Today is the day of mid-term elections in the USA. These are the quadrennial elections occurring in the even years between quadrennial presidential elections, during which some representatives of the bicameral legislative body of the United States Congress are elected. Depending on the time of their mandate others are elected at the time of the presidential elections.
Representatives of districts are voted into the Congress, or lower house of government, and representatives of States are voted into the upper house of government, the Senate. The consensus is that Republicans will make massive gains in the House and substantive ones in the Senate.
The United States is the first national democracy of modern times (followed shortly thereafter by the Republic of France) and a model for others. The other main model, besides the various types of republics is a parliamentary system, as in the UK and Commonwealth countries. Some of these are constitutional monarchies, of which some give more power to parliament (Canada) and some give more to the monarch (Morocco). Other countries without being a formal democracy are making cautious steps towards integrating democratic elements through electoral components of various elements of government, eg. Saudi Arabia, which is an absolute monarchy, has planned for (but not held) municipal elections.
One of the biggest challenges to a democracy, aside from the struggles for power between its formal components, is to ensure that elections are genuinely fair and free, and the results valid. Laws controlling the ethics of campaigning, including campaign financing, and actual voting procedures are in place to try and ensure this. Each system has its weaknesses and opportunities for corruption; but, international observation of elections has confirmed the validity of the voting procedures and results--including inconvenient results for the international community, like the Palestinian election of Hamas.
Voter turnout, the percentage of the eligible voters who actually do vote in a given election, is a key to genuine democracy, where the electoral results do reflect "the will of the people"--where the voter turnout itself is legitimate and not a number fabricated by an "elected" dictatorship. Voter turnout varies among countries and within the populace of a country.
Voter turnout within a country can be affected by a number of factors, including trust in the legitimacy of the election, which leads one to think one's vote will be valid or not; valid and desirable choices of whom to elect; voting fatigue from too many elections in too close succession; legal or illegal suppression of the rights of some members of society to vote (eg based on gender, race, socio-economic status, criminality, sanity standards); geographical region in vast countries crossing time zones especially where the results seem to be determined in one region before others have a chance to vote (in Canada no results can be reported until all regions have finished voting); the sense that the election result will be close, or is a forgone conclusion. Bad weather and long lines due to insufficient voting venues can affect voter turnout as well as other aspects of ease of voting--signing up, verification, early voting, mail in ballots, clear and easily marked ballots, etc.
By far, the greatest predictor of who votes within a country is education. When other socio-economic factors such as gender, race, income level, and occupation are corrected for educational level, the differences are eliminated. In other words, higher education leads to a greater commitment to voting.
Among countries, voter turnout varies by cultural and institutional factors. The cultural factors, are those of a culture of elections and voting. People need to learn about the importance and validity of elections; to trust that an elected government is a good way to govern and that the elections are legitimate; to recognize the value of their individual and collective votes; to learn ahead about the issues and candidates so they trust their own vote and what it stands for; to be familiar with and unintimidated by voting procedures.
The length of time of democratic institutions within the country; the efforts made to educate generations of voters through the school curriculum and elections held within the school for student councils, committees, and classroom leaders; the efforts made to educate voters of all generations and backgrounds through public service announcements, public tutorials, public meet the candidates or discuss the issues events all increase voter turnout and the relevance of the individual vote.
Other cultural factors include the demographics: older populations have more voters; more stable populations by marriage and family stability, and geographical stability have higher turnouts; multiethnic populations may have greater partisan interest in voting, or may have less access to voting because of language barriers unless they are compensated for (as in Canada where election information, material, and voting procedures and materials are available in multiple languages).
Institutional factors are the other important ones that contribute to the variation among voter turnout rates in different countries. The institutional factor with the greatest impact and the most obvious one is whether voting is compulsory for citizens or not. Some countries require their citizens to vote, and enforce voting as a legal obligation which leads directly to very high voter turnouts. Australia (95%) and Belgium (91%) are 2 examples of democracies with compulsory and enforced voter turnout.
Other important institutional factors are the ease of the nomination process, the ease of voter registration and voting (eg same day on site registration and voting), a multiparty system (more than 2), salience of the vote (how much the elected resulted will affect policy, for example) and proportionality (how much the individual vote will be weighted, eg as a single vote vs absorbed into a weighted regional result) all effect turnout. Trust is in the institutions is an overarching factor.
Voter turnout in the United States, compared to that in other countries is surprisingly low. Even allowing for differences in reporting methods of voter turnout, the USA is a land of relatively low voter turnout when compared to other Western countries where voting is non-compulsory, such as Canada, and most European nations. Voting in the US hovers around the >50% mark, whereas in Canada, Finland, France, Ireland, Spain, the UK, and others, it is routinely >70%, in Denmark, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands and others, >80%, in Austria, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, and others >90%.
Factors which may negatively affect voter turnout in the US are a lack of interest in politics and knowledge about the issues; tieing voter registration to eligibility for jury duty, a 2-party system (3rd parties are rarely competitive in the US); separate registration and voting procedures; greater use of negative campaigning and personal attacks (including involvement of family members); distrust in government (which is increasing); the sense that money is all determinant (other countries have stricter campaign finance laws and spending limits); voter fatigue from the extension of the "election cycle" til it seems perpetual; announcing results by geographic region as they occur, such that voters in the more western regions may consider the result has already been decided.
