Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Voting chaos, but don't get too smug

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Many Canadians watched in wide-eyed horror or amusement Tuesday as Americans went to the polls to cast their votes.

Twelve years after the 2000 election debacle and the introduction of the "hanging chad" into public lexicon, and billions of dollars in investments in voting system improvements later, the U.S. doesn't appear to be any further ahead in its ability to run an election.

Problems with voting machines. Line-ups that lasted for hours just to vote. Partisan-induced voter ID rule. Ballots that were printed wrong. Robocalls telling people they could vote until Wednesday. Pamphlets in Arizona for Spanish speakers that had the wrong election date.

The list goes on.

Not to mention $6 billion spent on an election that ended up almost in the same result - Democratic President, Republic House of Representative with two additional seats for the Republicans, Democratic Senate with one additional seat for the Democrats.

It's clear the U.S. needs to do something. Canadians, who go to the polls in every riding and see the same kind of ballot, mark their choice with an X and drop it through the slot. There can be line-ups but they never snake around the building and last for hours. It's hard to understand the chaos that seems to mark every U.S. election. We may complain about negative advertising but we don't come close to the level of spending on campaigns thanks to the strict limits Elections Canada puts on advertising and other campaign expenses. Limits on donations to politicians have reduced the influence of big money and interest groups on our public policy.

There was a woman interviewed by one reporter who said, and I'm paraphrasing here because I don't have the actual quote, that voting was the closest thing to democracy they had in America.

It didn't appear she was trying to be ironic but her statement nonetheless could be read that way.

Before Canadians get too smug about our own system however remember there are many electoral problems which exist in our own backyard.  With the electoral college system, there was a real chance that Romney could have won the popular vote and yet lost the electoral college - it happened in 2000 to Al Gore and George W. Bush. With the first-past-the-post system, there is a real chance of one party winning the popular vote and another winning, not just a government but a majority government.

It almost happened in Manitoba last fall. The Conservatives came within three points of the NDP in the popular vote, increased their share of the vote by almost six points, and yet came away with no increase in their seat count. The NDP meanwhile saw its share of the popular vote drop by nearly two points and yet won an additional seat, increasing its majority to its biggest ever.

In the federal election there were allegations of voter suppression with robocalls. There are allegations of illegal voting in some ridings. Whether it was on purpose or poll worker error, our system clearly is not perfect.

We may not having hanging chads or vote machine tampering but we have our own issues. We may be able to pat ourselves on the back and see our system as superior but it is not without its flaws.

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About Mia Rabson

Mia Rabson is a born and bred Winnipegger whose interest in politics seemed clear when she dressed up as Prime Minister Brian Mulroney for Halloween in the 7th grade.

Her interest in writing was no surprise to her parents, who learned early in Mia’s life that no piece of blank paper — or wall, for that matter — was safe in her hands.

She holds an honours BA in English from Queen’s University, a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario, and has completed a political journalism fellowship in Washington, D.C. with the Washington Centre for Politics and Journalism.

Prior to working for the Winnipeg Free Press, Mia briefly worked for the Detroit News in the paper’s Washington bureau.

Mia joined the Free Press team in February 2001, and in April 2001 was appointed to the Manitoba legislature bureau. In December 2004, she was appointed bureau chief at the legislature. She became the newspaper’s parliamentary bureau chief/national reporter in Ottawa in January 2008.

In 2008 she was nominated for a Michener Award with a team of reporters from the Free Press for its coverage of the province’s child welfare system.

She counts reliving the invasion at Dieppe, France, with veterans of the failed Second World War expedition and overcoming her fear of heights to touch the Golden Boy statue atop the Legislative Building among her favourite experiences as a reporter.

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