Sunday, November 2, 2008

Writing the Last Chapter on 2008

This Tuesday millions of American citizens will go out and vote. Record turnout is predicted, which is a positive since their turnout has been on a progressive decline for many years now. On Wednesday (one assumes there will not be a repeat of the 2000 election fiasco) we will know who the next leader of the free world will be.

Polls indicate that it will be Barack Obama who will win, not only does he lead nationally (a fairly irrelevant number) but his total lead in individual states leads to an electoral victory well over 300 points, when only 270 are needed to win. The Democrats are projected to have about 250 seats in the House, and 55-60 Senators. While we must stagger at the nature of American democracy in many respects there are some things that I'm glad we are not a part of.

The most disturbing thing about American elections is that there are only ever really two parties. With the exception of the 1912 election when former-President Teddy Roosevelt ran as a Progressive candidate no national third party has one any electoral votes (ignoring the typically racist southern-minded of the mid-20th century). Ross Perot came close in 1992 but failed to achieve this goal. There are two non-Republican, non-Democratic Senators at the moment, one is Joe Liberman, who is the former-Vice Presidential nominee for the Dems in 2000, he got booted out for his cozy relationship with the Republicans. And there's Bernie Sanders, a social democrat from Vermont, which is fine if you're from Vermont.

So really this democracy is an osilation with two political parties, which on many issues aren't that far apart.

The electoral college is another thing. It massively increases the voting power of individuals from populace states, and disenfranchises the losing candidate's voters. A voter in Pennsylvania has a vote seven times 'heavier' than a voter in Montana. Pennsylvania has 21 electoral votes, Montana 3. The states operate on a first-past-the-post system to determine the winner (except Maine and Nebraska), who ever receives the most votes wins all the electoal votes, so even if the state is split 50-50, the electoral votes break 100-0. Republicans in Washington D.C., or Democrats in Utah never really get to express their choice for President.

Perhaps most worrying of all are the dramatic reports on the failure of automatic voting machines and other mechanical and programming failures of such technology. Some are from conscious sabotage, but most is machine error, like a report of one that would record the votes opposite of what they were, McCain votes for Obama and Obama votes for McCain. Clearly the numbers we see on the screen could be entirely irrelevant.

While the American idea of democracy is very attractive with their deep passions, entrenched democracy, and active vibrant debate (most of the time) there is still a deep flaw and on Tuesday as Americans pat themselves on the back, I'm going to be keeping that in mind.

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