9 Back to Black
For a country that talks a big game about democracy, the US is not very good at it. Nowhere near as good as it is at, say, baseball. It is very good at baseball. Elections? Not so much.
Most importantly, it is not particularly strong on the fundamental democratic concept of one person, one vote. It sounds simple and, to be fair, when a voter is white the system works pretty well. However, when voters are not white, the one person, one vote concept remains great in principle but becomes hazy in practice.
In the midterm elections this month, Florida passed a law that in future will allow felons to vote once they have completed their sentences, instead of being banned from voting for life. This is reported to potentially add an extra million voters to Florida’s register, including 40% of the state’s African American men. Such statistics explain why electoral reform is so contentious. Many Republicans see no particular need to add a million voters who might be expected to lean towards the Democrats in a state of about eight million voters whose support is currently evenly divided between the two parties.
States have various ways to make it difficult for all but the committed to vote. Absentee voting is rule-bound in some states, niggly ID requirements operate in others, boundaries everywhere are fought over like seagulls after hot chips and in many states, voter registration rolls are regularly purged – including removing those who have not recently voted. Getting re-registered, if you even know you have been purged, is one more hurdle on the steeplechase of American elections. As an aside, this month’s midterms, in which the Democrats won control of the House of Representatives from the Republicans, saw an estimated turnout of 47% of eligible voters, the highest since 1966, when 49% of voters cast a ballot.
The second most obvious weakness of the mechanics of US democracy is counting the ballots. Recounts are required for Florida’s senator, governor and – because this is America, why not have an election for a job that could instead be non-political? – agriculture commissioner. All three races were so close on election night that they were eligible for recounts.
But that situation simply provides an opportunity for the US to demonstrate something in which it truly excels – litigation. There are already more lawsuits in Florida relating to the midterms than there are recounts. Recounts are supposed to be quick. Litigation never is. I can see why Americans like the clarity of baseball.
Last weekend, my husband, daughter and I went to Chicago. We were away only a night so I booked us the cheapest airfares that stipulated no carry-on luggage other than a small bag you could put under the seat in front of you. Fine. On boarding American planes, I immediately have to put my head down and read so as not to start hyperventilating as I watch passengers struggle to wedge their refrigerators and single beds in the overhead lockers. On checking in, the airline asked if I wanted to change my mind and pay a fee for overhead baggage space. I did not.
But wait. It also asked if I wanted to pay a separate additional fee to “get Zone 2 boarding and early access to the overhead bins”. So you can pay not only to use the bins, but also more to use them first. They are as precious as Auckland real estate. Oh, I had to take my shoes off, too, for security screening.
I have vowed that my next domestic trip will be by car.
Voting-district boundaries are fought over like seagulls after hot chips.
“I’m not sure whether I’m a craft beer expertor an overly articulate problem drinker.”