By The Bakersfield Californian
For the past three months, we've been inundated with "facts" that ring true only to the ears of the most faithful and hyperbole that frequently strains the bounds of reason. Now that the ballots have been counted and the doomsday rhetoric is moot, we have substantially the same arrangement as before -- a Democratic president, a Democratic U.S. Senate and a Republican House of Representatives. So we can settle down, put campaign politics aside and go about the collective task of restoring the American dream. Right?
Sure, we can try. We must try. But we've still got some issues with the process that got us here. This election revealed, yet again, that the U.S. voting system has problems. Voters across the country dealt with inconsistently (and in some cases illegally) applied voter ID laws, long lines, untrained polling workers, early-closing precincts, erroneous official information and assorted other issues.
At the core of these problems: Voting laws vary drastically from state to state. Tennessee, for instance, requires that voters register a full month ahead of Election Day, and they must present a picture ID when they arrive at the polls. Meanwhile, Minnesota allows same-day voter registration and does not require voters to produce picture IDs.
States should have autonomous leeway in many areas, such as laws regulating taxation and aspects of intrastate commerce. But a federal election is just that: a federal event. There should be consistency in voting laws, and not just for the sake of convenience. States, and even counties within those states, can and do manipulate laws for political advantage. It's an issue that demands a judicial remedy. Leaving such matters to Congress only begs for more politicization.
Among the nations of the world, the U.S. is a sorry 138th out of 172 in voter turnout, not exactly what we should be projecting as the supposed paragon of democratic virtue. These are issues that will be set aside as the nation now watches to see how the dynamic of this verdict plays out, but the time to consider election reform is sooner, not later.
The immediate question that faces us, though, is this: Will Congress and the White House make truly mutual efforts to work together? They accomplished little working cooperatively over the past four years. Some pundits will assign blame/credit for Barack Obama's re-election to obstructionist Republicans in the House. A GOP-led Congress that successfully portrays itself as more concerned about country than party will find itself in better shape in 2016 than if it keeps the same failed game plan of the past four years.
More broadly, the Republican Party must decide what it is. Mitt Romney's torturous path to this outcome describes the GOP's personality crisis as well as any example. Romney, a liberal Republican in Massachusetts, hewed strongly to the right during the primary battle in order to win the support of the party's conservative voters, in some cases disavowing positions he'd taken not long before. Then, after securing the nomination, he veered back to the center.
Which Mitt Romney just ran for president? Which Republican Party did he represent? It's a question Republicans must answer, and quite soon. That task should fall first to the House's majority leadership, including Bakersfield's Kevin McCarthy. It's time for the GOP to chart a wider, more flexible course.