Why Dont More People Vote In America?

Just vote

[twitter]We are in the middle of an American Election Season that seems to have been going on for months. It’s February, there’s still 9 months until “the real election”, and yet debates, primaries, caucuses and stumping has been going on for what feels like a year.

Want to know why more Americans don’t vote? It’s too damn complicated.

Prior to a general election, there is a selection process to determine which candidate will appear on the ballot for a given political party in the nationwide general election. Political parties generally hold national conventions at which a group of delegates collectively decide upon which candidate they will run for the presidency. The process of choosing delegates to the national convention is undertaken at the state level, which means that there are significant differences from state to state and sometimes year to year. The two methods for choosing delegates to the national convention are the caucus and the primary.

Not only different by state, but different by year?

In Canada, we do it the same way, every time. We elect a local representative, an MP. The party with the most elected MP’s forms government, the leader of that party becomes Prime Minister.

When political parties in Canada choose their leaders, they do so at a convention, just like in the US. But in the States, any registered voter can vote in the lead up to these elections, in Canada only registered party members vote.

Caucuses were the original method for selecting candidates but have decreased in number since the primary was introduced in the early 1900’s. In states that hold caucuses a political party announces the date, time, and location of the meeting. Generally any voter registered with the party may attend. At the caucus, delegates are chosen to represent the state’s interests at the national party convention. Prospective delegates are identified as favorable to a specific candidate or uncommitted. After discussion and debate an informal vote is taken to determine which delegates should be chosen.

There are two main types of primaries, closed or open, that determine who is eligible to vote in the primary. In a closed primary a registered voter may vote only in the election for the party with which that voter is affiliated. For example a voter registered as Democratic can vote only in the Democratic primary and a Republican can vote only in the Republican primary. In an open primary, on the other hand, a registered voter can vote in either primary regardless of party membership. The voter cannot, however, participate in more than one primary. A third less common type of primary, the blanket primary, allows registered voters to participate in all primaries.

Confused yet?

The Canadian system works better because, frankly, it’s simpler. We have one election for our national assembly that also picks our PM.

In the States you have to vote in primaries, not all held concurrently, then you’re called back months later to vote again. When it comes to voting for local representatives in the national assembly, you do that at different times too. Not to mention the times you’re voting for judges, sherriffs, dog catchers, referenda and propositions.

The power may be in the hands of the American electorate, but it’s a little bit of overkill, don’t you think?

The Blog According to Buzz. Spread the word, ya heard?

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  1. Jen February 11, 2012 at 7:32 am

    Just to clarify, Buzz, Americans do not have to vote in primaries. In fact, even among voting Americans, quite a few don’t vote in the primaries.

    This is actually a problem, though, because the most extreme party-members are the most motivated to vote in primaries so you end up with more extreme candidates (if you’re following the American election season right now, see Santorum and Gingrich having any popular support whatsoever).

  2. Buzz February 11, 2012 at 7:37 am

    True, but the fact there is a constant parade to the ballot box makes the process confusing as if to say “is it my turn now?”

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