As a Swedish citizen I tend to look at the USA elections with morbid fascination. While we have our own issues with politics the USA seem to go all in and for months the country go into a state of near war like frenzy. While it seem obvious from the outside that the election process in the USA is a strange process that appear promoting corruption, one question always comes up for me: is the USA really a democratic country?
Why would I have this question? Well, there are a few reasons why I wonder just how democratic the USA really is and to what level you can actually claim to be a democratic country. I know this is a touchy subject for some Americans and I rarely write about politics, but I write this because for every election this question is getting louder and louder around the globe.
As I do not claim to be a political expert take this with a grain of salt. It is just my reflections based on my limited understanding of the complex presidential election process in the USA.
Indirect voting system
The USA is not a direct democracy, meaning that the people do not vote for a party or a president directly. They instead employ an indirect elector process where a group of people do the actual election for president and vice president. This group is referred to as the United States Electoral College and while the presidential electors mostly vote according to the popular vote of their state, they are not obligated to. If someone cast their vote differently they are referred to as a faithless elector. In fact there has been incidents where presidential electors
While a federal constitutional republic is technically a democracy, I can't help feeling that if you can't really trust that your vote will actually count towards the desired outcome, then how democratic is that system really? In fairness this has not been used more than 165 times in the history of the USA, but it does happen. 33 states have laws against faithless electors, though the laws in half of these jurisdictions have no enforcement mechanism. In 2016 there were 4 faithless electors.
The Plurality System
The plurality system, or the winner takes all system, is common in the USA. What it means is that only the winner of a certain district count. This means that all votes that is not made on the winning candidate are lost and essentially useless. Because of this system there will be as few candidates as possible to avoid dilution of votes. As a result the people have very limited choices for whom they can vote for.
Not only will this make voting less appealing if the candidates are few and not to your liking, it can also lead to a situation where a presidential candidate loose even if the majority of the people vote for that person.
The Design of voting districts
This is something I did not know existed, but apparently it is the right of the ruling party to redefine the boundaries of voting districts between presidential elections. This even has its own name: Gerrymandering. What it means is that the ruling party redefine voting districts in a way that have the potential to give the best outcome in presidential election. This to me is a very bad way to manipulate the outcome of an election by rigging it beforehand to tip the scales in your favor?
This also have the potential to make it more difficult to know what district you are in and where to go to vote.
Making voting difficult
If designing the districts add a barrier and the plurality system make it less likely that you will vote the design of the vote itself and how information on voting is managed may be worse yet. Back in 2010 there was a big debate over the design of the Florida ballot and how it might have caused people to vote for the wrong candidate. This led to a guideline for better designs of ballots, but it is not enforced as they are just guidelines.
There has been quite a few issues where legal and illegal methods of voter suppression have prevented people from voting, misinformation is used to make it harder to vote and so on. In This election we see quite a few concerns over mail-in ballots for example. Overall it seems that the fear of voter frauds seem a bit strange considering that there are almost no confirmed cases for that in the USA? To me, it seems that the risk of manipulation and corruption is a far greater threat than voter fraud?
Considering the way people's votes are managed, the risk of manipulation through the design of districts, information and the ballots themselves is it fair to say that the USA are not a democratic country? I am not sure to be honest, but I do think that the people in the USA deserve better. I think a good start would be to scrap the United States Electoral College and use a direct voting system so all votes count equally. Then make it as easy as possible to vote and I think many of the issues currently in the USA can be mitigated if not completely fixed?
In the end however this is not up to me to judge or demand a change for. It is up to the people of the USA if they are happy with the current system or if they want to see it changed.
I leave you with a presentation by Mike Monteiro who is slightly more critical than I am. This is from 2017 at a Swedish event called from business to buttons that I attended.