When living ‘down under’, I became an Aussie citizen (as well as keeping my US citizenship) at least partly so I could vote; I feel you can’t complain if you haven’t been part of the process (and being a member of the board of the Center for Civic Education has only reinforced my civic responsibility). There are several aspects of their system that are superior to the US system, I feel, and given that Australia has just called an election, it was worth reflecting on.
First of all, the Australian election will be held on 24 November, but this date wasn’t announced until 14 October. That means only 6 weeks of campaigning! (Aside from the ever-present party combat.) Compare that to the campaigning the US has already put up with for months, and that will still go another year. Australia has to call an election within 3 years of the previous one, roughly, but then it’s only 6 weeks until the election is held. There are undoubtedly advantages to the fixed terms of the US elections, but prolonged campaigning isn’t one of them.
Second, Australia has a true popular vote. The US Electoral College approach has not reflected the popular vote in several notorious instances. While the College may have been necessary at the time the country was established, it’s no longer relevant. I realize how difficult it is to change, as those states who benefit have little interest in losing it, but it undermines the true democracy of the US system. And attacking it piece-meal, as they’re proposing here in California, is only a political ploy, not a true reform, in my opinion.
The real brilliance in the Australian system, however, is “preferential voting“. In this system, you rank each candidate in order of preference. If your first choice is eliminated, your second choice then receives your vote. This continues, taking candidates off the bottom, until one candidate receives a majority. There are two benefits to this: one is that you never need a runoff, and the other is that you can’t ‘throw your vote away’.
Of course, in one election I recall there were around 80 candidates, which is time-consuming to rank (I, of course, did it, just to learn). However, there is a workaround. Each candidate will have an associated list of preferences, so if you only want to indicate your first choice, you can go with their recommendations if they should fall off the list. I figure at least 80% of the people probably do this.
Overall, there are some clear wins. The time (and money) spent on campaigning is reduced, there’s a true popular vote, no run-offs are needed, and you can truly vote your conscience. As a side effect, this has led to a viable multi-party system. Which would be nice, given that I reckon I’m further from either of the US parties than they are from each other ;).
So, how about some electoral reform?