On Elections

A bit dated, but here’s an excerpt from the Naked Capitalism piece by Jerri-Lynn Scofield comparing and contrasting the electoral systems of the US and India. Quite the read.

The US system is clearly broken, relying as it does on venerable traditions of suppressing voter turnout and manipulating or corrupting counting and final results. This post is not an effort to describe this national disgrace, the details of which many readers are no doubt aware.

This post is instead about a completely different national system, in which electoral officials succeed in collecting and counting far more of the votes of the eligible electorate– whether measured by absolute numbers or in percentage terms– than occurs in the United States. Now I well understand that the corrupt aspects of the US electoral system are a feature, not a bug. But if this is ever to change, it’s useful for people to know that no deity handed down the US voting system on any tablets to be preserved for all eternity.

And if the US system is to change for the better, it might be useful for there to be more widespread awareness  of  basic characteristics of another national system that recognizes each citizen’s right to vote and systematically tries to implement that ideal. I’m not, by the way,  talking about a European country here, but about India, the world’s largest democracy– and one that can claim, with some justice, to be a far more inclusive democracy than is the US.

India’s electoral system is designed to get out the vote and make sure all votes are properly counted.   Elections are fiercely contested, but no party attempts systematically to intimidate or disenfranchise any category of voters (although I do not deny that intimidation does occur, but who is targeted and why tends to change across election cycles). The most recent national election– roughly equivalent to the US presidential election–  occurred in 2014 , when Narendra Modi was chosen as prime minister of India. More than 66% of India’s 815 million eligible voters cast votes, the highest level of voter turnout ever for an Indian national election. The Indian rate was more than 15% higher than that of the 2012 US presidential election, when the rate was just over 57%.

Many of India’s current electoral practices were formerly used in the US, and when they were, turnout in US elections was also higher than it is today. In the US, turnout skews toward the affluent, yet in India, turnout rates for the poor are higher than those for the rich.

Voting in the 2014 election was conducted during April and May– some of the hottest months in much of the country, when temperatures often reach exceed the high 90s. Voters also face other significant obstacles — weather, political insurgency, transportation, and sometimes, outright violence — in getting to the polls. So, given these constraints, how is it done?