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A decadence of democracy

The UK is voting today.

makyo observed that he, personally, had two votes: one for the local candidate, one for the national one.

With that in mind, I indulged in a thrilling surfeit of voting today. My Iowa ballot, for primary elections in June, arrived yesterday, just in time for me to join in on the ambient voting going on in the UK. It might only be a primary, but I didn't get to vote twice: I got to vote twelve times.

Admittedly, there was only a contested race for one of those votes within the party. But I come from a country where we vote on all sorts of things. On this ballot alone, there was voting for the County Treasurer, the State Treasurer, the State Attorney, and the State Secretary of Agriculture, among others. On the federal scale, a member of House of Representatives, and the contested race for U.S. Senator.

On non-primary elections (whatever they're called - "real" elections?), there may be ballots to amend the Iowa constitution, or to enact a local, county-specific sales tax on something-or-other. We elect members of the water board, the school board, and affirm judiciary appointments too. Even from the other side of the ocean, my ballot, so reflective of very local politics as it is, still ties me to where I grew up. I may be very far away from where I vote, but at least I get to vote a whole lot in compensation.

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( 25 comments — Leave a comment )
austengirl
May. 6th, 2010 11:21 am (UTC)
democracy is fun
I've got my absentee ballot ready to go, but I only filled it in for the Senate and governor's races. The member of congress has no primary opposition and I don't know anything about the various state and local office candidates, so I don't feel qualified to cast a vote for any of them. At least 2 offices only had write-in spaces, no listed candidates, so I don't know what's going on with those.

I don't know if there will be any ballot initiatives in the November elections, Pennsylvania's not really big on those. Do you know what sort of changes to the Iowa constitution might be suggested?
owlfish
May. 6th, 2010 11:27 am (UTC)
Re: democracy is fun
My ballot only had a write-in spot for the County Auditor I guess the other party has a current lock on that spot!

I spent a bit this morning reading up on the various candidates on the Des Moines Register. In most of the cases of only a single candidate, many of them are people who have been in those positions for years and I know the names.

I don't know that Iowa has any amendments up for November at all; it often doesn't. I was just thinking through items that are occasionally on ballots.
desperance
May. 6th, 2010 11:24 am (UTC)
I still find it weird, that your senior state officials are appointed by popularity contest, rather than proven ability to do the job. It does seem - more or less, by and large - to work, but that only demonstrates that I am no more qualified than anyone else to determine how countries should be run.

Even so. Weird. And they talk about introducing it over here...
owlfish
May. 6th, 2010 11:28 am (UTC)
They're appointed that way, but if they do a notably bad job, they're not likely to be re-elected to the post at least.
desperance
May. 6th, 2010 11:34 am (UTC)
Yup. Clearly there is an advantage, in that it's easier to get rid of incompetents. On the other hand, it would seem to be a system far more likely to introduce incompetents... (I am ... cynical about popularity contests, both in literary awards and positions of authority.)
owlfish
May. 6th, 2010 11:38 am (UTC)
It occurs to me that there is another slight vetting process. The races are generally dominated by the two main parties in the US - so candidates being fielded at least had to be approved by the party as candidates. It is not much vetting at all, but at least it's some.

There are so many levels of government that newbies are most likely to get a very local office. This also means that if they make a mess of it, it's more likely to affect fewer people. In theory, anyways.
owlfish
May. 6th, 2010 11:43 am (UTC)
It was interesting for me to look at the candidate's websites this morning. The thing that sells in this sort of popularity contest in the US is, by default, family and reliability. Three generations are better than two. Emphasizing one's rural or poor roots is good too, if an option, in keeping with the whole self-made man (or woman) ideal which still persists. A hand-waving gesture towards religiousness without being overt by it is usual. ('Active in his local church group.') A whole resume of past jobs to show how well-rounded and hard-working they are.

Even contestants for relatively minor offices end up having visible, documented debates, so there's that for theoretical policy insight.
desperance
May. 6th, 2010 11:25 am (UTC)
PS
Does your qualification to vote in these matters lapse, after a period of time absent from Iowa? Or is it a lifetime entitlement, regardless of where you actually live?
owlfish
May. 6th, 2010 11:31 am (UTC)
Re: PS
It's a lifetime entitlement. It's tied to a particular address, however, the last place I was registered to vote while living in the US. In this case, my parents still live there so it's easy. I'm less secure as to what would happen if they moved.

Friends in Canada, who had not lived in the US since they were very small, were able to vote from the last place they had lived there, even thought they were not yet of voting age at the time.
ladybird97
May. 6th, 2010 01:19 pm (UTC)
Re: PS
Thank you! I was going to ask about this, since I'd really like to vote in the election this November but will be living in Canada then. So I can just leave my voter registration where it is and request an absentee ballot even though I won't be living there in November?
owlfish
May. 6th, 2010 01:45 pm (UTC)
Re: PS
Yes, although don't take my personal experience as legal advice! I can guarantee you will have a vote, but if you have a moment now, you might as well contact your local county elections supervisor via website (which might well resolve it on its own), email, or telephone to ask about the logistics of it.

