Sunday, 8 November 2020

America Should Run Elections Like Australia

   Another leap year, another U.S. Presidential election! And, regular as clockwork, allegations of voting irregularities, of varying plausibility, are making the rounds. What is it about Americans? Such allegations practically never occur over here. All right, Australia is probably the gold standard for election procedures, but the allegations are also rare to non-existent in other democracies. Britain and France have both acquired large racial minorities (more fool they!), but one never hears it suggested that they are being "suppressed". Other countries make no issue about voter ID, and I am sure that none of them would tolerate ballot harvesting or election day registration. So what's wrong with America?
     First of all, I don't take seriously the talk about "voter suppression". If that were really happening, we'd be hearing a lot of people declaring, in effect: "I tried to vote but I found I wasn't on the roll/they wouldn't accept my ID (and I couldn't or wouldn't come back with a good one)/the voting centre was too far away etc." It happens occasionally, I'm sure, because people fall through the cracks in even the best of systems. But if the problem were in any way significant, we would have a lot of people complaining, lobbying to prevent it happening again, and taking steps to avoid the pitfall the following election. It should be easy to quantify the people who were prevented from voting. Quantifying those who managed to vote illegally is another matter.
     In Australia voting is compulsory. As I pointed out in an earlier article, a case can be made for and against the practice, but it does cut down on electoral fraud. However, this is probably a bridge too far for Americans. Still there are a lot of Australian practices which work much better than theirs.
     Run the election on a Saturday! Or at least make the election day a public holiday. The advantages of this are so obvious they needn't be mentioned.
    A national electoral roll and an independent Electoral Commission. When you come of age, or become a citizen, you register to vote. You only have to do it once. After that, you notify the Commission whenever you change address, and your name is automatically shifted to a new electorate, in a different state, if need be. You also notify them when somebody dies, but I assume the Commission follows the obituaries personally, in any case. There are no separate state rolls, which need to be cleared at regular intervals of dead or relocated voters. It is hard to believe that in some counties of the U.S. there are more registered voters than voting age citizens. (Of course, if voting were not compulsory, I suppose someone who never bothered to vote might never bother to have his address changed, but this would be unusual.)
    Electorates and representation to be based on registered voters, not the census. I realise this would require a Constitutional amendment in the U.S., but I can't see how anybody could muster a case against it. The census takes place only every ten years. A national electoral roll is constantly being up-dated. The census includes children and non-citizens. (I myself ended up on an Ecuadoran census because I was visiting the country at the time.) The census records visitors and holiday makers, whereas the electoral roll records where they really live. (I might add that an Australian Government once introduced a referendum for equalising the size of electorates, which might have succeeded if it hadn't been written in gobbledy-gook. However, they also tried to sneak in the use of the census instead of the electoral roll. The public saw through it.)
     Voter ID. You need it for other, less important reasons. Why not for voting? Not every nation requires an ID, but those that do have no trouble with it. Here are some spurious arguments I have heard against it:
  • It's not necessary. All it does it prevent voter impersonation. We are supposed to believe that, in a country where a third of the voters don't turn up to vote, and many dead and departed voters are still on the roll, that is unlikely. Besides, it is ridiculous to claim that a certain type of fraud has not been proved, when you haven't looked for it, and it is difficult to detect in any case.
  • In theory you have to provide an ID to establish your age to purchase alcohol, but in practice you are never asked. That's because your age is usually obvious by sight. But whenever I wish to apply for the post office to hold my mail, I have to provide an ID - every blessed time!
  • It discriminates against ethnic minorities and the elderly, who are less likely to possess photo IDs, and some laws stipulate forms of IDs which minorities are less likely to possess. In Australia, there is a national standard list of IDs, which mostly involve a photo ID or two utilities bills. I know that in the US the states make their own laws - they do so in Australia as well - but a country which managed to put men on the moon should be able to arrange co-operation among the states on such a simple matter.
     (Although it is irrelevant to this essay, I can't resist repeating the story a bright old lady told me about the time she decided she needed a photo ID. She was too old to drive, and not being prepared to travel overseas, she didn't have a passport. So she went and got an Over 18 card: the one you use to prove you are old enough to drink alcohol, and she painted a vivid word picture of herself, white haired and wrinkled, sitting among all those fresh faced kids applying for the card. I've been told that this is becoming common.)
      Sensible absentee voting. If I expected to be away from home of election day, I would apply to the Electoral Commission, who would promptly record me as having already voted, and then hand me a voting slip for my electorate, with a return addressed envelope. We do not normally have to wait too long for absentee votes to come in after the election. The average absentee voter posts his vote fairly early. He doesn't normally wait till the last minute. Why should he?
    Having tried to follow the American election, I keep coming across things which would never occur to any of us Down Under, and which confirm me in my opinion that, on the other side of the Pacific, the lunatics are still in charge of the asylum.
     Gerrymanders. I think you would need to be very crafty and systematic in order to make gerrymandering have a significant effect on an election. Be that as it may, it is next to impossible with an independent Electoral Commission.
