Tuesday, November 05, 2002

Well, I hope Americans all have fun doing their democratic duty today. A week ago I thought that the Democrats would pick up a seat or two in the Senate and the Republicans would (probably) retain the house. The last week feels like it has gone the Republicans' way, although the Iowa Electronic Market seems to be suggesting that this has not happened. Therefore, I still go with that. Democrats 52-48 in the Senate, and a small Republican majority in the house.

Glenn Reynolds is right about the advantages of ballot papers. They are much less susceptible to fraud and errors than are voting machines. This is why most of the rest of the world uses them. I think one reason why the rest of the world reacted the way it did to the Florida debacle two years ago was, quite simply bafflement at the way the Americans vote. Why use something complicated when you can use something simple?

There are reasons, of course. Americans vote for state, city, county, and federal office holders on the same day, and they vote for a much larger number of offices than is the case almost anywhere else. If you have thirty or forty elections occurring at once, then counting ballot papers becomes tremendously time consuming. In a lot of American instances, I really am not sure that ballot papers are practical. Counting them just takes too long.

The other uniquely American thing about their elections is the lack of uniformity. The combination of elections taking place is different in every county in the country. Therefore, ballot papers are constructed on a county by county basis, and often by local officials who are not experts in ballot paper design. Once in a while this leads to someone designing a butterfly ballot. In most other countries, elections taking place on a particular day are for only one level of government. If it is a federal election, then a federal body designs the ballot papers, and they have a common format nationwide. Because the papers are designed by a federal body, well funded experts can design (and test) the format of the ballot papers.

This still isn't perfect, and if the federal body makes a mistake, then conceivably the whole country is messed up rather than one county. As to whether this is worse than one county being messed up in a close election, I suppose it is hard to say.

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