November 14th, 2012
11:58 AM ET

America’s election process an international embarrassment

By Global Public Square

For more What in the World watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS" this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET.

Imagine a country on election day where you know the results the instant the polls close. The votes are counted electronically, every district and state has the same rules and the same organized voting procedure. It is managed by a non-partisan independent body. Sounds like the greatest democracy in the world, right? Try Mexico. Or France, Germany, Brazil. Certainly not the United States of America.

America has one of the world’s most antique, politicized and dysfunctional procedures for its elections. A crazy quilt patchwork of state and local laws with partisan officials making key decisions and ancient technology that often breaks down. There are no national standards. American voters in more than a dozen states, for example, don’t need ID. But even India, with a GDP just 12 percent that of ours, is implementing a national biometric database for 1.2 billion voters. The nascent democracy in Iraq famously dipped voters’ fingers in purple to ensure they didn't vote again. Why are we so behind the curve?

The conservative columnist David Frum recently wrote an excellent article for and he tells a story about the 2000 presidential election. The city of St. Louis, Missouri had outdated voting equipment. So there were long delays in voting. But St. Louis was heavily democratic, so Al Gore’s campaign asked a judge to extend voting by three hours.

The judge agreed. But then George W. Bush's campaign protested, and the judge was overruled. Meanwhile voting had already continued 45 minutes past the legal time.

More from CNN: Election day should be a holiday

Is that how elections should work in the world’s greatest democracy? In most other democracies, an independent national body would make the big decisions. There would be non-partisan observers at the polls. And of course, there would be modern, functioning equipment. Even Venezuela, which had elections last month, had electronic voting booths with biometric technology across the country.

We’ve been criticized around the world for this. I saw a scathing 116-page report about our electoral process published by, of all places, Russia. Here’s the Wall Street Journal’s translation of it: “The electoral system and electoral laws of the United States are…contradictory, archaic, and, moreover, do not meet the democratic principles that the U.S. proclaims are fundamental to its foreign and domestic policy.”

I hate to say it, but Moscow has a point. (On the other hand, we do have one thing the Russians don’t: actual free elections.)

This election season we’ve seen attempts to shorten the early voting period to further one party’s chances of victory. Our ballots can be as long as a dozen pages. In some places they are paper ballots, and in some they are electronic. And Election Day always falls on a Tuesday – a working day. Every four years we see the chaos of American elections, but nothing changes.

Last week, international election observers were banned from nine states. Some of these men and women were threatened with arrest. Maybe we should start learning from election officials from abroad, not try to throw them into jail.

soundoff (549 Responses)
  1. cj

    If popular vote was used then every vote means something and IMO many more people would vote...sounds like a good thing so its not shocking out politicians don't want it.

    November 15, 2012 at 10:34 pm | Reply
  2. Head Cheese

    We have a messy process so get used to it, it's been happening since 1789.

    November 16, 2012 at 1:23 am | Reply
  3. Wake up

    Republican or Democrat the system is flawed.

    Fighting each other as Republicans or Democrats is exactly what they want. We are the pawns in their game.

    November 16, 2012 at 3:57 am | Reply
  4. Taskmaster

    Leftist Liberals are really using every trick they can to push the U,S, into socialism/Communism. We should keep our nose out of other countries politics and the "International Community" should keep their noses out of ours. I agree that the electoral college should be done away with and only the popular vote should count. BUT we should never bow to "outside pressure" to change. And we should leave countries like Libya and Syria to settle their own political/civil wars.

    November 16, 2012 at 7:52 am | Reply
  5. Agnar150

    He need to have a federal picture ID system. Then get rid of the electoral college. Americans are the dumbest people on the planet.

    November 16, 2012 at 8:10 am | Reply
    • MacInBlak70

      HEY AGNAR!!

      Speak for youself M0R0N! The dumbest person in the U.S. is most likely YOU! YOU GOP ROMNEY RYAN SKUMBAG A------HOLE!

      November 16, 2012 at 11:16 am | Reply
  6. Frank Greco

    We are the only country in the world where the New Black Panthers can stand in front of Polling sites and basically intimidate voters but if the KKK was to stand in front of a polling site, garanteed they be either arrested, force to leave or cause a race riot! Damn sounds like apartide in revese! If you can't see the problem here, you are the ones allowing our country and freedoms to die!

    November 16, 2012 at 9:40 am | Reply
  7. thinkifyoucan

    Yes the system is flawed in many ways. However, technology isn't always the best solution either. We do need some standardized rules – particularly in Voter ID. How far do we go then? Also, when you take in account what really matters in the age of the electoral college, the need for federal standards is minimized.

    First, technology is flawed. In 2004, electronic voting machienes in Ohio added thousands of votes for Bush erroneously. So should we trust the machine? Although, a federal standard for voting should make use of Biometrics or PKI digital signature authentication technology. Which brings me two the second point. How far does a national voting standard need to go? Their is no one on the ticket in New York that the popular vote is important to the voter in Montana. The Presidential popular vote is simply an opinion poll. After that, the real vote is made by delegates of the Electoral College. One could argue if the Electoral College has outlived it's usefulness – which it hasn't if you study the true purpose. With this being the case, how a state manages the voting is within its rights – not the federal government. While I support many things at the federal level, outside of ensuring people only vote once in a federal election, is really outside of Washingtion DC's authority.

