Rodney Clough
4 min readJun 24, 2021


Critical Election Theory

Photo by Olena Sergienko on Unsplash

‘We’ are not ‘divided,’ which does not mean ‘we’ compromise.

The ‘thing’ about saying ‘as a nation, we are divided,’ or worse ‘more divided,’ or even worse ‘more divided than ever,’ is that we are missing the forest for the trees. We are so distracted by. a culture of ‘trolling and polling’ that our collective silence(s) on important matters has become deafening.

Birds know better.

What is the forest? The question remains that some of us are advocating for democracy and some of us are advocating for something else. Think of these as the two political choices demanding our attention, democracy or autocracy. Silence on one, democracy, uplifts the desires of the other, autocracy.

The salient part of Biden’s speech to Congress in April was the bit about the future, about whether we go forward as a democracy or as an autocracy — not compelling exactly, but called out nonetheless.

“It is clear, absolutely clear…that this is a battle between the utility of democracies in the 21st century and autocracies.”

Critical Race Theory. Wokeism. Whatever.

We are muddying pedagogy these days with the notion that the study of systemic racism aka ‘Critical Race Theory,’ is a “thing” to be vaccinated against.

Consider “Critical Election Theory, the study of systemic voter suppression.”

As a principle, ‘democracy’ will always “hang by a thread.” Voting within a two party system will devolve to a 50% margin on the very issues folks are more than 50% concerned about. Within the frame of sustaining a two party facade, America’s ballot box deliberation seen in total is ‘equally split.’ But this is not to say therefore, ‘democracy’ is threatened.

Consider rather that ‘democracy’ is threatening.

Critical Election Theory.

We’d prefer not to talk about ‘democracy.’

Despots like Putin understand this inconvenient truth: that in the end ‘democracy’ is less of an idea than a work in progress. Democracy challenges traditions, norms, even “what if’s.” Autocracy does all these things as well. So how and what we work on is critical to the success of ‘democracy’ becoming less threatening.

In sum ‘democracy’ challenges us to study the history of voter suppression.

Critical Election Theory.

We seem to have been born with the notion that the two political party idea is the path to social and economic progress. Looking at Presidential elections, what the two party system can claim is a history of ‘losers,’ eg. the collective tale of those ‘crackpots’ who dared to form a “third party,” to eschew the two party status quo and land an issue squarely in the ballot box. Their cause(s) are cast as forever sullying our fragile union:

“He (Ralph Nader) will never be welcome in the halls of Congress.”

-Sen. Joe Biden, commenting after the Florida vote (Bush/Gore) was counted, November 2020

What do Norman Thomas, Dick Gregory, Ralph Nader, Rev. Jesse Jackson, and Margaret Chase Smith have in common? They ran for President of the United States: every child’s dream, that in America there is a way for the lowliest to seek the highest office. And yet these souls’ drives also presaged future political yearnings, some of which became rallying cries for justice, in the economy and in the governing.

Critical Election Theory.

Technocrats have launched weighted choice voting as a short cut to ‘democracy:’ the un-collapsed vote. Choosing in this case becomes ranking. One vote amplifies it’s neighbor.

A retrograde version of ‘weighted choice’ is the run-off election, where the “clear winner” is sought. In both cases- weighted choice and run-off election- arriving at the results seems more important than the lessons learned getting there.

Not much comfort here, just drawn out elections, trying our patience, confusing and boring us simultaneously.

Arguably, a ‘multi-party’ system of governing- think parliamentary system- could bring issues “closer” to the people. Each additional screen could move us all collectively away from one person individual rule.

Is voter suppression in the mind as well as in the process of voting? Critical Election Theory, the study of systemic voter suppression, could offer an investigation of our democratic institutions, through the veil of history. ‘Ralph Naders’ matter: Nader can claim to have directly influenced more legislation (26 major bills) than most elected representatives of Congress.

Unwelcome in the halls of Congress, indeed.

Mainstream media cannot be exonerated from perpetuating the forest for the trees conundrum:

We are not ‘divided,’ which does not mean ‘we’ compromise.

“If it feels confusing, it’s worth taking a look.”

In days past the press competed for the story, the scoop. Nowadays the cable news feeds compete for the understanding. The cable network ads speak to the network’s success at ‘getting to the bottom of’…asking the ‘tough questions’… playing “hardball.” Rather than hold our collective attention to the issues being negotiated (or not), we are convinced to accept a failure at compromise.

But hold on, Stephanie Ruhle and friends (1), we don’t compromise every day, we negotiate.

There is a difference.

Critical Election Theory.

Governing by electorate is not governing by “sitting back.” To paraphrase a friend, “You have an argument, a cause, a justice… the question is, are you going to let someone else argue, advocate, judge for you?”

June 24

1-MSNBC, June 24



Rodney Clough

Refuses to nap. Septuagenarian. Cliche’ raker. Writes weekly.