August 18, 2016

Horse 2155 - US Electoral Reform - Vote 1

Dear America,
We have to talk. Your system of voting is a complete nonsense. From the insane things that are the Primaries and Caucuses; all the way to the Electoral College. It is so amazingly arcane that it has subsequently been adopted by zero countries in the world.

YouTuber vlogger, podcast host and host of educational videos, Hank Green, has made a series of at least fifty videos explaining the process of how to register and how to vote in the upcoming elections in the United States. The fact that he had to, proves that the system is ridiculous.

It isn't perhaps immediately obvious to people outside of the United States but along with the presidential election, there are also elections for the House Of Representatives and the Senate, as well as a bunch of down ballot positions for things like judges and school boards, police chiefs and the like; as well as various direct democracy and other proposing issues, which are all being decided on that first Tuesday in November. In Australia, that day is reserved for watching horses run around a one mile track twice.

What would be familiar to Australians in principle at least, is the rather annoying and downright frustrating fact that the United States isn't as united as it likes to think itself as; and the fifty states and the handful of territories, get along about as well as a bickering family. In consequence, every state likes to do things in its own way; hence the need for more than fifty videos explaining how to register and how to vote.
Contained within the US Constitution is the provision of Article IV, Section 4 that the States shall retain republican government:
The United States shall guarantee to every state in this union a republican form of government, 
- Article IV, Section 4, U.S. Constitution (1789).

That is republican in the sense that there isn't a monarch but beyond that, the Constitution is deafeningly silent and nobody knows for sure what its really supposed to mean. In practice it means that in addition to the problem of partisan deadlock in US politics, the consequence of fifty little bickering children means that the country frequently never has systems which are cohesive across the country and attempts to change anything for the better are met with the pathetic bickering of fifty children and partisan deadlock.

I hold up the example of Australia because by sheer dumb luck, we have ended up with an Australian Electoral Commission which consistently holds well run elections; with proper mechanisms in place for dispute, elections that take place on a Saturday which is the most convenient day of the week for the most number of people, preferential voting, proportional representation in the Senate (which even though it allows wingnuts into the parliament, still reflects the will of the people), compulsory voting and under normal circumstances allows the counting and results to be known in one night.
I don't think that we realise just how blessed we are in Australia. We have ended up with one of the best systems of both deciding who should govern and the system of parliamentary democracy in the world.
Now admittedly getting anything to change in the United States is going to be a monumental task but if nothing does change then it will be like democracy Groundhog Day again and again and again, until the end of time.

In the 150 separate elections for each of the seats in the House Of Representatives in Australia, the election was conducted in exactly the same way. Only the number of boxes on the little green ballot paper for each ocf the seats changed. Likewise, the eight separate elections for the 76 seats in the Senate was also conducted in exactly the same way.
There are already volunteers in the Trump campaign who have signed up to observe that the election for the presidency isn't being rigged.What they wouldn't observe but what is immediately obvious to any outsider is that there will be fifty subtlety different methods of conducting elections. They might include paper ballots, or mechanical or electronic voting machines. Whatever they are, the fact that they're not uniform across the country is problematic to begin with.

I don't like the idea of voting machines in principle because of the possibility that they might be hacked or don't work properly. The "hanging chad" debacle in Florida in 2000, could very well have changed the entire direction of the 21st century but no-one really wants to admit it. Our own schamozzle with the 2016 Australian Census should immediately tell everyone who wants to advocate for electronic voting that they are stark raving bonkers mental. It isn't impossible to commit electoral fraud with a paper ballot system but if necessary it is possible to have both the ballot boxes overseen by police as votes are deposited, the opening of those same boxes overseen and the physical counting of votes overseen. It is also far harder to forge several thousand physical ballot papers if that is a concern.

The other major advantage that we have in Australia is that with a proper electoral commission, comes a properly managed set of electoral rolls. If you move across the city, across the state or even to a different state, the electoral commission simply updates it's rolls and that's it.
Although there might be a latent threat of people voting multiple times, the compulsion and duty at law kind of means that voting is seen as a necessary inconvenience by most of the population. I suspect that the actual number who do vote multiple times across Australia, even though we like to joke "vote early; vote often", is so small as to be irrelevant. In practice, you turn up at the polling station, get your name marked off and they hand you a ballot paper - simple.
I once voted in a state election where I was out of area on polling day. I fronted up at a polling station, gave proof of my address; where a lower house ballot paper was then faxed through to where I was, and because I was voting in a state election in the same state that I was in, they already had plenty of upper house ballot papers on hand. I'm not sure how such a thing would work in the United States but I can absolutely guarantee that the process for voting in a different state to the one you live in would be needlessly complicated and tedious, if they didn't just throw their hands in the air and fob you off with some lame excuse why you can't vote.

What I fail to understand is why the United States doesn't run federal elections and give the power to do so to the Federal Election Commission under the Supremacy Clause. In one fell swoop you could get rid of all allegations of voter fraud, voter suppression due to ID laws, and while we're at it, get rid of all the Primaries and Caucuses by holding a nationwide Single Transferable Instant Runoff Election with say 7 candidates from each of the parties. It would mean that an election campaign could be compressed into about six weeks and people wouldn't need to engage in tactical voting.
Give the Federal Election Commission some power and watch as it finally does the job properly,

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