Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Counting Votes -- and Votes That Count

To Our Readers

Has something you've read here startled you? Are you angry, excited, puzzled or pleased? Do you have ideas to improve our coverage?
Then please write to us.
All we ask is that you include your full name, the name of the city from which you are writing and a contact telephone number in case we need to get in touch.
We look forward to hearing from you.

Email the Opinion Page Editor

The midterm election campaigns drawing to a close have not, according to most assessments, inspired many voters. Slanderous advertisements and an effort to dodge major issues have dominated many campaigns. One explanation for this dispiriting reality, as The Post's political reporters have made clear in an enlightening series of articles, is the 50-50 split between Democrats and Republicans, who are "more evenly divided ... than at any time in over a century." This split was manifest in the 2000 presidential election, decided by a few hundred votes in one state; in the Senate, where the defection of one man cost the Republicans control; and in the House, where a half-dozen seats keep the Republicans in the majority.

The even split did not produce total paralysis in Washington, despite appearances at times to the contrary. Congress mustered bipartisan support for several of President Bush's initiatives, most notably his tax cut and education reform, and for quick legislative responses to 9/11. In its second year, bipartisan majorities overcame Bush's opposition or indifference and reformed campaign finance laws, election procedures and corporate governance. But often stalemate has been the consequence of the near-even split. Neither side wants to give the other the slightest advantage, because a tiny tilt could tip large piles of campaign cash in the same direction and start a reinforcing cycle. On important issues such as homeland security, both parties seemed more interested in locking up debating points for the campaign than in passing laws. On others, both sides preferred just to duck. Thus did Congress and the administration once again shirk their responsibility to begin planning for the retirement and medical costs of the baby boom generation.

The same tendency to duck and weave has characterized the campaign. Because the parties mutually agree to gerrymander most of the country, a shamefully small number of congressional districts are in play, along with some key Senate seats. In most of those, candidates have not chosen to lead and persuade, as one might hope. We don't believe that most Democrats are enthusiastic about Bush's Iraq policy, nor that they have lost their fervor for gun control; but the party isn't talking much about either, because to do so would be considered tactically unwise. Similarly we doubt that Republicans have abandoned their dream of replacing part of the Social Security program with private retirement accounts, though they rarely say so. Again, the tacticians counsel euphemism, throat-clearing and subject-changing attacks.

An election should be a time for parties to state their views and seek support. This election has been a time for parties to gauge the winds and trim their sails. That may explain another likely split on Tuesday -- between the minority of the electorate that will vote, and the majority that won't bother.

This comment appeared as an editorial in The Washington Post.