Election day is upon the U.S. once again, and this one ought to be the dooziest of all doozies. Buckle in.
Though I haven’t physically cast a ballot in the U.S. in several years, I’ve done so many times in the past. I was one of those Democracy enthusiast people who voted in local school board elections and the whole lot of ’em. Luckily, I never encountered many problems at my polling places, but after voting in Australia a couple of times, I’ve taken away a few best practices that I’m certain would make the American election season and the process of voting much easier, and infinitely less frustrating for everyone.
And, just to be fair, Aussies don’t have everything worked out perfectly … those meter long Senate ballot papers?? We’ll chat next go ’round, Australia!
Short Election Seasons
I don’t know about you guys, but I’m starting to feel like I’ve aged dozens of years since the start of this campaign season – and that’s not just because of how many wrinkles screaming at the TV during the debates has given me. In truth, Clinton announced her candidacy in April 2015 – 19 MONTHS AGO – and Trump just one month later. In this insane amount of time, the campaigns have looked for increasingly wild ways to stay on top of the news cycle and keep voters’ attention. This involves doing nearly anything aside from talking about actual policy, which has been hardly a passing thought over this long, long, painfully long season.
My American friends, this is going to sound impossible to believe, but in Australia, an election must happen between 33 and 58 days after it has been called. DAYS. And, here’s what I’ve noticed about that – candidates have to get out there and hustle on the quick, and we, including the media, actually talk about issues and policy positions. Of course, there’s some mud-slinging, but I’ve yet to see it get anywhere near as personal and ugly as in these never ending American contests.
There’s been a lot of talk this year about “not throwing away your vote” on a 3rd party. That it’s “too important to make sure that the other guy isn’t elected.” While I get the sentiment, I’m personally of the belief that you should vote for whoever reflects your values and the values you want for your country better than anyone else. The more voices in the conversation, the more interesting things get, in my estimation. And, frankly, some people are never going to vote for the major party candidates because they just can’t stand either of them.
In Australian elections, however, you don’t just choose one the person you like the best. You actually put your candidates in order of preferences, and if the vote count is close, those preferences come into play until a 50%+ winner is decided. For me, in the last election, I wasn’t crazy about either of the two major parties, but there was certainly one I liked better than the other. But, I really wanted to give my vote to a few of the small parties whose platforms reflected my interests a lot better. So, I preferenced two minor parties, and then the major party third, knowing full well that if it got close, my vote would go to the major party that I disliked the least, but I still got to give my nod of support to the smaller parties I preferred.
Who’s number 1?
Vote Anywhere in Your State
The first time I voted in Australia, I was in a bit of a tizzy because I was trying desperately to find “my” polling place. In the U.S., there’s only one local school or hall for the local area where you reside at which you’re able to cast your vote. If, for any reason, you’re not going to be near that particular location on election day, it takes some planning ahead – either voting early (where available), arranging for an absentee ballot, or just calling it too hard and skipping it, altogether. What I discovered about Australian elections, however, is that you can vote at any polling place in your state. You may have to go into a separate line if you’re voting outside of your council area, but it’s allowed. So, if you’re travelling or working away from your home area on election day, it’s no issue to cast your ballot.
Elections in the U.S. are always on Tuesdays. Do you know why? Because once upon a time, it took a full day to travel to the county seat from your little country farm (supposing you were a land owning white man and eligible to vote), so elections needed to be on a day that didn’t interfere with either Sunday church services or Wednesday market days. And, so totally logically, even though most of us don’t ride horse carriages to our polling places any longer, and Wednesday is just cloyingly best known as “Hump Day” now, we haven’t changed things … even though most people now actually have to go to work on Tuesdays. And, yes, employers are technically required to give you time off to vote, for many people it’s just too inconvenient, either because you’re too busy, too far away from your polling place, or your employer isn’t as supportive as they ought to be.
Yes, early voting – where available – does help with work conflicts – but, what if we just voted on a day when a lot more people have the day off? Like Saturday? Of course there are people who work on Saturdays – there is no perfect day – but far fewer than Tuesdays. I mean … Tuesday? Plus, when the election is on Saturday, it doesn’t hurt nearly so much the next day when you stay up all night watching the results come in, celebrating/drowning your sorrows.
Speaking of celebrating – can you imagine if election day was like a big ol’ party? Bake sales, maybe your kid can get her face pained or have a listen to the local school’s musical talent. And, do not forget the sausages! In Australia, the “sausage sizzle” is almost synonymous with elections. Get your “Democracy sausage!” Local schools and community groups use elections as fundraisers, and everyone sees taking part in the festivities as part of the experience. Polling places are a festive atmosphere, not an onerous chore to dread. Gives new meaning to “Rock the Vote!”
***You might notice that I left the biggest difference between American and Australian voting off this list – compulsory voting. Frankly, I like it, but I think there’s arguments to be made for and against it, and it’s a much, much, much bigger topic than this article. Let’s live through this election and then talk again soon, shall we?
Go get, ’em, America! And, Florida, don’t screw this up for everyone!