The US voting system is so complex, it's no wonder voters stay home

by Joanne Black / 01 July, 2018
A voter fills out a ballot at a polling location in Bennett, Iowa, U.S., on Tuesday, June 5, 2018. Photo/Getty Images

A voter fills out a ballot at a polling location in Bennett, Iowa on June 5, 2018. Photo/Getty Images

RelatedArticlesModule - Us voting system

In the United States, turnout in the last mid-terms was 36.4%, the lowest rate for 70 years.

The US, which often speaks as though it invented democracy, offers a lot of opportunities for those who like to vote. Some of those opportunities – the mid-term primaries – are occurring now.

In this round of voting, people who are registered with either the Democrats or the Republicans can vote for the candidates they most want their respective party to field in each contest come the real mid-term elections in November. Here in Montgomery County, Maryland, where I live just across the Washington DC border, candidates’ lawn signs are flourishing like weeds. The process varies state by state, but voters in this district are choosing Republican and Democratic candidates to contest one senate seat representing Maryland’s “District 8” in the US Senate, and the same for Congress. Other than the incumbents, the only local senate candidate I have heard of is convicted leaker Chelsea Manning. I do not fancy her chances. But wait, there’s more. Much more.

For Maryland’s state government, voters are picking candidates for governor, lieutenant [deputy] governor, comptroller, attorney general, one senator and three delegates. Locally, for the county, electors are choosing their preferred party’s candidates for the county executive, county council, state attorney, register of wills (like, why?), sheriff, judges of the Sixth Circuit Court, clerk of the Circuit Court, the board of education and the Orwellian-sounding “Party Central Committees”, which, as the name suggests, are elections for local officers of the Democratic and Republican parties.

For every position except the board of education, voters must be registered with either party in order to vote for their candidates. When you go to vote, you are given only the ballot for the party with which you are registered.

This is like the play-offs ahead of the finals. In New Zealand, I have scoffed at the suggestion that voting is onerous. Here it is a valid argument, although I do see merit in party faithful having a say in choosing their leaders.

This summary does not even begin to address the gerrymandering and various forms of disenfranchisement that go on to limit voter participation. Whether it works, or whether most people would not bother voting even if they could, is hard to say. Turnout in the last mid-terms, in 2014, was 36.4%, the lowest participation rate for 70 years. When it comes to democracy, too much of a good thing can be too much.

This article was first published in the June 30, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

The National get in touch with their feminine side in I Am Easy to Find
107163 2019-06-19 00:00:00Z Music

The National get in touch with their feminine side…

by James Belfield

As The National announce two intimate theatre shows in Auckland, James Belfield reviews their brave and collaborative new album.

Read more
German violinist Carolin Widmann brings her daring style to NZ
107272 2019-06-19 00:00:00Z Music

German violinist Carolin Widmann brings her daring…

by Elizabeth Kerr

The award-winning musician will make her NZSO debut playing Stravinsky’s only violin concerto.

Read more
In defence of NZ Rugby boss Steve Tew
107277 2019-06-19 00:00:00Z Sport

In defence of NZ Rugby boss Steve Tew

by Paul Thomas

Naysayers may rail against rugby’s continued “corporatisation” under Steve Tew, but he’s given them plenty to applaud as well.

Read more
How New Zealand's community newspapers are bucking the trend
107362 2019-06-19 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

How New Zealand's community newspapers are bucking…

by Venetia Sherson

Community newspapers are bucking the trend, as enterprising new owners breath life back into them.

Read more
What filmmaker Andrea Bosshard learned from her goldsmith father Kobi
107381 2019-06-19 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

What filmmaker Andrea Bosshard learned from her go…

by Ken Downie

Filmmaker Andrea Bosshard inherited a creative streak from her goldsmith father Kobi but he also taught her an important life lesson.

Read more
Will Uber disrupt itself with its Jump scooters?
107383 2019-06-19 00:00:00Z Tech

Will Uber disrupt itself with its Jump scooters?

by Peter Griffin

Around 800 electric scooters arrived in Wellington this week, with local start-up Flamingo and Uber-owned Jump launching at virtually the same time.

Read more
Libra: Why Facebook is the best and worst company to create a cryptocurrency
107416 2019-06-19 00:00:00Z Tech

Libra: Why Facebook is the best and worst company…

by Peter Griffin

There is a strong incentive for Facebook to own the crypto space, the way it has social media.

Read more
Win a double pass to Yesterday
107340 2019-06-18 09:48:44Z Win

Win a double pass to Yesterday

by The Listener

Yesterday, everyone knew The Beatles. Today, only Jack remembers their songs. He’s about to become a very big deal.

Read more