America’s exceptional voting system


Even as the election season mercifully draws to a close, the media keeps churning out articles that remind us of the dismal state of the American voting system. The left-wing and the right-wing media trade competing conspiracy theories, preparing their narrative to explain the loss of their favorite.

David FrumDavid Frum | NSB

In this environment, the commentary by David Frum stands out – particularly for his un-American willingness to look for benchmarks outside the United States:

The kind of battle we are seeing in Florida – where Democrats and Republicans will go to court over whether early voting should span 14 days or eight – simply does not happen in Germany, Canada, Britain or France. …

The United States is an exceptional nation, but it is not always exceptional for good. The American voting system too is an exception: It is the most error-prone, the most susceptible to fraud, the most vulnerable to unfairness and one of the least technologically sophisticated on earth.

Frum is correct to point to a non-partisan election administration as a key factor for efficient and trustworthy voting – no gerrymandering there.

His other observations may be a tad superficial. For example, what does it mean to be the “least technologically sophisticated”? Germany uses no technology whatsoever — all ballots are on paper and counted manually on site, and yet there are usually reliable results available within the hour after closing the polls.

And a lot of additional factors make elections in Germany more robust: reliable voter rolls, a multi-party system, a voting system more aligned with the popular vote, just to name a few.

But the key issue really is trust. It is not simply that the elections are run by civil servants, but that they are trusted to do the job right. While civil servants may be belittled as narrow-minded, slow, inflexible bureaucrats, few people would doubt their integrity and their allegiance to the constitution.

In the United States, however, government employees tend to be seen as accessories of the government’s evil scheme to strip citizens of their God-given rights. And as some of the forum comments on Frum’s article make clear, a nationwide harmonized voting system would be seen as even more of an influence of the federal government over the states.

And that’s where, once again, a principle dear to the American public will get in the way of a more pragmatic and efficient solution: The right of every state to establish the most inferior voting system in the nation shall not be infringed upon.