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Voting Block

There is no shortage of reasons for Democrats to be annoyed that the race for their party's nomination has deteriorated into a tedious fight over bitterness, bowling, and Bosnia. Among them is the apparent reality that the party has quietly abandoned any hope of finding a way for voters in Florida and Michigan to make their voices heard during this historic primary season.

There's no question that the situation is a tricky one: The contests the states held in January cannot be allowed to count--rules are rules--and the prospect of holding new primaries or caucuses has dimmed as a result of financial and logistical challenges. And even Hillary Clinton, who once passionately spoke of these states, doesn't mention them anymore. The party brain trust is praying that the nomination is decided by the remaining ten primaries, so that the two states' delegations can be seated without incident at the convention in Denver.

The only problem is that one in ten Americans is either a Floridian or a Michigander, and they are being disenfranchised. One would hope that this would be cause for distress, but most Democrats seem to be greeting the news with a yawn. At this point, almost everybody cares more about settling on a candidate than about ensuring that the nominating process is fair.

This is an understandable impulse, but, in a democracy, procedural questions cannot be disregarded so casually without eventually undermining the system's legitimacy. Sadly, this is all too often the case. Most Americans took no notice when, in September, Senate Republicans blocked a bill that would have granted the District of Columbia a vote in the House of Representatives (and added a Republican seat in Utah to maintain party balance). But it meant that the District's some 600,000 residents will continue to lack a vote in Congress for the foreseeable future.

Even more troubling are practices that effectively exclude entire classes of citizens from democratic participation. Eleven states prohibit ex-felons from voting, even after they have repaid their debt to society in full. (To his credit, Florida's Republican governor, Charlie Crist, last year managed to amend state law and restore voting rights to most ex-felons--though the change came too late to prevent more than half a million Floridians from being disenfranchised in the 2004 election.) The Supreme Court looks set to uphold an Indiana law, similar to statutes on the books in other states, that requires voters to present photo identification at the polls--even though tens of thousands of the state's residents (disproportionately poor, black, and elderly) lack such identification, and studies routinely show that voter fraud exists mostly just in the minds of partisan Republicans.

Process issues like these aren't sexy, and no electoral system will ever be perfect. But, as the race for the Democratic nomination reminds us once again that sometimes every vote really does count, it's as good a time as any to focus our attention on the sad truth that, for too many Americans, democracy remains a promise unfulfilled.

By The Editors