As an Australian, there are many things that I find odd about the US electoral system, specifically the Federal one.
I’m just going to discuss these four things that I think could see an improvement in political discourse as well as a move away from the extremes of politics.
For a while now, each state government can change the boundaries of each electoral college to gain an advantage in the future in a process called redistricting or gerrymandering. This has been done to substantial success by several Republican state governments where they win state government, redistrict and ensure that their Federal colleagues are elected as well.
This has resulted in the extreme end of the Republicans and Democrats taking control of the House and Congress, which, in my opinion, is the reason that the US Government is deadlocked on so many issues. The moderate members on both sides are being voted out by the more extreme elements who are not liked by the general members of the public.
In Australia, we have the Australian Electoral Commission. They are responsible for all matters relating to Federal elections, including boundaries for the seats/districts. Some states in America have already gone down this path, including California, Washington State and Arizona. Most other states leave it up to the state legislature to determine the district boundaries but it is good to see that some states have moved forward in the way that California, Washington State and Arizona have, along with other states considering or using other processes.
I believe that an Independent District Commission should be introduced and each state district commission would report to it. Where there is no such body in a state, the Independent District Commission is charged with redrawing the state electoral districts with the following in mind:
- Population quotas (ensuring that each district has an approximately equal number of electors in each district, within a certain range)
- Communities of interest (ensuring that communities stay together)
- Communication and travel (certain community groups, demographics, transit routes, etc are best served by one member rather than distributed across several members)
- Physical and man-made features (there is no benefit served by splitting a district across a natural boundary such as a large river, so it makes for an excellent natural boundary. Similarly, it is better to have a large man-made structure like an airport enclosed within one district than have it split over two or more districts)
It is not my intention that each state loses its methods of voting or anything else – that is a matter for the States to determine themselves. However, it is important that each person of voting age in America is able to feel comfortable that their vote counts for something.
Voting on Saturdays
One thing that has always puzzled me is the fact that Americans vote on a work day. Why not have it on the weekend? Obviously, early voting is doing wonders, but it seems to be so hard – at least from the media stories I read.
In Australia, people have one area they can vote in for their electorate/district, and then there can be anywhere from 25 to 150 booths (depending on the size of the electorate/district) where they can vote on election day. Most Australians get it done in the morning and by 1pm, most Australians have voted and can get on with the rest of the day.
It strikes me as odd that it is a Tuesday – a work day. It seems designed to prevent people from voting, rather than encouraging them from voting. Why not move it to a Saturday so that everyone can vote? Voting in the USA isn’t even compulsory, so it’s not as if you HAVE to drag your hungover ass out of bed to go to a polling place – in Australia, at least the local school/church/community group will be selling cakes or sausages in a bun for you as well. Bring on the #democracysausage, I say!!
No more winner-takes-all electoral college results
The United States electoral college system operates a winner-takes-all system in all but 2 states, Maine and Nebraska. They use a Congressional District Method, where the winner of each district wins an electoral college vote and the state winner gets the remaining two electoral college votes. You can read more about it here.
I’m a big fan of this method – because it would reduce the amount of pork barrelling in swing states. The whole country comes back into play and each district becomes important. In the lead up to Election 2012, Barack Obama had 237 electoral college votes “locked up” to Mitt Romney’s 191 “locked up” electoral college votes.
By using the Congressional District Method, combined with an Independent District Commission, the election result would be a lot closer, the candidates would campaign in every state and could no longer rely on a small number of states to guarantee them a result. For this to be introduced, there would be a lot of electoral pain in the House of Representatives and in Congress to get it passed – however the long term benefits to the electors would be substantial
Increased disclosure and pecuniary interest rules
This is one that is definitely more specific to the United States.
The disclosure rules about donations are not too bad in Australia. The Australian Electoral Commission has a website dedicated for the Annual Returns of all political parties and independent members of Federal Parliament, who must list who they have received donations from in the past 12 months. Its main criticism is that it is very out of date – as much as 18 months out of date.
Further to that, each member of the House of Representatives and Senate needs to complete a Register of Interest. This includes a vast number of things, including the financial and property holdings of not just the member or senator but their partner and children. They also need to update it with any gifts they receive in their capacity as a Member or Senator. It can make for some fascinating reading. The House of Representatives one can be read here while the Senate one can be read here.
I think there is a lot of scope for such legislation to be introduced into the United States. A public register like this should be available for members of the public to know who their local Congressperson or Senator is receiving money or gifts from. I think some people would be very surprised to know what their representatives in Washington were receiving while being paid to look after them.
Like I said, these are just four ideas of mine – what do you think? I’d appreciate your thoughts on the matter – please share it with others.