Six questions on the Presidential elections

There are some things about US Presidential elections I have never understood. Every four years, I find myself asking the same questions, as the same set of issues crops up.Ā  I have never found a good answer to these questions:

1. Why don’t they declare a holiday on Election Day? Why do they force people to line up for hours before or after work? How many people can take so much time off from work to vote?

If you live in Connecticut and work in NYC, you cannot vote in an hour, or even during the day. If you start for work at 6 am and leave work by 6 pm, do you have to line up in the dark to vote either at dawn or dusk?

2. Why is it okay for candidates to campaign even on election day and for television ads from political action committees to run even on election day, but why, in some states, are voters not allowed to vote wearing a T-shirt or even a button with a candidate’s name? I am trying to understand the logic here – voters will not be influenced by the television ad they see just before they head out to vote, they will not be influenced by the affiliation of the campaign worker who drives them to the polling booth, but they will be influenced by the lettering on someone’s T-shirt or the tiny button they see?

3. Why do they not make voter lists easier? Everyone has a driver’s license or a state ID. They do check your immigration status when you apply for a license/ ID. Why cannot they add a line about citizenship in the driver’s license? Wouldn’t that be an easy proof and save the hand-wringing every four years?

4. Why do so many people have misconceptions about voting? Who spreads these rumors? Who spread the rumor that Democrats should vote on Nov. 5th while everyone else votes on Nov. 4th?

Who spread the rumor that you cannot vote if you have tax arrears or a foreclosed house or have a police record?

Why do political parties, who spend millions digging up and publicizing real and imagined dirt on their opponents, not spend a dime to put out television ads to set the record straight?

5. On a related note – shouldn’t the homeless be allowed to vote too? Given how many homeless there are, shouldn’t there be some system – like a letter from a shelter, or a social service worker? How can you have a situation where people are turned away because they do not have proof of address?

6. Why do they allow individual counties to design their own ballots? We all know how confusing Palm Beach County, FL ballots were in 2000. Yet, this election, Palm Beach county was again allowed to design its ballot and it came up with another masterpiece. Palm Beach believes in being unique, apparently. so they didn’t want the simple checkboxes or filled circles that other FL counties had. Their new ballot design had two parts of a broken arrow wth a gap in between – voters were supposed to shade the gap to make the broken arrow whole. If this sounds to you like a child’s playschool assignment, well, I take it you are never moving to Palm Beach county šŸ™‚

This is a country where people believe in having one national standard for everything ranging from window panel sizes to store layouts. Why, then, don’t they have a standard ballot design? Why take the risk of disenfranchising thousands of voters – especially the poor, the elderly and the not-so-literate?

Do you think they will resolve these issues over the next four years? Do you also, like me, have things you find puzzling about the elections?

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20 thoughts on “Six questions on the Presidential elections

  1. Yes…Two.Why aren’t most people aware of the MLAs? and why don’t people come out to vote?

    You mean MLAs in India or the Congressmen here? Here, most people do know their Congress rep, and write to them giving their opinion on current topics. Why don’t more people vote? That comes to the discussion on the marginal value of a vote..

  2. @ Lekhni:

    Good questions all.

    I think no. 3, if executed, will have to believe in the fairness of the police. Going by how many stories of brutality we hear, the one line could single many immigrants out for needless extra questioning. At least in the UK, it is an ethnic minority that gets stopped and searched more often than others. I think it is fair not to put immigration status there. Besides if people aren’t even capable of putting together a proof of identity and a proof of address (this relates obliquely to no. 5 – if this was not needed, then homeless people could vote), should they really be voting? What do they understand of what they are voting for after all? People who do not understand issues are the most easily confused and most easily influenced.

    “This is a country where people believe in having one national standard for everything ranging from window panel sizes to store layouts. Why, then, don?t they have a standard ballot design?”

    I think it is ambitious to combine local, state and federal issues on the same ballot paper (and relates to no.1 in not giving people the day off). Are campaigners on all issues allowed to run TV ads on the day of voting or only Presidential ones? Cynically it looks like politicians on any side of the ideological divide are happy to keep voters confused.

