The winds of change are beginning to sweep across the American political landscape. For those of us living outside the United States, the 2008 election is an interesting opportunity to observe the American electoral system and compare it to that of other democracies (like the French republican or the British parliamentary system, for example).
All of the attention being given to state caucuses or primaries was never something I clearly understood until I realized the importance of what Americans call "electors." At first I didn't comprehend the difference between "electors" and typical "voters". In Canada, we tend to use the term interchangeably. However, the difference in the U.S. is crucial. That's because the president and the vice-president are the only elected federal officials that are not elected by direct popular vote. Instead, they are put into office by the Electoral College, which is made up of citizens and party representatives -- "electors" -- chosen state-by-state during the long and arduous campaign.
History.com, in remembrance of the first American presidential election that brought George Washington to power, today posted a good summary (Jan. 7) of how the system works.
At the end of the campaign "marathon," after the big national election day in November and the results of the popular vote have been recorded, then the official electors meet in each state and cast their votes in representation of the voting public in their state.
History.com writes,"Although electors aren't constitutionally mandated to vote for the winner of the popular vote in their state, it is demanded by tradition and required by law in 26 states and the District of Columbia (in some states, violating this rule is punishable by a $1,000 fine). Historically, over 99 per cent of all electors have cast their ballots in line with the voters."
The American system has been followed faithfully since 1789, as set out in the U.S. Constitution. Many debate the merits or weaknesses of this system. Is it antiquated? Is it fair? You can decide for yourself. As for me, I find it interesting to follow.
The Boston Globe recently published a handy guide to the caucuses and primaries, including comments on what is happening in each state and a draft schedule. Did you know that Republicans in Hawaii hold neither a primary nor a caucus? The Globe's special section is available here.
My thanks to Steve Woods in the U.K. for his photograph of the voting boxes with pencil and to Mike Thorn in the U.S. for his photograph of the White House.
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