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Dear America: Your voting system sucks*
stipes ex machina
saxifrage00
"Lines are a sign of a healthy democracy, and certainly our democracy is healthy today," said [Florida] Secretary of State Kurt Browning.

Taking two or three hours to get to the poll is ridiculous. It's not a sign of a healthy democracy, it's a sign of an ill nation limping along on an eroding electoral infrastructure. Sure, it gives reporters a nice, juicy visual to highlight high voter turnout, but what kind of insanity does it take to think that long lines are a good thing? How about record numbers of voters in, say, short lines?

It doesn't have to be that way. I voted in the Canadian federal election a few weeks back and it took maybe 15 minutes. That's total time, from arrival to departure. People were moving through at a good clip, and we didn't have to wait in line. We don't have any fancy mechanical or touch-screen voting machines here. We use paper ballots. They're nice and reliable for us so far. (It's also much more conspicuous when a fraudster stuffs a few hundred ballot boxes in the trunk of their Civic, compared to when a prepared voter spends only one minute alone in the voting booth flipping thousands of previous votes in their candidate's favour.)

We might have had to wait a whole 10 minutes more if we hadn't already been registered. Oh yeah, did you catch that? We can register at the polls. It also rarely ever happens because everyone who files a tax return is already registered if they chose to tick the "register me" box on the tax form.

It's nice having the franchise.

So, who's going to write their new President and their new Representative about some simple voting reforms after November 4th?

* Your personal banking system also sucks. Who ever heard of having a hard time finding a bank to take their money and cash their cheques, er, "checks"?

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No kidding, our voting system sucks. We haven't even really made it to ranked choice/instant runoff voting in state systems across the nation, much less in federal elections, and the simple things you already have would cause hue and cry down here as each side did its best to accuse the other of trying to tilt the elections in their favor through these new reforms.

Alas, we don't have anything like ranked choice voting here. Yet. There was an attempt to get STV into BC but the referendum win-condition was set rather high. Still, we were only a few points short.

The electoral infrastructure here is good, but with a multi-party system we really, really need a different way of balloting. Almost 70% of the vote was against the incumbent Conservatives, but they still formed the government because the implicit "against" data isn't leveraged in first-past-the-post balloting systems.

Edited at 2008-10-30 06:27 am (UTC)

That's true. The Conservatives found that so long as you scatter your opposition into other parties, you can still win because your own bloc still votes as one. In some ways, that's the American style of voting - you don't vote so much for your candidate as against someone else, and it basically chokes out any third party that wants to try and get in.

Having actually worked as a poll clerk in a federal election here in good ol' Canuckistan, I can honestly say that I was impressed by our system to the point of feeling pride in it. Prior to that experience, I felt that only some backwater nation would still have paper ballots that got stuffed into a cardboard box for manual counting! But, no, there is a good reason for our low-tech votin' ways: the technology, and more specifically the security technology, is just not up to snuff yet for electronic voting machines.

(And nothing needs be said about the mechanical ones - we all know how well those worked in Florida.)

The way our polling stations are organized, the manual count is actually very quick and efficient, with lots of witnesses and auditing and a big secure paper trail as a fallback.

Fast and efficient for both the voters and administrators - although with the new ID rules this past election I was disappointed to see a bit of a drift towards American-style disenfranchisement of the homeless, students etc. It was to me a little echo of that bullshit in the US with not letting people vote if their homes are in foreclosure.

But, um, isn't the whole problem with the US right now that there's a *HUGE* frikkin lot of homes in foreclosure?

Yes, and we wouldn't want all that rabble voting! They'd probably vote Democrat!

That's exactly the problem.

Oh heavens forbid they should vote the way *THEY* want to!

Wow, the people who worked at your poll station must have been really efficient. The place(high school gym) I went to sucked. A lot of us ended up yelli-... er calmly complaining about the absurdly long lines and the inefficiency of the people who worked at the polling stations. They didn't put up the line names properly.

