Friday, September 23, 2005

Take my vote and shove it

Sometimes I think I was born too late. I have occasionally wished that I lived in a time when lectures were the biggest thing in town, a time when we didn't distract ourselves with TV. I love a good night out with a lecture, and I will go and see just about anything (if I can get myself organised) except for pretentious poetry readings and Marxist agit-prop. Of course maybe I'm missing out there.

I went to see a good one last night sponsored by Democrats Abroad UK. Steven Hill, author of Fixing elections: The Failure of America’s Winner Take all Politics spoke about the "failure of America's Winner Take All voting system". His area of focus is getting more Americans to vote and for more of our votes to be counted (correctly).

He spoke a bit about the Commission for Federal Election Reform headed by Jimmy Carter and James Baker. Mr Baker had a hand in Bush's 2000 Florida "victory" so he probably knows more than most where the system needs reform.

According to Steven Hill their key recommendations were:

  • Elections should be administered by non-partisan election officials, and
  • Universal registration of voters.

Now, I thought the first was particularly relevant because when I voted by absentee ballot, I noted (if I am not mis-remembering) that one of the election officials in my voting precinct was also the chair of the Republican Party in Lawrence County, TN, Jan Clifton. I do not want to besmirch Ms Clifton in any way, I know her, and she is a nice woman and has been a good friend to my family. But Jan’s gonna know or have a pretty good idea how I vote. I don’t think for a second that she threw away my vote, but I imagine she may have shaken her head in disapproval or disappointment. And frankly, it can’t be right that people who have active political and partisan roles are running our elections, no matter what party they are from.

In the UK, on the other hand, the local government officials who run our elections are in politically proscribed positions. That is they’re not allowed to hold political office or be active in party politics. That doesn’t mean they can’t vote or have a political opinion.

And the vote counting process is a world away, too. Votes are on a paper ballot and they are counted in the open, (like in a high school gym or public auditorium) with members of the public and press (including television cameras) permitted. No secretive machines without paper trails, no hanging chads, and all votes, including absentee ballots, are counted on the night.

Overseas voting

Americans overseas are particularly concerned about how their votes are dealt with and how the absentee registration and ballot request process is run. For many states, the process is complex and arcane and there have been problems with registration, some serious doubts over how ballots were treated, and some ballots were sent out so late there was no way they could be returned in time for the 2004 Presidential election. There's also the usual concern that our absentee ballots are just thrown away...

I have to say that the officials in Lawrence County, TN were very good through the registration and ballot request process and I got my ballot in plenty of time.


If you are an American expat, then you should check out Overseas Vote Foundation which has all kinds of information about voting from abroad.

Check out Longitudes, a new discussion forum set up for transatlantic exchange of ideas.

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