    November 16, 2012 at 9:56 am | Reply
  8. MacInBlak70

    OH YEAH! This reminds me!







    November 16, 2012 at 11:14 am | Reply
  9. Dorothy

    The election process in the United States remains under the control of citizens of this country– why should any "global" results be necessary?

    November 16, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Reply
  10. Yakobi

    "It is managed by a non-partisan independent body."
    There is no such thing.

    "Try Mexico."
    Oh, yes. Mexico. Where corruption and drug kingpins rules.

    No, thanks. I'll stick with our system. It's not perfect, but I'll take it over ANYTHING in Mexico!

    November 16, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Reply
  11. Boomer in Mo

    In my rural Mo county, we use paper ballots that are scanned electronically as we place them in the computerized ballot box. If there is a problem, the ballot box will kick it out and an election judge can confer with the voter and, if necessary, mark that ballot spoiled and let the voter mark a new one. If there needs to be a recount or other problems crop up, those paper ballots, which have a number on them traceable to a specific voter, can be examined. With fully-electronic voting, there is no paper trail and if a vote is miscounted or lost, it will remain miscounted or lost. There were no Black Panthers or religious wingnuts standing around my polling place looking threatening but it was a cold day and some of the farmers were dressed up pretty weirdly.

    November 16, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Reply
  12. johnny

    Its incredible that only half of the US electorlate voted. And that at the polling station, it takes up to 4 hours of waiting for people to cast their votes.

    To confuse the voters and waste time, a voter has to vote for president and at the same time decide who to be congressman.

    Why cant the elected President be given the authority to chose his own merrymen to run congress? Why give him the President powers but denied him the authority to decide Congress. I am sure the President has more political wisdom than many racist cowboys.

    So it begs the question why many voters want Obama to be President, yet they also want a Republican LHRs? Isnt this contradiction and fickleness? Maybe this sort of practice is applicable in the slow 1800s, but in this present fast pace scientific age it is discouraging the already apathetic American electorlate.

    Where I am it takes only ten minutes for me to happily cast my vote, and the national voting turnout is consistently around 90+ %.

    November 16, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Reply
  13. johnny

    Why cannot Americans just vote the congress?

    Election campaigning for congress are done locally, and congressman hopefuls will likely only advertise in local tv and newspapers. And save the nation the ads irritation like that of the Presidential election.

    After the Congress election results are decided, the winning team in the congress elections will amongst themselves proceed to appoint/elect the President.

    November 16, 2012 at 5:56 pm | Reply
  14. Keith Chadwick

    It is fairly obvious to many Americans and even more people outside of the U.S that election reform is required. Regardless of keeping the EC or not the fact that the election laws for a Federal position are not the same across every state is very strange. There should be an independent body in charge of the rules for election across the country like we have in Canada (Elections Canada). The fact that some states such as Florida takes days to count the vote in a country that is supposed to be so advanced is and should be an embarrassment to U.S. citizens. Regardless of modernizations and standardizations in voting it will amount to naught unless the lobbying and financing laws are changed. The prohibitive costs of a Presidential election open the gates to graft and at a minimum the perception of influence by lobbyists and other groups. The final paragraph of this article pointing out the several states banned international election monitors is jaw dropping. If another country did that the U.S elected officials would be doing the rounds on the networks exclaiming how the U.S. should not do business with them. Denying election observers simply stokes the fires of conspiracy and mistrust. Absolutely bizarre!!

    November 17, 2012 at 11:55 am | Reply
  15. kenneth

    Debbie's math is wrong.if a guy gets 51% and get 61/2 votes and the guy who got 49% of the vote get 6 1/2 of the votes in a state that has 13 votes?Dont seem fair to me!

    November 18, 2012 at 1:45 am | Reply
  16. Fed Upp

    The Dems scream bloody murder if we try to require ID laws for voting. For some reason they claim it suppresses the poor (minority) vote... But the poor need ID to receive welfare! Do you see the contradiction!?

    November 19, 2012 at 8:35 am | Reply
  17. Alex

    So this raises the question who really won the elections?

    November 19, 2012 at 11:15 am | Reply
  18. hypatia

    Mind your own business

    November 19, 2012 at 11:34 am | Reply
  19. tthan43

    No surprise here.....just reinforces the rest of the world"s opinion of Americans....a bunch of zombies and obama worshipers willing to sell their country for a free cheap cell phone and a tank of gas. And the Lame Stream Media of which CNN is one, are obama's cheerleaders. They helped sell America. Far as I am concerned, those worshipers deserve every single inch of what they get from voting for the lunatic.

    November 19, 2012 at 8:08 pm | Reply
    • Caiha

      Hate to break it to you but your party was at least half the problem in the elections. At least, and your worship of Fox propaganda is equally amusing to moderates like me.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:07 am | Reply
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