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Friday, 3 August, 2001, 11:54 GMT 12:54 UK
Time to reform the US electoral system?
The US electoral system needs an urgent overhaul, according to the report of a commission chaired by two former presidents.

Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford recommend that voting should be a national holiday, to make it easier for voters and poll workers.

They also call for more uniform voting procedures and for Congress to help states that want to reform their voting systems.

But they stopped short of asking for the federal government to set standards.

And they did not recommend scrapping the infamous punch-card voting system that created so many problems in Florida during last November's elections.

Should the Bush administration accept the recommendations? Do they go far enough? Can they prevent a repeat of last year's controversies?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.


Your reaction


The electoral college does not make the voting process fair

Emma, US
The electoral college does not make the voting process fair. I live in a Republican state, yet I voted for Al Gore so my vote did not count in this election. If we had gone by the popular vote, regardless of which way I voted my vote would have counted. As for a national holiday, why? Wouldn't it be better to move to computerised voting so people could vote from work? It would take a few minutes at most, instead of employers giving their employees three hours off (which they are required to by law) only to have them still be in line six hours later.
Emma, US

The main problem with the last election is that we don't have a national voting standard. The most important vote any American voter can cast is the vote for President. It is inexcusable that there were so many disenfranchised voters. The Electoral College system helps even out the influence of heavily populated states over less populated states and I don't think it needs to be changed. What we don't need is a Supreme Court that hijacks the election to put their "boy" in office. The recount should have been carried out through to its completion no matter how long it took so that the people eventually elected a president, as opposed to the Supreme Court selecting one for us. News organisations should report NO poll data until all polls close.

We need new, clear-to-operate, unambiguous voting equipment; correct, up-to-date voter lists; ample voting locations that can accommodate handicapped/ disabled people and have fully trained staff; and no voter intimidation. Add to that campaign finance reform, and you'll have a good start at fixing things.
JoAnne Cornwall, USA

The commission was led by former Presidents Carter and Ford. After looking over their conclusions as to how the electoral system should be improved, I no longer wonder why the 70's was such an awful decade for America. The only thing that could have made this commission any more useless is the presence of Nixon.
J. Forbes, US


One area of concern is the total lack of control over who gets to vote in the first place

Tony, Grenada
One area of concern, for me, is the total lack of control over who gets to vote in the first place. Under the "Motor Voter" system, when applying for a driver's license all you have to do is tick a box to receive a voter registration card. My wife received two voter registration cards, and two calls for jury duty, this despite having sent the first one back explaining that there was some mistake as she is not a US citizen. She then received a letter explaining the serious consequences for having a registration card while not being a US citizen, this was accompanied by the second registration card. I often wonder how many people there are who get to vote who are not legally entitled to. When we went to get this sorted out, she was threatened with arrest for their mistake. Let's not forget that the US has the best politicians money can buy.
Tony, Grenada, both UK/USA passports

No, they should not change the electoral system in the US because it could make the candidate with the most votes be declared the winner.
Steve B, US


Turnout in elections all over the world is falling dramatically

Ian, UK
Turnout in elections all over the world is falling dramatically. The biggest problem is not the systems or technology of the election but that people feel completely out of touch with politics. We should be asked to vote on a series of ISSUES and the party whose policies are closest to the most popular answers should be put in power to carry out those decisions. Let's get away from characters to policy.
Ian, UK

Ron, Alaska, USA had an excellent idea! But let's make it so everyone has the time to vote. Make it the day after tax day where the painful memory of the consequences of the tax and spenders is resonating, but when most folks now have the time to vote instead of on the day where they're filing their last minute returns. That change would probably take care of both the soaring governmental waste problems and our sagging voter turnout in one swift action. Seems that's the only time of the year people are bothered by or interested in the rampant waste of the government, perfect time to vote. I'm sure democrats wouldn't allow the change though for they'd all be out of a job in the next election if that was so!
Stephen, USA

