American electoral process. Amato offers a tour de force of the difficulties she and the Nader campaign encountered in its 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns. She offers a blow by blow, state by state description of the litigation that stymied, delayed, or simply increased the cost of Nader's attempts to get on the presidential ballot. As well, she offers a thoughtful perspective that embodies more than simply the musings of an activist who supported a losing presidential candidate. Even the most cynical observer of the democratic process will sympathize with Amato's constant assertion that the treatment by the major parties and the courts of third parties, independents, and even mavericks within the two major parties is inconsistent with even the most minimalist vision of democratic rights. Insofar as we have "antitrust laws to prevent market power concentration in the economic arena," Amato asks why the nation has tolerated the monopolistic (or, at least duopolistic) concentration of power by the Democrats and Republicans.
Grand Illusion is about more than the fate of minor parties or fringe candidates who may or may not be justifiably written off as gadflies. Amato wants to raise the reader's awareness of two vital issues: commitment to and preservation of a competitive, meaningful political marketplace and the preservation of a meaningful right to vote.
Granted, the notion of "meaningful" in this context as well as the identification of an ideal level of political competition are fleeting concepts that elude even the most thoughtful political analysts. Nonetheless, Amato seeks to demonstrate that, regardless of our collective inability to foreclose debates about the scope and definition of a competitive meaningful political marketplace, there are still clear steps that we could take to improve the functioning of the American electoral process. These boil down, essentially, to unifying and homogenizing the administration of the electoral process by:
1. Eliminating the Electoral College or, at least, allocating electoral votes more proportionally within states;
2. Creating an affirmative right to vote in the Constitution (instead of the implicit one that it currently embodies);
3. "Federalizing" federal elections so that ballot access, voter registration, etc. are uniform across the states and local jurisdictions;
4. Federalizing the administration...
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