Votes in federal elections are cast and counted in a highly decentralized and variable fashion, with no uniform ballots and few national standards.
Party and ideology routinely trump institutional interests and responsibilities. Regular order - the set of rules, norms and traditions designed to ensure a fair and transparent process - was the first casualty. The results: No serious deliberation. No meaningful oversight of the executive. A culture of corruption.
A healthy degree of party unity among Democrats and Republicans has deteriorated into bitter partisan warfare.
Second, the President's popularity has not translated into increased support for the Republican party or for the policies and approaches on domestic policy championed by the President.
Presidents are elected not by direct popular vote but by 538 members of the Electoral College.
Incumbents are safe, but party majorities are not. This fosters symbolic votes, message politics and little serious legislating in Congress.
Private sector labors unions continue to suffer losses in their membership while public sector and service unions grow.
All of this suggests that while citizens became more comfortable with President Bush after September 11 and thought him to have the requisite leadership skills, they continue to harbor doubts about his priorities, loyalties, interests, and policies.
But presidential approval also became a surrogate measure of national unity and patriotism.
Responsibility for overseeing the implementation of election law typically resides with partisan officials, many with public stakes in the election outcome.
In addition to the decline in competition, American politics today is characterized by a growing ideological polarization between the two major political parties.
Redistricting is a deeply political process, with incumbents actively seeking to minimize the risk to themselves (via bipartisan gerrymanders) or to gain additional seats for their party (via partisan gerrymanders).
In the House, Republican prospects have been buoyed by several successful rounds of redistricting, which have sharply reduced the number of competitive seats and given the Republicans a national advantage of at least a dozen seats.