Why should we have a national holiday for elections? Private employers are not going to give their employees this day off. The only people who will get the day off are federal and state government employees - and they all vote Democrat!
John, USA

I think the major problem with the election system in the US is that no-one wants to take responsibility for it. The federal government passes it off to the states. The states then hand it off to smaller municipalities. I don't think it matters if your voting system is high-tech or not. The fact that the voting system varies so much across individual states is the main problem.
Alycia Brashear, Pennsylvania, USA


In the US how we count the votes is not as important as to how candidates end up on the ballot

Richard Namon, USA
As a Florida resident and Independent voter, I do not believe we have set a proper example on voting procedures. Arrogantly, we have stuck our nose into other countries' elections. I became an Independent voter when in one election primary, only one of my party's' several candidates was on the ballot - Richard Nixon. In the US how we count the votes is not as important as to how candidates end up on the ballot. Our out-of-office politicians are still good at smoke and mirrors. Otherwise you would not be debating their latest solutions to the problems of the last election.
Richard Namon, USA

Punch cards are pointless - cross or tick a box and there's no confusion about one's choice. Also why isn't voting compulsory in the US? It is as important as other compulsory civil responsibilities, such as jury duty and conscription
Gareth Perkins, Australia

We always vote on Sundays here... much easier. If it isn't sorted out on the first Sunday, we vote again between fewer candidates on the following Sunday and so on, until the elections have been completed. Much more reliable. Personally, I think touch screens are the way forward for voting, and I think there should be a "none of the above" box too.
Karina, France

You'd never know it from the comments you have received so far, but it is already the law in the US that your employer has to give you time off to go to vote.
Jon Livesey, USA


Hold elections on tax day

Ron, Alaska, USA
Hold elections on tax day; that would bring out the vote for sure. The electoral system does prevent the situation where a few states with large populations would effectively control the process and America's social future. That direction would only lead to the disintegration of America.
Ron, Alaska, USA

Memo to Ben from the UK: Electoral College representation gets updated every 10 years with the national census, along with reallocation of seats in Congress. The Electoral College method of presidential selection is a brilliantly conceived electoral method - it guarantees that rural states get some say in the presidency, and actually helps to minimise problems of the type encountered in the recent election. Imagine what would have happened if a Florida-style recount had been necessary in EVERY state simultaneously.
Paul, USA

Thanks for all the advice from people who live in countries where the chief of state is a hereditary monarch. (That includes you, Australia!) By all means let's fix the little mechanical problems, but the Electoral College system is not going away. The smaller states aren't going to let New York and California call all the shots, which is what they fear would happen with a direct national election.
Tom, USA

I don't think the US electoral system is any business of us in the UK. There are plenty of other electoral systems in the world that could do with some attention, not least our own.
Andy Head, UK.


The solution to our mess in America is technological

D. Link, New York, USA
The solution to our mess in America is technological. We need a vast investment in computerised, internet voting technology with the goal of replacing paper ballots over the next generation. Granny probably will never vote on-line, so maintain current systems as long as needed while training all students in electronic democracy. One great fear associated with resistance to this type of change is the need for some type of national identity card in most electronic systems, something many Americans regard as almost totalitarian. We Americans need to get over such ideological straw men, accept that we already have a national identity card (i.e. Social Security Number), and move ahead with improving our democracy.
D. Link, New York, USA

It will be a good opportunity for the people of America to have a holiday during the day of presidential elections. Bravo to Jimmy and Ford.
John, Sierra Leone

On the question of punch cards, touch screens etc. In the UK, we mark an 'X' on the ballot paper with a pencil, then our local councils pay staff overtime to count them all by hand. Old-fashioned, low-tech, labour-intensive.. works every time.
Ben Drake, York, UK


The election fiasco was not the result of a flawed electoral system

David, US in UK
The election fiasco was not the result of a flawed electoral system. Sure, it contributed to the confusion, but this chaos wouldn't have existed in the first place had there been decent candidates from which to choose. Of course, getting educated voters who care about the outcome of the election might help as well.
David, US in UK

