By Page Gardner

Almost half a year has passed, but the 2008 election still looms as an epochal event. With a record voter turnout, the American people, including members of many groups who have been excluded from the political process, changed the face of the nation's leadership and the direction of our public policies.

In many ways, this view is not only optimistic but realistic. More than 133 million Americans cast ballots in the election last year -- the largest number of voters in U.S. history and 9 million more than in 2004. Four constituencies that have historically been under-represented -- African Americans, Hispanics, unmarried women and young voters (ages 18-29) -- provided the margin of victory for President Obama.

But the other side of the story is that 79 million eligible Americans did not vote. Forty-four million of these non-voters were not registered, and another four million were discouraged from voting because of burdensome policies, such as voter identification requirements.