You were basically told to go to a certain line after you said your name, and as it turns out you went to the wrong line and then they blame you for not paying attention at the signs which were taped on the front of the very low tables they sat behind. The calmly complaining part was us asking them nicely why they didn't tape the signs higher up along the wall behind them so people in the lines can see them. They said that it was regulation to put the signs where they were but they moved them a few minutes later anyways and the gym reverberated with applause. The funny part was several WHOLE row of people actually moved one line over after seeing the signs.

But yeah other than that I was basically in and out like Larry Craig through a bathroom stall.

Americans have weird ideas about government.

They assume that anything involving their government is going to be overcomplicated and inefficient. And they're right! Because they insist on almost absurd levels of personal choice, starve the bureaucracy of resources to provide meaningful oversight, and then insist that somehow some private contractor has to make a big profit or it isn't American enough.

Self-fulfilling prophecy, every time.

The Canadian motto of "Peace, Order, and Good Government" seems so quaint, and yet I do think it reflects how we understand the point of our government.

Similarly, "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness" seems to reflect American ideas of government. Usually I think of mottos as being without much weight and fairly frivolous, but maybe they're not so much.

I'm not sure I see that in the slogans. I do think Canada could use a more ass-kicking slogan -- PO&GG is just so domestic and smug. ;)

I think it's just history. The people who founded the USA have constantly been in a struggle to leave government behind, whether it be in Pennsylvania or in California.

Canada's history is totally different; we've always had a strong government, and one could argue it was the government that built the nation rather than vice versa. We could never have built the transcontinental railroad without the dreams of a prime minister.

Domestic and smug is, for better or worse, somewhat descriptive of our national temperment.

And yes, I think a lot of it has to do with history. We didn't fight the British. In recent (say, post-18th-century) history, the only fighting memories most of Canada has are of fighting for the British: against the French, the US, or the other European powers. I imagine Quebec feels somewhat differently about this, mind you. But then, they have been the site of occasional rebellion ever since.

We only had our legislative process disconnected from the British Empire in 1931, and only got control of our own constitution in 1982! Both by voluntary, non-war-related acts of British parliament. Our current flag is younger than both candidates running for US president. We're a country whose "independent" status really only got underway in the 20th century, and without any major struggle against a government.

I voted twice this fall -- once yesterday -- and each time it took about 5 minutes, including the registration-at-the-poll bit. I don't understand how machines could possibly be required. I put an X on a bit of paper. Big deal. Yet there was still a bit of an uproar about the registration requirements tightening. It looks like the Feds want to play games with enfranchisement like they are doing in the US: the new rules make it hard for homeless and student populations to vote. Sigh.

Edited at 2008-10-30 03:36 pm (UTC)

In fairness, Americans vote on way more things -- the ballot here is California is going to be preposterously long. So some automation does make sense.

However, Vancouver civic elections can be like that -- you have to select up to N seats out of a zillion people running for council and there are often questions left up to a plebiscite. But, our solution is still better. The machines basically just help you fill out a paper ballot. In the event of techno-disaster you just fill it out the normal way.

Edited at 2008-10-30 06:58 am (UTC)

Any banking system that still uses cheques is antiquated beyond belief. Even in the face of financial crisis.

Do cheques not get used there for paying rent? That's the only real use for them we still have.

That, and transferring money my own accounts at different banks. That particular disconvenience is bloody irritating, and designed to discourage switching banks.

No, we use wire transfers or direct debit for either. The only time I've ever seen or used a cheque was traveler's cheques while I was in Japan the first time and didn't have a credit card.

Interesting! Wire transfers here are considered rather quaint and cheques aren't odd at all. (FYI, travellers cheques are only vaguely related to bank cheques in function, though they look similar.)

You can pay rent with direct debit? Now that's cool. How does that work? Do non-corporate landlords accept debit too?

Indeed they do. Since the default banking accounts are Giro accounts, everyone has a ATM card doubling as debit card (using Maestro/electronic cash) from day one. "Paying" or "balancing the bills" (I think that's what it's called, right?), which is such an everyday concept for Northern Americans, is completely alien over here. You check whether the other party charged you the correct amount when you get your statement, and notify the bank to refund you (which they must) if they didn't. And since continuing to charge when the debit authorisation has been rescinded constitutes fraud, that is pretty rare.