Today, Americans have a chance to vote in a midterm that seems more significant because of the dire economic situation, ongoing security issues and social disparities, and the distinctiveness of the proferred solutions to economic, social, and foreign policy challenges. Ontheissues.org is an excellent site for learning about individual candidates' for the House of Representatives and the Senate positions on key election issues, and discovering with which candidates one has the greatest political affinity (one's own results are sometimes surprising).
Because of the impact of the US internationally, on economics, politics, national security, and regional developments elsewhere, many of us wish we could vote in US elections, but obviously cannot. So, if you are American please do vote, and don't squander it. Be up on the issues, and make an informed vote for the candidate of your choice.
As far as high profile candidates go, I was "inspired" recently to vent my "concern" about one candidate, who represents others who are frighteningly unaware. Below is the result of my venting.
Sharron Angle, Geography Much?
2 Land Borders, 0 Jihadis
The US/Canadian Border following the 49th Parallel (latitudinal line) through the west
Dear Ms Angle,
As a Canadian, I was upset by your recent claim,
"What we know is that our northern border is where the terrorists came through. That's the most porous border that we have. We cannot allow terrorists; we cannot allow anyone to come across our border if we don't know why they're coming."However, instead of being offended, I prefer to see this as a teachable moment. I understand that campaigning is a busy and stressful time, and that being way down there in Tratado de Guadalupe Hidalgo territory, you probably can't see Canada from your house (Russia is so much more visible than we are), so I thought to provide a few key facts, some talking points, and a little colour commentary for when you are on talk shows--better make that, if you ever decide to talk to the press about anything.
As I recently learned from former US diplomat John Burgess of Crossroads Arabia (he gets around), Canada is "America's hat". Actually, if you look at a map (don't worry, I did it for you), we are more like "America's touque". Based on personal experience of listening to some unfortunate, fully tri-lingual, but not Quebec-savvy Moroccan official try to recover his "chapeau" from the hat check at the Chateau Laurier, I would encourage you to learn the difference. Use the word "touque" (for speaking to Quebeckers, aim the vowel between "took" and "tuck" and you should be ok), should the occasion arise on your official visit to Ottawa. Ottawa is the pulp and paper village that Queen Victoria decided was the centre of Canada in 1867, and named our national capital--not to be confused with Toronto, a business capital with delusions of grandeur, or Vancouver, a great place for toking, no touque required.
But I digress. We are concerned for this election cycle with who is crossing what American border and why. I understand your recent confusion about Asians when speaking to the Hispanic Students Union:
“So that’s what we want is a secure and sovereign nation, and, you know, I don’t know that all of you are Latino. Some of you look a little more Asian to me. I don’t know that...What we know, what we know about ourselves is that we are a melting pot in this country. I’ve been called the first Asian legislator in our Nevada State Assembly,”Indeed, Asians are confusing. There are so many of them, and they think they are so important, if only because of their overwhelming numbers. Depending on one's geographical perspective (yes, that pesky subject again), they start from the Mediterranean and keep filling up countries right to the American Pacific Rim, or rims, as the Guam, Micronesia, Hawaii, Alaska, California case may be.
You wisely avoided specifying to which Asians you referred--West, Central, South, Southeast, East. All of them are problematic in their own ways. You know-Arabs, Afghanis, Pakistanis, Indians, Burmese, Cambodians, Vietnamese, Koreans, Japanese, Chinese-what with sitting on your oil reserves or routes, manufacturing goods or wars, holding the mortgage on your country, etc, an inconvenient lot. And we haven't even begun to address immigration patterns yet.
I'm thinking you were meaning Filipinos with your Hispanic-Asian looking peoples. These are the ones who so rudely became independent after your efforts in the Spanish-American War, the first truly newspaper incited war. Now they are taking up all the maid (women) and institutional housekeeping (men) jobs. Rude. I will address this more fully should the Sunday morning talk shows come calling.
In the meantime, one must acknowledge that you have done your best to identify Asian immigrant problems wherever and however you see them: Dearborn, Michigan Arabs and Sharia law, and that non-existent Frankford, Texas town which you also think has Sharia law, both of which, according to you, form a "militant terrorist situation"; or Hispanics coming from Mexico, all of whom seem to you to be illegals, gangbangers, and friends of Harry Reid.
Others have pointed out the inconvenient, for your election purposes, of these untruths, so I won't belabour the point. Joy Behar seems particularly vexed--but what do you expect from the descendant of Eye-talians. Hmmm, I'm one of those myself, though safely out of your voting pool, electoral domain.
Still and all, I thought I might help you with that annoying line at the top of your country, the US-Canada Border, and how we keep our terrorist problems to ourselves--the Quebec October Crisis of 1970 being the most notable political one, and the Air India Flight 182 Disaster (1985) being the most costly in lives (mostly Indo-Canadians) and taxpayer money--investigating our own security incompetencies with Sikh Canadians, now corrected for investigating all brown Muslims on all occasions.
In conclusion, it is easy to distinguish those of us above the line at the top of your country from those below the line at the bottom of your country. They may be bringing you drugs, but we kept you supplied in booze during the Great Prohibition, and thereby helped build the fortune of one of your political dynasties, the Kennedys (whom your country loves, and loves to shoot).
Thanks for reading this far, Sharron.
PS What's with the double r spelling of your name Sharron? Sharon not good enough for you? Or are we orthographically as well as geographically challenged? Sorry, I don't teach spelling.
Another view of the US/Canada Border along the 49th Parallel
IF YOU ARE AMERICAN AND SANE
If you are American, did you/will you vote?
If you aren't, do you wish you could vote in American elections?
Do you vote in your own country? Why/Why not?
Your other comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?