Tuesday, June 23, 2009

7 Reasons Why Australian Democracy Kicks The Hell Out of American Democracy

I actually had no intention of following up my previous post with one about politics, but such are the vagaries of my mind that it has in fact happened.

I have no problem with the idea of spreading democracy to countries toiling under a series of despots. I'm not convinced, however, that the American model for democracy is one that should be foisted on unsuspecting countries. I'm not even going to go into the actual governance that occurs after the populace exercises their democratic duty (yeah, that's right duty). Without further ado, here's one reason Australians can lord it over Americans for every day of the week:

1. We Have Preferential Voting
The US uses a plurality voting system, in which the person with the most votes wins, which all but guarantees a strict two party system. I don't want to write a thesis on it, but if there's three options with two most likely and one outsider, voting for the outsider is basically a wasted vote. Wikipedia or informed people can explain further if you need convincing.

2. We Have No Electoral College System
The electoral college system for presidential voting contains a couple of levels of more or less transparent complexity, but at its heart is the idea that each state gets a number of electoral college votes. Whichever candidate gets the majority in that state then gets all of the electoral college votes. This is an entirely unnecessary level of abstraction which doesn't reflect 1:1 the preferences of the voter. When voting directly for a head of state, there's no good reason not to simply give everybody one vote and add them all up. This isn't comparable to Australia because...

3. We Don't Vote For The Prime Minister
Well, the PM's electorate does, but everyone else votes only for their local member. By extension they are voting for the party, and therefore for the current head of the party to be PM. The important thing about this though is that the party can change leaders, and hence PM, whenever they want. While this might sound strange to presidential voters, it means that Australian voters should be considering more the ideals and policies of the party rather than the personality of the PM. And yes, I know the PM is not the Australian head of state.

4. We Have Enforced Compulsory Voting
This is the big one. When everybody has to vote at the risk of a monetary penalty, they vote. This means that explicit targeting of minority groups or groups with traditionally high voter turnout is less effective and therefore policy discussion is wider ranging and more applicable to the majority. Also it means that the general awareness of political debate is a little bit higher. I don't normally say things this definite, but if you're against compulsory voting in national elections, you're a moron.

5. We Vote On The Weekend
Combine voluntary voting with the fact that voting is on a work day and you can almost guarantee low voter turn out. Hold it on a weekend when almost everybody has a spare fifteen minutes to go and vote. Oh, and have enough polling booths that people don't have to stand in line for hours to vote. On election days in Australia, I have three polling booths within five minutes walk. It's easier and quicker to vote than to go and buy milk.

6. Our Government Takes Power When Elected
Allowing for the week or so required to do full counts for every electorate and so forth, once election results are known, the new PM is sworn in. In the last election, this took about two weeks. In the US, the outgoing president gets to hang around in office twiddling his (or her) thumbs for approximately two months. The president elect sort of hangs around awkwardly off to one side, half meeting foreign heads of government and everyone shuffles their feet waiting for January 20. Go go 20th Amendment.

7. Antony Green
If your elections aren't being covered by Antony Green, then you're getting ripped off.

Edit: Both systems kick the hell out of the Iranian system.


  1. Good post. Three things I think that spring to mind about US vs AU, one good, one bad, one interesting.

    1. Voting for judges is bad, mmkay.

    2. I wonder what the impacts of having cabinet made up of non-MPs are.

    3. I wish we had a bill of rights.

  2. Anthony Green. That man is brilliant.

  3. 1. Yes

    2. I think it tends to get better qualified people into the cabinet, which is good. However, I think there's also something to be said for a more Jim Hacker/ Sir Humphrey relationship. That way the really qualified person can stay regardless of administration. The best option would be if highly qualified individuals had a penchant for running for public office.

    3. I'm not so sure. I think, much like the US president's pardon rights, it points to a fundamental distrust of the judicial arm of ther government. I wouldn't object to having one, or maybe just making the UN Declaration of Human Rights legally binding.


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