Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Friday, 22 January 2021

The Democracy Sausage

Pic courtesy Wikipedia

Across the pacific, the tumult and the shouting has died, and the captains and the kings have departed, or at least the noisiest has.

Most of the noise surrounding his departure was generated by controversy about the outcome of the presidential vote, and allegations, by the losers, that the outcome was fraudulent. The repetition of this allegation, without any proof, chipped away at the trust the American people have in their electoral system, and the rest, as they say, is history.

It's difficult to imagine this kind of discord developing in this country. That's a blessing, and you should always count your blessings.

It might be useful to compare the electoral systems in the USA and Australia, and to identify and count those blessings.

The first blessing is participation.

The most fundamental difference is that voting is compulsory in Australia, and voluntary in the USA. Straightaway, the exercise of democracy in Australia maximises participation. When Abraham Lincoln described democracy in his country at the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg on November 19th 1863, I doubt he was talking about random sampling. 

He said -

It is rather for us, the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us that, from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

He did not qualify his remarks by saying "some" of the people, so it's a reasonable assumption that he meant "all" of the people.

Democracy is enhanced by participation. Even in the 2020 US November 4th election, which generated the highest turnout for decades, only 66.7% of eligible voters actually cast a ballot. Compare that with 91.9% in Australia's 2019 federal election. These figures mean that in the USA, one in three eligible citizens had no say in electing their president for the next four years. It also means that nine in ten Australians have a say in who governs them.

Another blessing is ease of voting.

A major contribution to participation is to make voting easy and straightforward. Because voting is compulsory in this country, there is a requirement for government to remove all conceivable barriers. This is done by allowing (and because of the pandemic encouraging) postal, absentee and pre-poll voting.

Polling stations are plentiful, and well-staffed, and are open from 8am to 6pm. It is rare in this country to have to queue for hours (or even minutes) to vote. Every effort is made to make the process streamlined and efficient, and processes are consistent across the country.

Whilst in twenty-first century australia, the weekend is no longer sacred, the fact that voting occurs on Saturday also facilitates the process.

Another blessing is efficiency. 

Compare our pretty efficient situation with what happens stateside.

Voting in the USA follows a mish-mash of methods determined at state and county level. There is no Electoral Commission (state or federal), and everybody does their own thing. 

Unlike the time-honoured lead pencil and paper ballot combination used in Australia, you might you might fill in a bubble sheet (like the ones you got with tests in school) or you could push a button on a machine, which punches holes in a ballot. (which was responsible for the "hanging chad controversy in the 2000 presidential election which finished up in the supreme court). You might even vote digitally at a machine.

The pencil and paper system is used here because it is simple and foolproof, and does not rely on technology which can go wrong.

Another blessing is accessibility.

In the US, you will vote on a Tuesday, which is not a public holiday. If you are a single parent, or holding down two jobs (as around 5% of Americans do) getting to a booth can be a challenge. There is a long tradition of voter suppression amongst minority groups (Latinos and African-Americans) which is only just being overcome by political organisations. 

I won't get into the more complex issues gerrymandering - indulged in by both sides, and the elephant in the room, the Electoral College which can and has allowed candidates winning fewer votes Than their rivals to gain power. These are important issues that haven't been addressed successfully for over a century in the USA.

It is possible for Australians to elect a government which commands a majority of seats, but not a majority of voters, but our preferential system (unknown in the US) compensates somewhat.

Perhaps the best way of avoiding further controversy in the US in the future is a root and branch overhaul of their electoral system. It is, after all, held up by Americans as the best example of democracy in the free world.

They could learn a great deal from us which might ensure the maintenance of that precious democracy into the future. Right now it looks pretty wobbly.

And we should definitely count our blessings.  


Comments closed.


17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks 1735099.
That's interesting.
We sometimes forget that Australia was one of the first countries in the world to introduce universal suffrage.
I think the New Zealanders were first.
Maree

Anonymous said...

Are you seriously saying that forced attendance at a polling booth enhances democracy?
Are you seriously saying that a deliberate decision to not vote detracts from democracy?
That's some weird juju juice you're on man.
John Grey

1735099 said...

Are you seriously saying that forced attendance at a polling booth enhances democracy?
Are you seriously saying that a deliberate decision to not vote detracts from democracy?

Are you seriously saying that the extent to which voters participate in an election is irrelevant to the strength of that democracy?
Following that notion to its logical extreme leads to the bizarre conclusion that a country where (say) 5% get to vote is just as democratic as one where 95% get to vote.
Who's on the weird juju juice?

Anonymous said...

