Thursday, July 08, 2004

The state of Democracy in the Americas

Democracy has become a buzzword. Organizations like the Unit for the Promotion of Democracy (UPD) have taken the stage in places like Latin America. Tt works with the member nations of the OAS (almost all countries in North and South America) to ensure fair and peaceful elections. For example, the UPD has had a hand in the Presidential elections in Peru after Fujimori left, and elections in countries such as Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina, Paraguay and others. Now, when I read that list, I think to myself: what member states of the OAS are conspicuously missing? In particular, I notice the absence of Canada and the United States.

I was actually reminded of the UPD during the recent elections in Canada. Save a few close results too close to call, the election went just about as smoothly as possible. I was thinking to myself how wonderful it is that we really don't need the UPD's help in Canadian elections. Maybe it's not a coincidence that the Executive Director, Dr. Elizabeth Spehar, of the UPD is a Canadian.

Then I started to think about the United States. By many (all?) accounts, their mission of teaching democracy to Iraqis has failed miserably. And, have you read that the Republicans are putting together a plan to postpone the election? Then there's what Michael Moore wrote about the 2000 US Presidential Elections:
The coup began long before the shenanigans on Election Day 2000. In the summer of 1999 Katherine Harris, an honorary Stupid White Man who was both George W. Bush's presidential campaign cochairwoman and the Florida secretary of state in charge of elections, paid $4 million to Database Technologies to go through Florida's voter rolls and remove anyone "suspected" of being a former felon. She did so with the blessing of the governor of Florida, George W.'s brother Jeb Bush whose own wife was caught by immigration officials trying to sneak $19,000 worth of jewelry into the country without declaring and paying tax on it...a felony in its own right. But hey, this is America. We don't prosecute felons if they're rich or married to a governing Bush.

Then, there are articles about how American voters are losing faith in their own systems, Al Gore accusing the Bush Administration of "destroying democracy." Et cetera. It seems like on my walk to work through the streets of Manhattan every morning, New York papers are either reporting about false vice-presidential candidates, ineffective voting machines, election conspiracies or political corruption.

So, my question is: why doesn't the UPD oversee the 2004 US Presidential Election? Dr. Spehar, how about it?


At 11:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It does seem sometimes that the American political system is an example of Democracry run amuck. One interesting example of this is how election boundaries are drawn up in the states. Unlike Canada, which uses (presumably, relatively) non-partisan civil servants to draw up these lines, in the States the politician are responsible for this. The result is patchwork election boundaries, with 'islands' of district 'A' floating within district 'B', for example. They end up being chosen and agreed upon based on where the policians think they can get support. The conversion might go as follows:

Democrat: "I see that in your district, Republican, there is patch of predominant Democrat supporters; I propose to re-draw the district boundaries such that I get this patch. In return, you can have this corner of my district that always votes Republican"

Republican: "Great plan--then we both win"

Election campaigns are so sophisticated down there, and involve so much money and so many handlers, that it's no surprise the last election was so close. It's like two racecars built with the same (essentially unlimited) funds; in the end, the skill of the driver doesn't matter much nearly so much as the machine their in.

At 8:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is an interesting story about electoral district gerrymandering:

At 8:36 PM, Blogger The Tiger said...

I worked at a polling station on election day as an inside agent, on behalf of the Tories.

What I can say is that our system works because we make it almost idiotproof. The ballot at my station had four names and four large circles. So long as you just made a mark in one circle only (unless you wrote "no", that wouldn't count), your vote was counted. (A couple of people _still_ managed to spoil their ballots, but it took real talent to do so.)

The tally was done by the Elections Canada worker, with party representatives looking on for every ballot, keeping their own tallysheets. We had an opportunity to protest on every ballot, if we so chose -- because each "poll" had only 200-250 voters.

Excellent system. Unfortunately, it isn't as practical for the States -- when I was voting in New Jersey, I had ten to twelve choices to make on each ballot. Much more difficult to make a foolproof system. Still, if you make it as low-tech as you can, it helps. (That's their problem -- they think a high-tech approach is the right solution, but it's exactly the opposite.)


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