My friend Ken responds to my recent suggest that we radically abridge
the US presidential campaign season. As he notes, the Brits did this some
years ago. While I take issue with the notion that voter turnout is always
“shamefully low” in the US (in the big biennial contests, in fact, the turnout
has been higher–possibly much higher–than we think), this piece is
well worth reading.
While this proposal may appear to be radical here, it is, of course,
standard operating procedure in parliamentary democracies everywhere else.
I’m thinking of Canada in particular but this is also true in the UK and
From the time an election is called, the election is usually held within
6-7 weeks of the “issue of writs” by the Chief Electoral Officer. The law
stipulates that the election cannot be held *earlier* than 36 days after
the issue of writs. An election is almost always held shortly after this
period and usually within eight weeks (56 days) of the issue of writs.
Usually, called elections are timed by governments at favourable periods
and so they have motivation to hold an election as quickly as possible.
But they won’t call elections just because the polls look good. They
would be crucified for such blatant gaming and governments usually pay a
heavy price at the polls for being cutesy with elections. Non-confidence
will also draw an election, obviously, but since parliament is usually
dissolved under these circumstances, holding elections within the usual,
short time frame is regarded as crucial.
Because there is no set time for elections, blatant campaigning is not on
display outside of the period between the issue of writs and election day,
although as we know, politicians are generally campaigning with their
actions all the time. But official campaign periods are not likely longer
than the blessedly short 8 weeks.
Long ago, I realised that the US system forces Americans to spend far too
much time voting and listening to politicians telling them to vote. Major
and minor elections occur every year in this country and I believe this is
one of the biggest reason why voter turnout is shamefully low most of the
time (the recent Democratic primary for the Baltimore mayoral election saw
a 10% percent turnout – 10%! I think LA saw similar numbers last year for
some other damn election for something).
Voting every year does not make for more and better democracy. It makes
for voter apathy, which is fueled not only by a near constant voting
schedule, but by endless campaigning and the relentless and vapid
punditry, which is now spewing claptrap continuously with a year left
until the presidential elections. Does anyone believe that Hillary will
be say anything differently a year from now? No. But we will be awash in
a interminable shower of self-similar sound bites until the day of
elections. And I guarantee that no voter will have any better idea of
Clinton’s positions then than they have now.
The ghastly parade is deadening. It drains people of civic-mindedness.
But one thing is quite clear from the actions of this country’s political
class and it is that civic-mindedness is something the pols simply do not
want brought to the voting booths on election day.