Sunday, December 19, 2004

Friendly advice from Australia 

One area where the United States should definitely follow the Australian lead and example:
"The Federal Government is planning to use its numbers in the Senate to push through a major overhaul of Australia's voting laws...

"The Government's agenda to protect against electoral fraud is expected to include some novel reforms, such as a proposal to hand out voting enrolment forms to young people when they get their first driver's licence.

"The Government is also expected to move to close electoral rolls the day a poll is called, rather than seven days later; tighten voter eligibility by insisting on more rigorous identity tests at the time of enrolment and revoke the right of jail inmates to vote."
Australia's electoral system is already in quite a reasonable shape. There are, of course, always some stories of large scale fraud, but no police or parliamentary investigations have ever substantiated anything. Still, that's no excuse to try to make the system better - particularly in regards to enrolment, which although not as easy as in several US jurisdictions, is nevertheless still far too easy (as one politician pointed out, you need more ID to rent a DVD than to enroll to vote). I loved this paragraph:
"Labor [Party] has always argued that the proposed changes discriminate against renters, the young, the itinerant and the poor and ill-educated - all voters who could be expected to support the ALP."
Yes, this news story does originally come from a major tabloid.

Jokes aside, I don't know any of my politically-minded Australian friends who are not frightened by the American electoral system. We all love federalism and devolution of power, but leaving the federal elections (both presidential and congressional) in the hands of state based electoral commissions, which are not only highly politicized, but also each operate under different set of laws and procedures, strikes us in Australia as just asking for trouble.

Here, Down Under, the federal elections are conducted by the Australian Electoral Commission, a non-partisan and non-political public service body (I know what you're thinking, but no, the AEC does stay impartial in the best tradition of civil service), operating within the legal framework constructed by the Federal Parliament under the Electoral Act. Thus, the laws and procedures are uniform across Australia, including the very important questions of enrolment and eligibility to vote, as well as the voting itself (a paper ballot is marked by a voter with a pen - yes, it's not as advanced and sexy as computer voting, but there is no question of hacking fraud, no controversies about hanging chads, and no confused pensioners who though they were actually voting for somebody else). In addition to the AEC, each state has its own electoral body (here, it's Electoral Commission Queensland), which is modeled on the federal commission and in a similar manner conducts state and local government elections.

I know that transplanting this system to America would not be easy, but you could do no worse than try adopting at least some elements of it. Allegations of electoral fraud or impropriety will always be with us, but less politicization and more uniformity would in my humble opinion go a long way.

Update: Oh boy, it's not a good week - I'm having to explain myself for the third time this past few days (definitely time for a Christmas holiday): I am a strong federalist as I'm sure are most people on the right, and I certainly wasn't advocating the US federal government stepping in and taking over the American electoral system (and I understand that there are constitutional implications, too), but I stand by what I originally said: the more de-politicized electoral bureaucracy the better, because a) the Dems can't steal the elections, and b) they can't complain that the Republicans are stealing them; and sensible, uniform rules also help to add legitimacy and certainty to the electoral process.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?