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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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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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