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                  Democrat Donkey   
                                              8 November 2012  Vol 7, Issue 13
Two perspectives on the US Presidential Election


CNN Master Class in 21st Century Election Coverage


I do not intend to delve into the political fortunes which rose and fell yesterday, except to declare myself relieved with the outcome - specially as this means I am not required to invest in the magic underpants worn as part of the challenger's religious observance.


No, what struck me, and had me glued to the screen from before the polls closed until they called it for Obama, was the unbelievably professional coverage of the count by CNN. 

CNN Studio The studio seemed as large as a football field with several areas reserved for focus on different aspects of the tally. I was not alone in being impressed. The Washington Post said "CNN destroys cable competition on election night". CNN scored a High Distinction from me in several categories:
  • Firstly the technology was mind-boggling. Again, as described by the Washington post the CNN studio is a high-tech political-data clearinghouse with "magic walls" and an  insane number of monitors - 109 compared to 12 previously. The system facilitated the finest breakdowns in election numbers down to County level. Construction of the facility took 504 days, according to CNN.

Secondly, CNN made best use of its big shiny toy - hands stroking screens across the wall and zeroing in or out on detail using fingers like a massive iPad. The data was updated continuously - even on the screen being viewed. As results came in the presenters were able to show voting comparisons, at the minutest levels between this election, last election and many before it.


The CNN system also kept us up-to-date with the House and Senate election results.


To avoid slick overdose we were also witness to a team of reporters in the battleground states at the actual count and getting local officials to read out progressive results - sometimes from scraps of paper. It was a nice contrast with Mission Control.


CNN had massive screens of its broadcast in many locations around the US and cameras also catching the mood of those attending the events.


But to save the best to last, the coverage was unbiased and delivered with utmost professionalism. 


Election CallThe Studio was so large is had three anchors, more than most warships! Wolf Blitzer (I thought he was a wine maker), Anderson Cooper and John King all anchored their own part of ship in a balanced way and handling the technology superbly.

It was so good that any comparison with other Channels, whether US redneck, Sky, ABC or good ol' PBS would be unfair.


Master Class in how not to conduct an election in the world's "greatest" democracy

Each time the US goes to vote we see an electoral system that has exceeded its use-by date. 

As the President was giving his acceptance speech around d 11 pm, people in Florida and other parts of the country were still waiting to vote three hours after voting closed and after five hours standing in line - remember voting is not compulsory!!


This just highlights one of many flaws in the electoral system in the world's "greatest democracy"! 

It is worth looking at the system when one sees articles headlined "What India can teach the US about electoral process" and "Russia Criticizes US. Election Process"!


Whilst voting is "past the post" and is not compulsory, the electors are not voting for the President. This task is assigned to the "Electoral College" - small numbers of individuals in each State who cast their vote for the President - most often in line with the majority wish - but not always. This is why you can have the Bush/Gore outcome where Gore clearly out polled Bush in the popular vote but Bush won the College vote (with a little help in Florida from bro Jed).


The actual method of voting varies from place to place. Some are mechanical (DRE lever machines) or the dreaded punch machines (remember hanging chads?). Others use the normal ballot paper approach. Ballot papers can be huge and contain voting on many other specific issues such as same sex marriage or abortion. Some voters are required to show ID, others aren't - you can imagine who these might be within each camp. Interpretation of local rules is left to minor officials many of whom are clearly partisan to one side or the other.


Yesterday some polling stations ran out of ballot papers - what!!?? Many turned up to find their names had disappeared from the electoral roll despite having lived at the same address for 20 years. Others were directed to booths far across town (after queuing for five hours at the first location). Remember this is voluntary - can you imagine our reaction to these insanities in Australia?


Finally, election day was on a Tuesday!! That's why most people rolled up to vote after work standing in freezing cold queues (both near and far) as the close of voting approached. 


The whole system needs a work-over like the CNN studio. This will never happen as States need to vote a 75% majority for electoral change. The Indians make 5 comparisons between their system and the creaky US system. Rember India, a developing country has a population of around 1.3 billion - four times that of the USA.
  • First, electronic voting. India is 100 percent on electronic voting machines (EVMs).e Ann Romney vote in Belmont. AP
  • Second, all voters get a level information field. Their votes are counted only after the polling is over.  This is a flaw in out own system where votes in the West could be influenced by the progressive count in the East.
  • Third, Indian voters get a holiday to vote. American voters don't. 
  • Four, unlike India, the US does not have an independent election commission. Local officials, who are often blatantly partisan, are given enormous powers to determine the outcomes of close elections.
  • Five, voting is often more tedious in America. This year the Florida ballot runs into more than 20 pages and took over 15 minutes to complete!
  • Six, in the US presidential race, even losers can win.
By the sound of it, the Indian system also leaves Australia's ageing system wallowing in its wake.


I guess the miracle is that despite these gaping flaws, we had a result within three hours with over 100,000,000 votes counted.

As Churchill might have said "the worst system in the world - except all the others."


Well - there's never a shortage of news to pad out the columns of this little newsletter. I hope my articles make you think - even challenge your assumptions.

As always - feedback is most welcome. 

Cheers for now
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