    The standards in windows and beds, for instance, suggest that while competing players in industry can come up with a way to agree on something, competing players in politics can’t. I would say it is a question of political will. šŸ™‚

    On your point #1, I certainly don’t agree that homeless people shouldn’t be voting because they may not understand the issues. We have no evidence of that, or even that people who are not homeless understand all the issues, or even if they did, that they voted based on the issues. After all, the current President’s chief perceived qualification was being someone you could have a beer with. Speaking of knowing issues, you’d expect that candidates running for office, who are in a position to influence issues, should know something about them, but we didn’t even see that in Palin. So why blame the homeless alone? šŸ™‚

    On #2, you are right, if it suits a certain party to keep a segment of voters confused, they will šŸ˜¦

  3. Hi Lekhni,
    Wonderful post, as usual.
    You did mention no. 1 elsewhere and yes, I totally agree that it is baffling why they don’t have the day off. However, it is heartening to see that despite them having to take time out of their regular day, so many people turn out to vote!
    I had no idea about the other points. I can’t believe there’s a law like you mentioned in no.2! Yeah, it really seems stupid, doesn’t it.
    Thanks for the link to the earlier ballot paper from Palm Beach….Wow, it is indeed confusing? What’s the point they’re trying to make here?

    Keep it coming, Lekhni!! BTW, we can comment in other languages? Coooll!!

    #2 is the law in about ten states..yes, I cannot see the logic either šŸ™‚
    You can now comment in some Indian languages – try it out and see if it works! A few kinks to be ironed out, but should work!

  4. lolz, can’t help smiling at the first question itself.

    Why don?t they declare a holiday on Election Day?

    In Mizoram, the Football world cup Semi-Finals and Finals were declared State Holidays! hehehe…. ah the difference between developed nations and tiny close-knitted states *GRIN*

    That’s wonderful šŸ™‚ Also pragmatic and wise. Even better for the government if they make a Saturday or Sunday as a working day instead of these days – that way, everyone is happy!

  5. So I guess the voting and election procedure are the best in the largest democracy of the world after all!

    Give me paper ballots any day! At least they definitely have a paper trail.

  6. Very good post. I swear, why dont they have holiday on that day? No doubt its a very big day, and they’re only gonna loose if people dont go to vote.
    Yeah, in India, the ads/ campaigning has to stop some days before elections, and here they were doing it until the last minute. This is my first election in the US, I did not vote but seeing it all for the first time.

    You will notice more hilarious stuff with each election šŸ˜€

  7. Oh, right, elections. I *sort* of remember that topic šŸ™‚
    #6 is the biggest mystery to me.
    BTW, homeless people *can* vote. But the law varies from state to state.

    You are right. This is a good chart to start with. Having said that, as this account shows, homeless people sometimes did get turned away even in this election šŸ˜¦

  8. This might answer some of your questions. (Yes, I know the Wikipedia can be a dubious source, but I see no reason why the page on US Elections could have any major inaccuracies.)

    It certainly has some info on the different state laws on election day holidays, but shouldn’t there be one website where they have all this info and every other detail you need to know (like wearing campaign buttons), where you can select your state and know what to expect? šŸ˜¦

  9. Why do they not have electronic voting machines? I never really understood that..

    They do have, in some states. Not that those diabolical machines, many of which don’t have paper trails, are any better šŸ™‚

  10. Some of these points were covered in an article in TIME magazine (I’m told there are still a few dozen people who read it). Here – http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1853246_1853243_1853232,00.html

    I’ve been involved in running a few elections myself. It would make sense to compare the systems in the two largest democracies.

    J.A.P.

    I plead guilty to not being one of those few dozen šŸ˜¦ Great article, and makes a good case for why I should read Time more often.

    As the Time article (which came out before the election) shows, these issues are well-known. Yet there is seemingly no progress towards fixing even the easy-to-fix ones, like ballot design. On the bigger issues, like voting machines or voter rolls, we will likely see no action until,perhaps, a few months before the next election šŸ˜¦

  11. @Gooddaysunshine: There are EVMs in US elections. (I voted on an EVM) But they are not available in every county though (goes back to Lekhni’s question about why there are non-standard methods…)

  12. This is interesting. I’d have thought that they’d have simplified the procedure for something as important as voting when they are so particular about making everything idiot-proof.
    What is this about filling out bubbles or completing arrows – when Obama spoke about the 106 year old lady touching the screen I thought it was all computerised?

    In some counties, it is computerized, but not in all šŸ˜¦ But the computerized ones have their issues too – many machines don’t have a paper trail, sometimes (I don’t how often this happens, hopefully rarely) they flip your vote to the other candidate (i.e. if you voted for X, your vote will register for Y), and of course, just when you need them, their touch screens break down and you have to use paper after all..

  13. @ Lekhni

    Hmm. I do not know how you concluded that I said homeless people should not vote. The bit in the bracket refers to the second part ‘proof of address’ which is what may prevent homeless people from voting. The issues bit is separate.

