I was actually listening to a morning drive time radio show for part of the 300 seconds or so that I spend in the car driving to work a day or two after Dubya got reelected, and one of the deejays was unhappy that people would rather spend three hours waiting in line to buy the new "Elmo" doll, but wouldn't wait an hour in line to vote. The fragment of discussion I heard afterwards generally considered such people stupid.
But it's neither surprising nor stupid. Getting a dancing "Elmo" doll will make a lot more difference to most people than casting their votes ever could. American elections, particularly for the House, become less and less free with every Congress. Unseating incumbents is nigh unto impossible. For the last eight years, nearly 98% of incumbent Representatives have returned, and most that didn't voluntarily retired from the House. I recall reading in Reader's Digest that somewhere around 30% of Representatives ran without opposition, and there was no place on the ballot for even a write in candidate.
Most people had the same negligible impact on the election of the President. Campaigning is expensive, and neither Kerry nor Bush wasted any money campaigning where the outcome was never in doubt. They concentrated exclusively on the swing states, except for when they came to campaign for contested House and Senate seats.
So how did things get this way? Part of it is how things were set up from the beginning. The state legislatures set up the districts, and they have gone farther and farther in their efforts to ensure that every district has an unbeatable majority for one party or the other, with most districts having majorities in favor of their party. I sincerely doubt that the Founding Fathers ever foresaw anything like the computers we have now. It isn't difficult to get a map that shows the voting data for every tiny voting district, and assemble them so that the elections are essentially fixed, even if that means that one voting district reaches in thin strands across nearly half the state. We are to the point where the only way to get rid of an incumbent Representative is to change the majority in his state's legislature.
It is possible, though difficult to fix this. It would require a Constitutional amendment to the effect that, "A voting district for a member of the House of Representatives shall be drawn so that it can be enclosed within a rectangle, said rectangle to have an area no greater than 120% of that of the district, itself. However, States which have only one Representative, and those whose topography prevent it, shall be exempt." That should cut down on the really atrocious gerrymandering we now see.
A second thing which really reduces our electoral choice is the laws limiting who can be on the ballots. It's a requirement for voting machines and electronic ballot readers, but it costs us our freedom. For quite some time, you could bring any ballot you wanted to the polls and drop it in, and it would be counted. This was one of the ways that third parties used to gain influence. They'd print up ballots with their own candidates on them, give them to their supporters, who would not have to search for the people they wanted to vote for. It takes more time and money to count the votes like that, but isn't our freedom worth it?
Then there's campaign finance "reform." Any time you see a bill with the word "reform" in the title, you can bet it's actually written to protect vested interests. Certainly the last two such bills I've seen were designed to exclude as many people as possible from campaigning in the mass media, except for the incumbents. The most recent round included provisions for the Federal Election Commission to decide what was a newspaper protected under the First Amendment, and what was not, and it pretty much prohibited anyone besides a registered candidate or his political party from mentioning other candidates by name in their ads. I think that if he were to return, Congress would no doubt brand Thomas Paine a terrorist. I do not understand why the FEC is so often allowed to abrogate the people's first amendment rights.
The solution here is to go back to our roots. The only campaign financing law we need is total disclosure. The only ballot access laws we need should make sure that any vote, for anyone eligible by citizenship, be counted. And we ought to divide up each state's electoral college votes as closely to the presidential votes as is possible. That, too, would likely require constitutional amendments.