US vs. UK election edition

So US election day is here, which leads me to compare how things work here compared to home. As a first comment I’ll point out that I’m not allowed to vote, since I’m not a US citizen. If I’m lucky I may get to vote in 2010.

Like a lot of things in the US, elections are organised in a ‘bottom-up’ way, with states, counties and/or districts being responsible for running the election in their area, and this leads to differences in the arrangements and equipment being used. Some famous examples are the ‘hanging chads’ in Florida in 20001, and debate over Diebold touch-screen machines for several years2. Here in Massachusetts I believe they use paper ballots which are counted by optical scanner (though I haven’t researched this much).

In Britain polling and registration are run at a local level to some extent, but following central rules which means an election is the same throughout the country. General elections still use paper ballots which are hand-counted, though some of the other elections have moved on – for example the London mayoral elections used optical scan counting.

Another difference which is noticeable is the primaries here. In Britain selection of candidates is very much an internal matter for the political parties, which would only include people who are motivated enough to get involved in a party3. Here in Massachusetts the Primary is run like the main election, and all voters can go and cast a vote (I think only for one party’s races, I’m not very clear on the details). In fact the political situation in this state means the Democratic primaries can be more competitive than the ‘real’ race. (Not all states have open primaries like this). When voters register here they may include their party affiliation, which is pretty much unthinkable in the British system. The registered affiliation affects voting in the primary in some states.

All elections are on fixed terms here, unlike the British General election where the government decides when they want to have it4. This is probably a good thing, although it does seem to lead to very long campaigns.

In Massachusetts this year there are three ballot measures AKA referenda. This seems to be a common thing in the US. They also derive from the ‘bottom-up’ approach since they are usually introduced by motivated people getting together enough signatures to do so, since many states have laws allowing thing. In Britain there hasn’t been a public referendum since I reached voting age5 – they are rarely used.

One thing I haven’t learned about yet is TV election coverage here. I guess I will find out soon!

1 The machines that caused those have been replaced.

2 The number of these machines in use has apparently declined as well, which in my opinion is a good thing.

3 Which generally requires making a donation to party funds.

4 It has to happen no more than five years after the last one

5 I narrowly missed one about introducing the London Assembly since I was registered outside of London at the time.

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