What is democracy? I was brought up to think it meant that people got to elect their leaders. But we don't live in that kind of dreamworld. There are so many assumptions that get broken down in the real world.
First of all, who votes? Not everyone. Therefore there is a selection effect. The poorest, which coincides at all times with the racial minority, get left out of the decision making. Furthermore, it is not our vote that determines the most important political position (the president). We vote for members of the electoral college, who then verbally promise that they will vote for who we told them to. And the primaries really mess with the idea of a pure democracy as well.
Second of all, what does your vote DO? The idea is to vote for a leader who will make decisions representative of the people's best interest. But WHICH people--not all the population has the same best interests. And who gets to decide what actions will serve our best interests? The leader determines how to act, and therefore determines WHICH peoples' interests to serve, and HOW to serve them. But these things can seriously diverge from the public's view of their own best interest. George Bush's 27% approval rating is indicative of this. "History will vindicate me" he says. What if it doesn't?? Mugabe in Zimbabwe only legitimizes the votes of the people that are in line with his own best interests--whatever doesn't do that is due to the "influence of the west." How do we draw the line?
Third of all, who do we vote FOR? It's not the president, as I said, it's the electoral college. But for whom do they vote? Not the president, because its not the president who makes all the decisions and policies. It's the presidential cabinet--his advisors such--that really make the policies. The further away from the vote these people are, the more they can diverge from the people's best interests.
Fourth of all, WHY do we vote for them? It's not really their policies and beliefs. It's their name. It's their appearance. It's their soundbites. It's their verbal miscues. There is data to back this all up. Are these really indicators of the best interests of the people?
No, voting does not mean democracy. Voting is one way of getting at the greater principle at stake here, which is the coupling between the voiced needs of the people and the actions of their leaders. Voting is supposed to do this in two ways. (1) it selects leaders that are pre-aligned with the perspectives of the majority of the people, and (2) it puts pressure on the leaders to keep listening and acting for the interests of the people. This latter point is an often-overlooked component these days. In Iraq, for example, the U.S. only paid attention to (1).
We have to ask if voting is the only way of implementing (1) and (2). The answer is no. (1) can be fulfilled by a revolution, for example (see U.S., France, Cuba). Therefore, the U.S. should not consider a country to be a part of the "axis of evil" just because their leader was not elected. China, for example, has elections and they have no regard for the interests of the people. The reason is largely the lack of free press. A free press can carry out (2) more effectively than even voting can in certain circumstances. The lack of free press undermines the principle of democracy in very serious ways. For one, it convinces the people of what their best interests are. One way it does that is it selects and therefore distorts the facts by only presenting one point-of-view; that of the government who are trying to preserve their own best interests. This prevents the public from having the proper grounding in the present to determine for themselves what their best interests are.
Voting and free press I'm sure are not the only aspects of democracy, I'm thinking justice system, educational system, and army and such, but I'll have to come back to those because I am hungry and late for school.