Making the world safe for democracy?

By Salon foreign correspondents

Published November 14, 2000 8:51AM (EST)

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I am an American resident in Poland and have been following the election on CNN, the BBC and the Polish news. We have recently had an election in Poland and I was in Belgrade for the Yugoslav election.

On the BBC I hear that America is "more like a banana republic than the world's greatest democracy," with a video clip of a polling place with a yellow police tape across the doors. Another commentator went on about how embarrassed Americans are before world opinion at the electoral deadlock.

Well, this is one American who is not the least bit embarrassed! We have had the closest election in our history, possible legal challenges and a potential constitutional crisis -- and there are no military alerts and not a single armed soldier in the streets. How many European countries could say the same given similar circumstances?

-- Stephen Browne
Warsaw, Poland

I attend a graduate school with a very heavy foreign-born population. The reaction of my classmates from Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Syria, Algeria, Japan and the Chinas, etc. is indeed wry humor as you suggest. When asked in turn, though, what level of street violence would have resulted in their homelands from a similar situation, answers ranged from "some" to "quite a bit."

I would like to remind the skeptical that every federal election has a long count and most have a few charges of fraud or vote theft. These are only newsworthy because of the Frick and Frack nature of the race. As I believe Mark Twain put it: "Democracy is the worst of all systems, except for all of the others."

-- Mark Simon

Machine-readable ballot papers? State-based voting? The Electoral College? The view from down here in Australia is bizarre indeed. Am I correct in thinking that each state, indeed each county, runs its own little branch of the presidential election? Is that one country you have there, or a series of loosely associated states?

Federal elections here are run out of a central office, where everything is standardized -- including the shape and the layout of the ballots, for example. And then they're all hand counted. If someone here suggested using a machine, it'd be decried as undemocratic.

Oh, and then there is the idea of preferential voting -- we get to rate our candidates in order of favorite through least favorite. We number them 1, 2, 3, etc. If there is no clear winner, and you voted for the least popular candidate, your vote is distributed to your next favorite. What that means is that voting 1) Nader and 2) Gore would not be throwing away your vote, and "the will of the people" might have been made clearer by now.

It seems to me that now would be a good time to throw most of the system away and start again. Surely a directly elected president based purely on the popular vote would be better than the weird historical mess that exists now?

-- Paul Johanson

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2000 Elections