Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Ramshackle and decrepit

Watching the US elections from the bottom of the world in New Zealand, I'm struck by how ramshackle and decrepit the system is. The tales of broken or even missing voting machines and long queues to vote bring to mind people queuing for food in the old USSR: a symbol of fundamental social failure. This is the sort of shit you expect to see in a failed state, not in one of the world's richest countries. After all, if a democracy can't run elections properly, surely its not worthy of the name.

I know, the US is 50 different election administrations, not just one. But still: this is not something other modern democracies fail at. Its not something voters in other countries tolerate.

For an example of what a properly functioning election system looks like, here's how it works in New Zealand:

  • You can vote anywhere. None of this "assigned polling place" bullshit and the dirty tricks it enables.
  • Polling places everywhere, so everyone can get to one. By way of example, my local electorate ("district" in American) had 39 polling places for ~35,000 actual voters (or about 45,000 potential voters). 5 of them had fewer than 6 votes cast.
  • Enough booths and staff at each polling place so people don't have to queue, unless they arrive in a mob. Its normally a five minute process.
  • Paper ballots. Because we want our elections to be more reliable than Microsoft Windows.
Plus of course no voter ID bullshit (because fraud is staggeringly rare), no gerrymandering (electoral boundaries are set by a neutral commission), and no politicisation of the system. Voters have an expectation that our elections are free and fair and run impartially, and our politicians accept that. We had a major political storm one year because public service reform and consequent siloisation (TL;DR: an agency which previously helped decided it wasn't their job anymore) meant that the count was slow. I shudder to think what voters would do to a government which made them queue to vote, but there would probably be resignations and sackings. Simply, we expect better from our government than that. We expect it to function. Americans should expect no less.