Elections: how does America compare?

American elections are absolute marathons. The Republican primaries started in 2011, followed by the Democratic & Republican conventions, and finally the debates and campaign season. And we're still a week away. Consider this. The last British election, in 2010, was a month long. The longest election in Canadian history was 74 days. However, unlike the United States, we have a Parliamentary system which is very different to American elections. Americans get to elect their leader directly. We don't. We elect a party, through Members of Parliament. Think of it this way: We elect members for the House of Representatives. Whoever has the most members of the House would have control of the government. Our Prime Minister is a member of the House. Canada's Senate, like the British House of Lords remains largely unelected and its power is limited. The House is by far the most dominant, eliminating a confrontation between the House and Senate.

Of course, a major problem with many voting systems is the idea of the popular vote. In Canada, in a multi-party system, a party can gain power with under 50% of the voters and have absolute control. In the United States, the electoral college can anger many voters. In 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote, but lost the election. This could happen again in this election and could cause a hostile reaction.

Talking to Wy Spano, Founder and Co-Director of the MAPL program at the University of Minnesota Duluth, he explains “I would think the worst possible outcome, in terms of partisan reaction, would be for Romney to win the popular vote but Obama to win the electoral college vote. This is what happened in 2000: Gore won the popular vote but Bush won the election after the Supreme Court intervened to stop the Florida recount. Despite that, Obama appears to be so viscerally hated by many Republicans that his losing the popular vote and winning the presidency would create even more partisan gridlock than there is now, and there’s plenty now.”

Despite the partisan anger that can occur through an electoral college system, the American system is brilliantly crafted to allow for a separation of powers. Unfortunately, as many Americans can see, this has its downside. It's very difficult to pass anything with such separation. Parliamentary democracy is a bit different. Elections can turn out two ways. The first way is through a majority victory. If one party is able to win the most amount of seats in Parliament, they essentially have absolute control. They can enact the legislation they wish. Of course, this allows for things to get done. The downside is that the opposing party is powerless and the electorate may be very unhappy with what's going on. Elections are more clearly defined in our system. Problems can't be blamed on the other side since all decisions are decided by the governing party.

The second outcome is a minority victory. This happens when one party doesn't have a majority, but has the most seats. Usually, the winning party can then form a coalition with another party or work with other parties depending on the legislation.It fosters bi-partisanship, something severely lacking in American politics. Consider the case in Britain. The Conservatives have been in a coalition with the Liberal-Democrats (think more left than the Democrats) for over two years. In this sytem parties must co-operate with each other. There is consensus in government, but legislation is enacted a little more slowly. The problem, unfortunately, is instability.

In Canada, we had minority governments from 2004-2011. Parties had to work with each other. Unfortunately, when co-operation breaks down, elections are called and they are called often. We had an election in 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2011. Even though our elections are over in about a month, Canadians were generally exhausted with the constant elections. The positive side? We, generally, can work together.

BY: MICHAEL SCOTT scot0459@d.umn.edu

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