Since the election fever has died down a bit (and since the right guy won), I have a question about what I consider problems in the American election process.

[1] Election is always on  a workday (Tuesday), instead of Sunday, when most people don’t work, and therefore, more voters would be able to vote. The reason I’ve heard is that this tradition was established because of Christian fundamentalists, who interpreted the Sunday laws in such a way that no travel was allowed on Sunday, and since in the 18th century, it would often have taken a long horse ride or walk to the next town, so Monday was also skipped to be on the safe side, and Tuesday agreed as election day. The reason why it’s still done today, when travel is much faster than in the past, and when the US is officially secular (and therefore, should not cater to some religious group’s wishes over other reasons) is either the inertia of tradition, or to keep normal workers from voting. (Although I think that’s a bit too cynically exaggerated.)

Do you think that a Democratic President (and a Democratic majority) will change that, to a Sunday, or is tradition too holy for Americans?  Or has the problem become moot because in this election those voters who didn’t have the time during Tuesday itself queued up beforehand at post offices and other places to vote by letter?

[2] Then there’s the problem of the Electoral votes. As far as I can guess, the most likeliest reason for this complication is because of not efficient communication and travel system at the founders time, so having each state elect Electors, who then had to travel to the college, was the best logistic option. But today, with instantenous communication and quick counting of results, I don’t see an advantage of the Electoral approach over a direct one: why not count all popular votes across states for a grand total, instead of throwing away one half in each state because winner takes all majority principle? Is it again the case that inertia of tradtion and reverence for the founders is stronger than a practical look at what system would work best? The pragmatic approach to problems is usually – in technologial areas for example – what the Americans pride themselves on, when compared to other nations with strong traditions, but in the field of politics, it seems that tradtion is the!
only reason?

[3] The recent problems (though I haven’t heard as much an uproar about it as 4 years before – are people getting used to massive cheating? That would be a bad sign for democracy, I think) are that electronic voting machines are too insecure and open to fraud ; and that people are crossed off the voters list too easily, for example if their name is similar to that of a felon (that prison inmates are being denied their civil right to vote is another problem). Both have been proven to happen by journalists who were worried that the Democrats were not taking enough steps to stop this, both on local level by challenging the removal of voters, and on federal level by removing electronic voting machines as long as they are that insecure. Will this, too, change now with a Democrat in power, or will they stop worrying because they won despite hindrances?

[4] Shouldn’t more people – both correct politicans and citizens – worry about the democratic process and attitude in society if not only the percentage of people who actually vote is only about 50% and that many of those who try to vote are disenfranchised? I don’t think that the attitude of “It’s only several thousand votes who got lost/were falsly attributed/couldn’t vote, that wouldn’t decide the election because the margin was bigger” is a good attitude.

–Constanze

Better get a coffee, this might take a bit.

I’ve mentioned voting systems before, here and here, and talked here about how Americans are curiously reluctant to modify their governmental structures.  It’s harder to explain why that is; “tradition” rarely stops us in other areas.  At root it may be that the US, unlike European nation-states, defines itself by its ideology, not by ethnicity.  You’re an American if you accept the American way of doing things, which includes our approach to government.  So it’s not lightly changed.

On [1], voting day, your historical account is true I believe.  It’s just not an issue in American politics, though, so it’s not likely to change.  In the states I checked, employers are required to give time off for voting. I’m not sure that weekend voting would be popular anyway— people use the weekend for errands or entertainment. And you’re right that early voting is more and more popular— as much as 1/4 of votes last election.

On [2], I think most people realize that the Electoral College is foolish, especially after the 2000 election which showed that the popular vote winner losing wasn’t just theoretical.

But even a bad system has its beneficiaries.  The Electoral College magnifies the power of small states… every state that has 1 vote in the House of Representatives has 3 in the Electoral College.  And pretty much all such states currently vote Republican, while most of the largest states vote Democratic.  For that reason it’d be hard to get a change passed.  (Constitutional amendments require 2/3 approval in Congress, then ratification by 3/4 of the states.)

As for [3]— I really can’t explain why voting hasn’t been improved.  Often there are mean little political calculations involved— e.g. the Republicans have created a mythical “voter fraud” bugaboo and use it to try to restrain minority or elderly voting.  But it sure seems like voting is a technical problem that just shouldn’t be that hard to figure out.

Voter turnout [4] was 62%, which is pretty good for recent decades.  I’m reluctant to say more, because I think we need research, not speculation, on why people don’t vote.  If we don’t know, we’re likely to propose the wrong solutions.  E.g. if people just don’t care who wins, or are satisfied with either party, easier registration doesn’t help; if it’s the inconvenience, then it does.

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