In my head they are doing that 'You sing potato, I like potahto' duet.
I always enjoy following a US presidential election. It's fascinating to watch the world's greatest advocate of democracy (and exporter of it to countries in the Middle East) go to the polls. The debates; the razzmatazz; the rallies; the minute-by-minute polling; the relentless TV adverts. US democracy in action is engrossing, if gaudy, stuff.
The only problem is the democracy bit. Despite politicians' soaring rhetoric about the importance of democracy in US society, there's so little of it available in a US presidential election that it might well be time to send the UN observers in.
Firstly, most votes don't count in a US presidential election. Thanks to a combination of an electoral college and an antiquated first-past-the-post voting system, the only votes that count are those belonging to people living in a few 'swing states'. It's hard to explain this system in a couple of sentences (for an in-depth guide may I refer you to Wikipedia) but it means that:
- a presidential election really only takes place in around 5 to 10 of America's 50 states
- most of the population is effectively disenfranchised and as a result completely ignored by the candidates
- you can get elected on a minority of the votes cast (by winning the electoral college but not the popular vote, as George Bush did when he, ahem, won the 2000 election with half a million fewer votes than Al Gore).
Secondly, there's the money. There has always been too much of it in US presidential elections, but thanks to a 2010 Supreme Court ruling, it's now easier than ever for rich individuals or organisations to open their chequebooks in support of a preferred candidate. This has led to an astonishing $6 billion dollars being spent on the 2012 presidential race. As Bob Dylan once said, money doesn't talk, it swears - and that sort of cash raises huge questions about elections being bought, vested interests being rewarded politically for donations and so on. Besides that, it's an alarmingly large amount of money to spend on TV adverts made of cheese.
Finally, there's the actual mechanics of the election: nobody really trusts how votes are cast or counted. A lot of this mistrust stems from how things panned out in Florida in 2000, when black people who happened to share surnames with convicts were denied the vote; malfunctioning voting machines were used in poorer areas, rendering many votes (for Al Gore) invalid; and officials overseeing the election (and its aftermath) turned out to be running the Bush campaign in Florida. (Oh, and a bunch of right-wing judges in the Supreme Court, not the electorate, had the final say on who got to be president.)
Many of the Florida problems have not gone away (as the 2012 early voting mess would seem to testify) and there is reason to believe that they are not confined to that state either - for a full overview of some troubling issues elsewhere in the US, Mark Crispin Miller's essay on the 2004 Ohio results is well worth a read, as is this Forbes article about a voting machine company and a certain Mr Romney that invested in it. According to current press reports, there are 'thousands of lawyers' on the ground in several swing states ready to contest the 2012 results. This is not a sign of a country that has confidence in the fairness of its electoral process, and given all the above, it's a country that is right to be suspicious.
These issues make a mockery of US democracy. They mean that, whatever the result of the 2012 election, it can't be trusted. It will be a result that only takes into account the political views of a small minority of US citizens; a result that was bought by vested interests; or a result that ultimately has more to do with lawyers and judges than voters (or all three). Like the rest of the world, I'll be cheering Barack Obama on tomorrow night (if only so that Americans take a step closer to enjoying the sort of healthcare that is commonplace in every other developed country under the sun) - but whichever candidate wins, I'll have big doubts as to whether or not he got elected.