AS a non-partisan non-American, I was shocked by what happened during their election. I had no idea that a court could disenfranchise so many people, and could never imagine that happening in UK or Australia. Opinions of that fiasco in the US seem to depend upon party loyalties, so I can't imagine any reform taking place, other than perhaps designing new voting machines which result in clean-cut chads!
Ray Marsh, Australia

This is ridiculous. We're supposedly the most technologically advanced country in the world, and we're still using ancient technology to perform one of our most important tasks. Punch card ballots need to be ditched. Studies show that the error rate would be cut by something like 75% if we moved to optical scans and even more if we used touch screens.
Doug Lyons, USA


The main problem with the US is the conflict of interest between the federal government and the states

Ben Pickering, UK
The main problem with the US is the conflict of interest between the federal government and the states. Gore would have won the election had it been on a first past the post basis. If they're going to keep the Electoral College, the membership must be re-weighted according to the current state population, not what it was 100 years ago. As for punch ballots, haven't they heard of putting a cross in a box? It works everywhere else.
Ben Pickering, UK

What a dumb idea! This will encourage apathy, not reverse the tide. If they made the British election day a holiday, I'd go to the beach for the day. Apathy on the beach. Nice.
Peter Moore, UK

Better to make voting a Saturday and Sunday thing. Making it any day of the week won't work. Why won't it work? Well American workers would just take advantage of this new weekday holiday to take off Monday too and make a 4 day weekend of it. Then go on a trip, and forget about voting at all. I predict if this were to comes to pass, voting levels would fall not rise.
John Morales, California, USA


It doesn't touch the problem of the primaries

Manu, Belgium
A step in the right direction - but it doesn't touch the problem of the primaries, the organisation of which is often absurd if not openly fraudulent, and it doesn't address issues such as campaign financing, publication of exit polls, advertising standards, etc. Perhaps the USA should adopt the French election system, it seems much fairer.
Manu, Belgium

The point made earlier about the fact that the majority of voters did not vote for Mr Bush is getting old and misses the fact that the USA is a Federation of States. The Electoral College system is intended to even out influence such that the states with smaller populations still have an influence on who the forms the Federal Executive. It is not based on a strict population correlation. Perhaps more time would be better spent on debating the shenanigans surrounding the registering of voters, especially African Americans in the Southern States who all too often find themselves disenfranchised.
P McPhater, UK

These changes are recommended by an ex-President who was never voted in and another who was an unmitigated disaster. If you declare a National Holiday most pepole will want to do just that, have a holiday and voting will be the last thing on their minds. The US need to affirm that the rules in place at the start of an election are the same rules used to close it then they will not have arguments over pregnant chads. Those who advocate PR for the UK usually belong to minority single issue groups who want un democratic influence over the whole process. If you want a good advert for PR look at record of Italian Governments since the last World War.
Phil Davies, UK

A step in the right direction - but it doesn't touch the problem of the primaries, the organisation of which is often absurd if not openly fraudulent, and it doesn't address issues such as campaign financing, publication of exit polls, advertising standards, etc. Perhaps the USA should adopt the French election system, it seems much fairer.
Manu, Belgium

Yes. The majority of voters were against Bush. However, before we comment about their electoral system, we should get our own house in order. Why is it that the Conservatives support the undemocratic first-past-the-post system for UK elections, but not for their own party leader elections?
David, England

Minor tinkering with the system as recommended may provide minor improvements. If they're not going to change the punch card system they could at least rewrite the rules on how it is used. But the biggest improvement they could make is in the quality of the candidates.
P, UK

See also:

31 Jul 01 | Americas
Call for US electoral reform
05 Jun 01 | Americas
Florida vote criticised
11 Jan 01 | Americas
US chaos prompts hi-tech voting
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