Shambles in Olympia

The election for Governor of the State of Washington (capital: Olympia) has been certified - for now.

As the Secretary of State for Washington, Sam Reed puts it: another recount is a virtual certainty.

This is just as bad as Florida 2000, a shambles caused by idiotic election procedures made worse by a culture of extraordinary complacency.

Because the presidency is not riding on this election, there is not the same degree of venom or media scrutiny. Yet it is unbelievable that for the same election, different counties can use different criteria for issuing provisional ballots, can define a valid ballot using different standards. It is incredible that someone can post a ballot paper on November 2, the day of the election, and it will be counted whenever the US Post Office deigns to deliver it. It is surely a grotesque opportunity for election fraud to allow people to cast "provisional" votes, who are not on the electoral register and may not even be required to provide proof of address, let alone identity.

US election staff do not strike me as achieving the levels of professional competence of those of their British counterparts that I have dealt with. Even without turnout figures that mean that in Washington State more than two and three quarter million votes have been cast, I would fear for the reliability of the system. Having used note counters in banks as a teller and found them unreliable, I do not put much faith in vote counting machines, even without corruption.

Add all of these factors together, throw in a habit of not waiting for polls to close before announcing results, give losing candidates opportunities to appeal to the courts or to politically biased assemblies and it is easy to see why US democracy looks shabby.

To be fair, there are voices for reform in the electoral process that could improve matters. Sam Reed, the Washington Secretary of State himself has outlined proposals that would have helped in 2004.

Also to be fair, no election process involving millions of ballots could stand the precise scrutiny of modern media and the blogosphere.

God help the Iraqi people if the sort of election process used in the US is adopted in Iraq next January. There would be "absentee ballots" turning up in June, legal challenges lasting for years, and even the most mild-mannered democratic politician would find it hard to accept defeat gracefully.

I wouldn't.

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