     Registration of non-citizens. Of course, this is not official, but what else can happen if you provide driver's licenses to all and sundry, then allow a driver's license to be used as ID for voter registration? Before someone is registered to vote, his citizenship must be established.
    Same day registration. In Australia, if you turn 18 between the calling of an election and the polling, there a window in which you are allowed to register. But permitting it on election day itself is a recipe for fraud. And, incidentally, the shenanigans which are legal in Minnesota are enough to blow the mind.
    Ballot harvesting. I can't believe any state would actually allow such a practice. With no control over how the ballots are filled in, and what happens to them afterwards, it is a recipe for fraud. What justification could there be? I've heard two:
  • In Indian reservations many households have no street address, and access to polling stations is difficult. The nearest Australian equivalent would be remote Aboriginal settlements. I honestly don't know how the system is managed there, but they definitely do vote because, as I said, voting is compulsory. The most obvious solution is to send out electoral officers to collect them - two at a time, if need be, to ensure it is above board.
  • Some people's English skills are so poor they need help in filling in the ballots. Good heavens! Don't the parties produce "how to vote" cards? In any case, why can't a person in that situation ask a friend to explain the voting form. Even if a postal vote is used, there is no good reason why the voter can't just mail it himself.
      With respect to the last reason, two issues immediately spring to mind. (1) If you can't read enough English to fill in a ballot, your vote is not much use to either the country or to yourself. You won't have enough background information to make an informed choice. (2) Why on earth does the U.S. allow people to become citizens if they can't read English? In my opinion, they should remove all those "VOTE AQUI" signs and tell them, in effect, If you can't read English, come back when you can.
     Of course, ballot harvesting cannot exist unless there is far more postal voting than is necessary. True, in Australia you don't actually need to give a reason in order to get an absentee vote. I could theoretically obtain one, then stay at home on election day, but why would I? Up to now it hasn't occurred to anybody to ask for an absentee vote unless they were really going to be absent. In the U.S. you can complete a postal ballot, then follow it by a provisional ballot in case the mail is slow. That makes no sense. If you can go in person for a provisional vote, you don't need a postal vote. Besides, in Australia, once a ballot is in the mail, no-one can identify whom it came from, or needs to. It's a secret ballot, you know.
     Widespread postal voting also has the potential to destroy the confidentiality of the process. Imagine if everyone in your in-group - family, religious, ethnic, union etc - were voting that way, and you were the only one who insisted on your right to vote in person secretly. It turns out I was wrong to say that no other democracy has this problem. Here was what the UK's Nigel Farage had to say:
Just last year the Brexit Party fought a by-election in Peterborough. We lost by 600 votes. We saw things like, on polling day, somebody with a carrier bag bringing a thousand ballots into a polling station. We knocked on doors where people told us that they had actually effectively had their ballots -  their blank ballot papers taken from them. And yet, when we went back to try and get them to swear affidavits the doors weren’t opening.
     (There appear to have been a lot of other scandals concerning postal votes in the UK.)
     All of which brings us to the three ring circus known as the 2020 election, which is not yet over as I write. A British writer was not impressed:
In countries across the world, rich and poor, election night usually sees all the ballots in and counted within hours. In the UK, Sunderland defends its crown as the fastest counting authority against competition from Newcastle and Billericay. It is the dispersed Scottish Islands who tend to declare later. In the US election it is rural areas like Alaska and Montana that manage timely management of electoral affairs, while for some unexplained reason it is in the major cities where the postal service and election officials cannot manage the timely delivery of ballots to the counting house from the adjacent borough. In these contested states it is the in-person votes that are counted first, and then, once that ‘target number’ is roughly known, the postal ballots are hauled in. . . .
Why those votes could not have been posted days or weeks before is an interesting point. Why would three quarters of a million people, most of whom would have made their minds up weeks or months before, have waited so late to post their votes? It makes little obvious sense. We are enjoined in the UK to ‘Post early for Christmas’. If the postal ballots were in post office custody, why not deliver them early on Election Day?     
     You have no doubt heard some of the allegations of electoral fraud. I shall not attempt to pass judgement on their accuracy, except to say that it should never have come to this, and to make three points.
  1. Most of the allegations would be difficult to prove, even if true. And difficult to quantify.
  2. Human nature is such that, if fraud is easy to commit and hard to detect, it is likely to occur, and those who benefit from it will be tempted to do even more next time.
  3. At the very least, the fact that such allegations can be made with a degree of plausibility destroys confidence in the democratic process. The system is broken. Elections must not only be fair, but be seen to be fair.
     The problem has largely arisen from the widespread use of postal voting. If this is not curtailed or heavily regulated, it will have far reaching effects along the line. The next time an election hinges on postal votes, the losers will believe the election has been stolen. That will not bode well.
     Tyler Durden listed four simple steps for fixing the elections system: (1) no more early voting, (2) no mail-in votes no-one requested, (3) voter ID, and (4) count until it is over without stopping.
      And you can also do it the Australian way. (Here's another take.)