That's not a logical extreme and you know your crazy exaggerations are just said to try and bolster your indefensible positions.
Just in case you missed the logic - being allowed to vote is democracy in action. Choosing to not vote is democracy in action.
Being forced to vote is wrong in a democratic country. The USA version is superior to ours because it allows free will.
John Grey.

Anonymous said...

Let's see your logic then.
Explain how compulsory voting is more democratic than optional voting. Not just "more blessed".
Remember - not voting is an exercise in decision making.
9You are on a hiding to nothing here)
John Grey

1735099 said...

Explain how compulsory voting is more democratic than optional voting. Not just "more blessed".
Democracy is defined as "a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives."
Note the use of "all" and "whole" in the definition.
The "free will" idea comes from the extreme Libertarian (or more accurately Glibertarian) position, which is fundamentally a nonsense.
Show me a successful Libertarian state or country.

The strength of any democracy is in direct proportion to the participation of its citizens.
Remember - not voting is an exercise in decision making.
It's actually intellectual and social apathy,a dereliction of civic duty, an avoidance of decision making and an exercise in cynicism.

Anonymous said...

Can we assume that you would have have preferred a compulsory vote in relation to the homosexual marriage situation where 49 percent of eligible voters decided for the other 51 percent of eligible voters?
Not JG.

1735099 said...

I don't think your figures are correct.
The turnout was actually 79.5%.
There was no real need for a vote at all.
Setting up the vote was always a delaying tactic.
It was actually a postal survey, rather than a plebiscite.

It was pretty convincing result.
But if there was to be a vote, yes, it should have been compulsory.

Anonymous said...

You have your numbers wrong. The percentages often quoted are 62% for and 38% against. If you apply that to the 80% turnout of ELIGIBLE voters the percentage of eligible voters that decided the result is less than 50%. The fact that it was not compulsory to vote was the reason it got over the line. It may have been better or worse, but 20% of voters who did not vote contributed to the result. I am going to assume that most if not all pro mixed marriage, voted, whilst a good many people, who may not have voted for the proposal, did not vote because they didn't think it would get over the line, or like me did not see the point in the hype around the issue.

Anonymous said...

"There was no real need for a vote at all.
Setting up the vote was always a delaying tactic.
It was actually a postal survey, rather than a plebiscite.
It was pretty convincing result".

When is a vote not a vote?

There was a need for a vote or they would not have spent millions organising the postal vote.
It was a postal vote to ensure the result by assuming there would be non-voters.
When there is a requirement for 51%, 49% is hardly a convincing result.
7817247/15909900= 49% of eligible voters.

1735099 said...

There was a need for a vote or they would not have spent millions organising the postal vote.
All 21 opinion polls conducted in the months leading up to the plebiscite showed similar support for the legislation as the eventual result.
When there is a requirement for 51%, 49% is hardly a convincing result.
The result was 61.6% "Yes" and 38.4% "No".
That's pretty convincing, and duplicated the opinion poll results.
If the legislation had been put to a conscience vote (as was the preference of most Coalition members and all Labor members) no expensive and controversial plebiscite would have been necessary.
There also would have been much less hype.

Anonymous said...

You can deny deny deny all you like, but the number of yes votes recorded divided by the number of eligible voters is 49% of eligible voters.
Your numbers in percentage terms are drawn from those who participated, not from those eligible to vote. You cannot change the truth of the matter, merely display the rubbish that
Turncoat enabled by doing his postal poll where 20.5 percent of eligible voters abstained.

Anonymous said...

Government does not legislate on opinion polls and by ignoring the fact that positive votes were only representative of 49 percent of eligible voters indicated that the result was determined by the method employed.

1735099 said...

It may have been better or worse, but 20% of voters who did not vote contributed to the result.
By definition, people who did not vote had no effect on the result.

You can deny deny deny all you like
You'll have to explain exactly what I'm denying.

1735099 said...

Government does not legislate on opinion polls

True, most of the time they simply legislate, as they could have done on this issue and saved a lot of taxpayers' money.

They do, however, pay attention to them, and employ lots of staff to do their own internal polling.

Anonymous said...

"in the USA, one in three eligible citizens had no say in electing their President for the next four years."
You are wrong again.
It means that 1 in 3 eligible voters decided to let others make the decision.
They were offered the opportunity to vote and decided not to. That is as much a "say" as actually voting for either President Trump or Demetia Joe.
Just like choosing "none of the above".
John Grey.

1735099 said...

Just like choosing "none of the above".
John Grey's logic.
Electing not to vote is actually "having a say".
You read it here first.
Mind you, the same option is available in Australia.
All you have to do is go to the booth, get your name marked on the electoral roll, and walk away with a ballot paper.
You can put it in the box without marking it.
Voting is effectively voluntary.

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