    I said: people, whose capabilities do not stretch to putting together two pieces of ID, probably should not vote. So it is not about having a fixed abode but about having enough brain cells to understand issues (and to cobble together two pieces of paper) none of which has any relationship – and I did not imply one – with the fixed abode bit. In addition, I said that if proof of address wasn’t required, homeless people could easily vote. Now I am still trying to figure out how you concluded that I said homeless people should not vote.

    I was only responding to this part of your comment:
    “What do they understand of what they are voting for after all? People who do not understand issues are the most easily confused and most easily influenced.”

    So then, do I understand correctly that what you are really saying is that it’s not homeless people, but anyone who has below-average intelligence should not vote? I couldn’t agree with that either šŸ˜¦ If we start disallowing people from voting, where do we stop? Who defines what is a high IQ and a low one? The whole point of a democracy is to let everyone have their point of view, however they arrived at it – if they drew straws to decide whom to vote, so be it.

    Incidentally, the issues with homeless people not being able to vote (or get a proof of identity) have nothing to do with their intelligence, but are more about procedural issues/ practical difficulties/ red-tape and so on..

  14. @ Lekhni

    On whether people, who do not understand much of the issues, really should bother to vote, I have a somewhat controversial stand so we shall just have to disagree. šŸ™‚

    You say: “If we start disallowing people from voting..”. I should clarify that I did not say they should not be allowed to vote. That implies the agency of the state. I said whether they should vote (or bother to vote). Subtle difference but one that modifies what I said substantially.

    On your last paragraph, I must reiterate I did not suggest homeless people’s intelligence stood in the way but just that if proof of address wasn’t an essential requirement, they could vote. In that respect, the address requirement is an arbitrary and ‘unequalising’ requirement.

    Few homeless people are born homeless; even fewer are voluntarily homeless. This means that most are in the ‘system’ in one way or another and can establish their identity (assuming all political will is not spent to ensure disenfranchisement).

    Through work done with British charities that help homeless people, I have had some exposure to the issues homeless people face. Red tape aside, some refuse to be housed, and others find it difficult to find permanent or gainful employment. The third sector does a lot – at least in the UK – to ensure the homeless do not fall off the political radar. In the UK, the homeless can register to vote by making a declaration of local connection to an area. So systemically there are several avenues.

    Thanks.

    We will agree to disagree then šŸ™‚
    US laws require an address proof and a declration will not suffice. That said, I am sure there are ways homeless people can find to vote even in the US, but if the procedure is cumbersome/ lengthy or requires enough advance planning, someone who lives on a daily wage is likely to give up šŸ˜¦

  15. Okay, I vote in India and both the EVM and paper are pretty simple to use. The pretty pictures of flowers, cycles, elephants for the not so literates help dramatically to clarify the form. Someone once said that paperless toilet and paperless elections are equally undesirable but as a Wipro consultant know that EVM’s are the way to go- They do not need paper trails they need audit trails.If we can use Electronic records in medicine and clinical trails I am sure voting is not so difficult. BTW we get a holiday here for voting and are expected to proudly show our marked finger to the boss next day. (index not middle).

    The showing the finger part was funny šŸ™‚
    An audit trail is defined as either a paper or an electronic trail. Given issues like vote flipping by EVMs and that unlike double-entry bookkeeping, there is no internal reconciliation possible here, electronic reconciliation is meaningless. One needs a paper trail so the voter can sign off that his vote has been recorded as per his intention. Then, at least in close elections, audit the paper trail (as this NYT op-ed suggests) to ensure that EVM vote totals match the paper trail.

  16. Excellent list, I’ve wondered about these issues too. The type of voting machine we have in New York never ceases to amaze me for its primitiveness!

    What do you have in NYC? Not a touch screen then?

  17. Also (can we please retire that now that Palin is sliding out of the spotlight), you’re tagged.

    That reminds me, with a little tsunami of guilt, that I haven’t done your last tag yet šŸ˜¦ I really need to stop dragging my feet.

  18. Election reform cometh…this would make a good letter to the new savior of all mankind.

    One question i had was: The concept of early voting was to help people save time. They ended up having immensely long lines outside election stations. Why the waste of time and resources?

    Yes, it didn’t help that early voters had to contend with too few polling stations and too short hours šŸ˜¦ Even funnier and ironic was when FL’s Republican Governor extended early voting hours and a Florida Republican said that Crist “just blew Florida for John McCain.”

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