Federalism & Democracy   [open pdf - 90KB]

"The 2000 presidential contest was one of the most closely divided - and confusing - elections in American history. Not until a month after voters cast their ballots did it became certain that Republican candidate George W. Bush would claim the title of the nation's 43rd president. In the interim, the world watched as the fight for votes in Florida repeatedly bounced from local to state to federal courts and back again, before a U.S. Supreme Court decision settled the matter. What many foreign observers found puzzling was how voting standards could vary so much from place to place or how local officials could play such an important role in a national election. American citizens also may have been surprised by the differences in voting procedures from state to state, but the interplay of local, state, and national governments could scarcely have seemed unusual. Zoning, traffic control, sanitation, educational administration, street repair, and a hundred other services are all managed primarily by local officials, acting under a grant of authority from the state. State government controls much educational policy, criminal justice, business and professional regulation, public health, among a variety of other important areas. As colonists, the Founding Fathers had chafed under the authority imposed by the distant British imperial government and had come to view centralized power as a threat to their rights and liberties. This system of divided power, federalism, is widely acknowledged not only to be a unique American contribution to the theory of government but part of the genius of the American constitutional system itself."

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