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Friday, 10 November, 2000, 16:23 GMT
Vote of approval for flawed US system
Gore, Bush matryoshka dolls
There have been worldwide smirks at the US elections
By US Affairs specialist Jonathan Marcus

The unclear outcome of the US presidential campaign has prompted a fair bit of wry amusement around the world, with many people wondering how America can preach democracy abroad when its own electoral practices appear so flawed.

How they ask, can Al Gore be denied the presidency if he really has won a majority of the national popular vote?

But the reality is more complex.

miami
Recounting the vote in Miami, Florida
This election has highlighted many of the flaws in the US system, but experts believe it has by no means invalidated America's claims to be one of the great democracies of the world.

According to a former director of the Florida body that oversees voting, "there is no such thing as a perfect election".

That is certainly the case in this one.

The closeness of the result has thrown a spotlight on the imperfections of the US electoral process.

There has been a whole range of problems:

  • the bad design of ballot papers
  • poorly handled counting
  • allegations of local fraud
  • the inordinate wait for some 10 days after polling day for all absentee votes to be gathered and counted.

At a national level there is fundamental criticism of the electoral college system itself, which appears to deny the White House to the winner of the popular vote.

Much at stake

How democratic is all of that, ask the critics.

Of course a very different picture can also be painted.

Last Tuesday, up and down the land, Americans went to the polls not just to elect a president but to vote for congressmen and senators.


The experts point out that democracy is not an absolute end in itself

There were important races for state governorships; a whole variety of local offices are also filled by election in America.

And then there are also the ballot initiatives, referendums on a host of issues from high-speed rail corridors to school vouchers.

The experts point out that democracy is not an absolute end in itself.

Small states count

The electoral college system does have many advantages.

It ensures that in a huge and diverse country all states count; campaigns have to be national and a winner cannot simply rely upon fighting in the most populous regions.

Bill Clinton
Clinton: Still in charge
What this election has revealed - because of the very closeness of the result - is problems with the detail of the US democratic process.

A difficult few days will lie ahead.

But Bill Clinton remains president until mid-January.

And there must be many people who are relieved that the US system has this built-in delay before a new administration is expected to take office.

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