So, there we have British elections today: an unfair electoral system, censorship of candidates’ electoral addresses, little real political choice for voters, widespread postal ballot-rigging and elections administered by partisan council officials in a corrupt political climate.
Some of the “on the ground issues” in both the US and UK are different, some are the same. For example, local authority control of elections is, if anything, stronger here (as is local control in general) than in the UK. Most people will think of the fiasco in South Florida in 2000, but it’s wider than that. Here in Tennessee, for example, all 95 election commissions are run by the party that controls the General Assembly. That’s compounded by the fact that here, as Murray points out in the UK, “(t)here was a time when honesty in public life was such that the party allegiance of a local authority and its staff would not affect confidence in its ability to conduct a free and fair election.” Where I live we recently buried an election official who was well known for his fairness even though he was a product of a partisan system. I’m not sure that his successors can be counted on in the same way.
Turning to broader issues, it seems to me that US elections are hampered by three big factors:
- The long-term dominance of the two-party system severely restricts expressing the variety of popular opinion in the legislature. Both Labour and the Tories cast the dread of a “hung parliament” over the electorate. But the Germans–arguably the strongest economy in Europe right at the moment–have come up from the ashes of World War II with a series of Bundestags where the Free Democrats frequently hold the balance of power. You have no majority–you make a coalition! The Anglophone world cannot bring itself to this kind of governance. In the US, with no prime minister, things are even worse. (We come closest to coalition rule when we have split party control between the White House and Congress.) What both countries need is what the French call scrutin de liste, but don’t hold your breath.
- The dependence by large swaths of the population on government largesse mitigates against meaningful changes in public policy. This is especially important at a time when both countries are going broke. The bureaucracy becomes the “shadow bloc” in the election, having infiltrated both parties (and even, via Medicare, the Tea Party.)
- The influence of what we call “special interest” money insures that both parties are bought and paid for even before primary season. Given the dreadfully long and expensive American election process, a large wad of cash is indispensible.
Pseudodemocracy run by pseudosophisticates…