America’s exceptional voting system

2012-11-06  

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.

Politics v. Philosophies

2012-07-30

I stand corrected. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia went on Fox News Sunday saying: “I don’t think the court is political at all”.

Antonin ScaliaAntonin Scalia | Fox News

He conceded, though, that people might have that impression, but that’s because of how the justices are selected – for their “judicial philosophies”. Republicans choose “originalists and textualists and restrained judges”, Democrats choose “the opposite, people who believe in Roe v. Wade”.

So justices don’t vote their politics, they vote their philosophies. Fine. There is no reason not to take Scalia’s word for it.

Whether, however, at the level of the Supreme Court there is any significant different between philosophy and politics, would be an interesting conversation. Both are fundamentally about values, after all.

What is clear, though, is that there is no lack of political skills on the Supreme Court. To make his colleagues choose between either being an “originalist” or being “pro-abortion” is such an artful form of slanting, that I once again tip my hat to Scalia.

Roberts’ Supreme Court legacy: Men, not laws

2012-07-10  

September 5, 2005: President George W. Bush announces the nomination of John Roberts for chief justice of the Supreme Court | Paul Morse

Some assert that a formidable jurist like Chief Justice John Roberts would never be guided by anything but his constitutional scholarship. That is, after all, what we expect from a Supreme Court justice. But more plentiful and more thrilling, of course, were the opinions on the health care ruling that had Roberts in turn furthering, fearing, or sabotaging a liberal, conservative, or neutrality agenda. | More →