EDIT: Why are wire transfers considered quaint? Paperless wire transfers are a huge part of what online banking is about, I always thought.

EDIT EDIT: The system we use to pay rent is actually that we set up standing orders for our banks to transfer a set amount at a set date until cancelled. Still, that's an extension of the direct debit system here, unlike in the US, for example, were -- when you set up a standing order -- the banks will simply mail a cheque at the appropriate times.

Edited at 2008-10-30 11:40 pm (UTC)

Wow, that's much more together than it is here. Our ATM cards double as debit cards too, but there's nothing like Giros for personal use. Debit here means being able to swipe the card through a reader at a retail shop to authorise the payment. It's a separate system added on top of all the rest of the banking infrastructure.

Wire transfers are quaint mostly because they're not used much anymore, but were more common in decades past. Online banking here is within-bank only. It's difficult to send money from an account at one bank to an account at a different bank. The closest thing here is that we can pay bills through online banking sites. It's possible to do transfers between banks, but they charge per-transaction to do it. It's not an everyday thing.

We actually write out a cheque and knock on the landlord's door to pay the rent.

I suppose that is part of the reason that makes PayPal so attractive over there while no one really bothers with it here -- money transfers between different banks are no different from those between accounts within the same bank.

I think the last time I saw someone use a cheque was way before 2000, when eurocheques were still in use. They got rid of them in 2001, I think, because everyone was using debit at that point anyway.

Okay, that's fucking *it*.

I've joked, but now I'm serious. As soon as Evangeline is in school, I'm moving to Canada. How hard is it to citizenize there?

Come to the dark side. We have cookies. And health care.

Not very for someone with professional or trade skills, especially if they don't have a language barrier to scale at the same time. Immigration is harder than getting citizenship.

The (separate) citizenship process costs a bit (in the range of a couple hundred dollars or so) and it does take some time. You've got to be a resident for a while, and then the bureaucratic process takes a few months or so. It involves a short test with questions like "Who is the Prime Minister of Canada? A: Jean Poutine B: Jean Michelle C: Stephen Harper D: Karl Marx E: The Queen". Well, maybe harder than that, but not by much from what I've heard.

Re: Come to the dark side. We have cookies. And health care.

Oooh, that's a toughie.

Hm.

I heard you guys have, like, socialized medicine and all so... it hsa to be... uh... DARTH VADER!

Re: Come to the dark side. We have cookies. And health care.

Close enough. They both end in "er" and have distinctively-odd voices. And sweater vests do seem to be part of his life-support system.

Hm, while I'm usually all in favor of my Canadian half being smug and superior, I gotta say there are a few things that aren't being taken into account here:
1 - Canada has less people than California. Nuff said.
2 - Voting differs Radically from state to state. I vote here in California, have done at least 4 or 5 times since I moved here and I always vote at a little garage 3 blocks from my house, I have never waited for even 2 minutes, and it took me a total of 7 minutes or so to get out of my car, vote, and then drive away.

This year it will take longer becuse there are about 24 local proposals, 10+ state proposals and that old president and senate thing too.
My point is, not all states F it up like Florida. The US could absolutely benefit from some central reforms... but it's a big task.

Also, some states like Ohio are moving to let homeless etc vote by allowing them to register (I think at the polls) and letting them use wherever they spend their nights as their address (which is required to vote). ie "Park Bench" will be allowed as an address or "the corner of 24th and main". To that point, some states allow registration up to and including voting day. So again, my point is, not all states F it up so badly. The ones that do, make the news.

It's true that the whole "we're actually a set of independent nation-states that are pretending to be a single country" thing does complicate things.

I don't think the number of people is such an issue. Density is going to be more relevant than the absolute number of people, since it'll be the ratio of people to polls that make the biggest difference in line length. I imagine centralised reforms of polling infrastructure would have to address that ratio in order to be effective.

Really though, it's the registration thing that blows my mind. The lines are just (like they are for the reporters) a handy thing to point at and go "WTF!"

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