I've been an absentee Iowa voter for over a decade now (with the exception of the last caucuses, for which I was physically present). Happily, they've recently taken to assuming that those of us who are absentee voters several times in a row at the same other address are so until further notice, which is why I received this primary ballot. I actually hadn't noticed there was a forthcoming primary to request a ballot for!
owlfish
May. 6th, 2010 11:32 am (UTC)
Re: PS
Lifetime entitlement unless I moved to a different US state, that is, in which case I would then become a voter in that state instead.

Nationally, I only get one vote per office, of course.

Edited at 2010-05-06 11:33 am (UTC)
friend_of_tofu
May. 6th, 2010 11:32 am (UTC)
:-)
cartesiandaemon
May. 6th, 2010 11:46 am (UTC)
"real" elections?

National? Secondary?

I come from a country where we vote on all sorts of things

I always find it surprising too, but I don't know whether it's a good idea or not. It suffers because most people don't know enough about most of the races, but I don't know if people WOULD have strong opinions if they had the time to learn about it
owlfish
May. 6th, 2010 11:56 am (UTC)
"Real" elections are not always national, and secondary definitely has the wrong sound to it. Hmm.

The voting-on-all-sorts-of-things is why voting numbers are often relatively low for the more obscure offices. Plenty of people will just cast their ballot for the big race or three on the ballot and leave the rest blank. Which means that very few people indeed can end up deciding some of the local races.

I do love being able to vote so much, to make use of my enfranchisement, although being able to vote rarely would indeed make being able to do so - say, today - even more special.

(Now the length of campaign seasons in the US - that I am not excited by. Presidential candidates, to name the most extreme example, must generally start campaigning on some level a bare minimum of two years before the election. Plus, since the Constitution was written before planes, trains, and automobiles, it allows several months for the newly-elected to travel. Thus, the two months of "sitting duck president" we regularly get.)
austengirl
May. 6th, 2010 12:45 pm (UTC)
Thankfully that was shortened in the 20th century, Inauguration Day used to be in March!

Edited at 2010-05-06 12:45 pm (UTC)
daisho
May. 6th, 2010 12:01 pm (UTC)
I'm dubious about electing police chiefs, public lawyers et al. for the same reason I'm unsure about the TV debates ahead of this General Election -- someone with the gift of the gab is that bit more likely to get the job than someone who can actually do it well.

But then I'm not sure how much my opinion counts, since I don't trust the electorate at large anyway. Among other odd viewpoints, I maintain the outdated position of supporting an unelected House of Lords. The Watchdog of the Constitution is pretty effectively muzzled if those sitting in it have to worry about their popularity as well as their duty, IMHO.
owlfish
May. 6th, 2010 12:12 pm (UTC)
I think the House of Lords is useful too. In the US, the closest structural equivalent isn't the senate, but the Supreme Court, since those are appointments for life. Appointments for life encourage the appointees to think long-term in a way that most of the rest of government has no incentive to think. (By the way, I don't know if all states reconfirm judiciary appointments, but if they do, they're state justices, not national ones!)
owlfish
May. 6th, 2010 12:17 pm (UTC)
Although obviously there's the High Court as well here.
makyo
May. 6th, 2010 01:07 pm (UTC)
Yes, I'm in favour of slightly reforming the House of Lords, but keeping it (a) appointed and (b) nominally for life. The independent appointments commission seems to do a pretty good job of selecting and appointing non-party-affiliated experts, and I think it should get to properly vet the political appointments too: instead of merely checking that they're not outrageous crooks, they should also be able to say "yes, but does this person bring some real expertise to the House too?".

It irritates me that the response of the main political parties to problems with the Commons is "let's reform the Lords" - especially since I don't think that most people are particularly bothered about whether the Lords are elected.
(Deleted comment)
owlfish
May. 6th, 2010 01:48 pm (UTC)
Whereas I'm voting in the place I grew up, so I've known some of these candidates since I was very young indeed.

Since my native country tolerates dual citizenship, I may well be able to vote in the next general election here. I'm just as glad that this will probably give me the better part of five years in which to understand the cast of characters better.
daisho
May. 6th, 2010 04:00 pm (UTC)
I suspect a fair number of the cast will be different in five years' time -- although a hung Parliament could bring the next General Election rather sooner than in five years.
makyo
May. 6th, 2010 12:55 pm (UTC)
Actually, I have four votes today. Two of my own (which I cast earlier on, in the polling station skip at the end of our road), and two on behalf of my friend Graham, late of Allesley Old Road, Coventry, who now lives in New Jersey. Since his votes are tied to his most recent address in the UK, I have to cycle over to Allesley primary school sometime today in order to cast his votes.
owlfish
May. 6th, 2010 01:46 pm (UTC)
I wasn't counting the two which aren't yours, even if you are enacting them. (That was probably obvious.)

Although in terms of why I was posting: the more votes you get to put in, the better!
( 25 comments — Leave a comment )