“The aim of every political constitution is, or ought to be, first to obtain for rulers men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue, the common good of the society; and in the next place, to take the most effectual precautions for keeping them virtuous whilst they continue to hold their public trust”.
Defining peacefully, who is worthy to govern the state, and giving legitimacy to the decisions of these people, elections give answers to critical questions that any political system faces. Moreover, these goals are much easier to implement, especially if the peculiarities of the electoral system favour the formation of the general belief that the elections are free and fair.
The formation of this belief is facilitated by such factors as the establishment of voting rights and the opportunity to vote on the basis of the system that applies to most of the population and provides a minimum of exceptions; equality of votes, in which no single voice has more weight than any other, the pronouncement of election results by pre-established rules, with a very little probability of fraud and forgery during the counting. Throughout the history of American politics, these standards for free and fair elections were not held constant. Therefore, the evolution of standards reflected the experience of every generation in their adaptation with the right to participate in political life, permissible under the law of dissent, and views on the authority, as well as the structure and organization of the elections.
Analysis of the content of the U.S. Constitution reveals the following democratic principles that define the political system: the rule of power of the people, the guarantee of rights and freedoms, the rule of law, separation of powers, a system of checks and balances, and federalism, consequently, courts supervise the constitutionality of laws and their enforcement.
The idea of representative democracy is embodied in the U.S. Congress. It is no coincidence that the first article of the Constitution is dedicated to the Congress, which is one of the three equivalent branches of government. The Basic Law of the United States reads, “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives” (U.S. Constitution).
This constitutional provision means that only senators or members of the U.S. House of Representatives have the right to introduce bills.
The U.S. President, ministers of the federal government, state governors and other officials have not this right, and this is one of the most fundamental principles of separation of powers in the United States.
However, Congress delegates for the President the right to propose a draft of the next federal budget. The U.S. President also nominates the legislative proposals of his administration in all areas of domestic and foreign policy. The President, in addition, as the main prerogative, approves laws passed by Congress. Thus, the Parliament makes the laws, and the President claims them or not. Furthermore, that reveals the inner unity of the government.
Representation system used in the state is important, because it affects the distribution of power, not only by geographic region, but also because of conflicting interests. In the Congress, for example, the proportional representation of the senators, established by the Constitution, consists of two Senators from each State, while, in the House, proportional representation for each state is different and depends on its population.
State legislatures are responsible for the formation of constituencies for elections in themselves and the election of delegates from the states in the U.S. House of Representatives. Single-member districts (in which one member is selected) are the most common in the U.S.: that is, if the state sends ten representatives to the House, state legislatures are divided into ten districts, and each of them will have a representative.
In contrast to the system of proportional representation and the availability of certain districts, which can be considered as multi-member, the system of elections in single-member districts prevents the growth of third parties and can also significantly diminish the influence of numerous political minorities. It causes the establishment of a redistricting. The imprecision of the criteria for districting has made “gerrymandering”— i.e., the creation of artificial constituencies with arbitrary boundaries that are consciously drawn for partisan advantage - a serious and unsolved problem in the United States (International Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences).
Particularly important are the elections held in the year census, which is held within a ten-year interval. The party that controls the state legislature at the beginning of a new decade sets the boundaries of constituencies for elections to posts in the state legislatures, as well as members of the Congress who remain unchanged until a new census in the next decade.
With the relocation of rural people in the city and its residents to the suburbs, districting was no longer reflecting the true situation. Some sparsely populated areas had greater representation than densely populated urban areas. Also, the officials, who served in the legislature, for obvious reasons, have been unwilling to take chances in the elections in the densely populated districts, which could deprive the government their own, as well as groups of individuals whose interests they represented.
The U.S. Constitution declares nothing about the principle of equal elections. In the realization of this principle were involved states, which often created unequal in size constituencies. Thus, the U.S. peculiar science “gerrymandering” was born.
The winners of the elections in the United States are determined by the system of relative majority. In this system, candidate should get at least one vote more than any other candidate in order to gain parliamentary mandate, regardless of the total number of voters. Consequently, many officials are elected by a small majority. One can also identify a number of serious shortcomings of the system of relative majority:
1. U.S. Voting System distorts the results of the election significantly because of the neglect of the will of the electorate votes for the party that lost.
2. System is unfair in relation to powerless political parties.
3. System affects the behaviour of the voter (syndrome “The Lost Vote”).
Such a formula leads to the dominance of two (sometimes three) parties, which subsequently monopolize the whole power. Accordingly, the chances of small and ethnic groups for their representation are remarkably small. Majority of the system tends to exaggerate the results of leaders. Most of the voters are not satisfied with the principle “the winner takes the all”.
Party system of the United States is the typical two-party system where the leading parties are gaining more than 90% of the votes. The Democratic Party protects the social programs in the country and provides more assistance to developing countries. These actions require significant financial resources; accordingly many American taxpayers complain about such policies. Republicans are against excessive spending on social programs (education, health care, and unemployment benefits). They vote for a reduction of taxes on businesses, against extensive financial aid to foreign countries.
There is no practice of direct voting in the U.S. The President is determined by the Electoral College. According to experts, in this system, there are two areas of concern. The first problem is that the voters in this system are distributed according to the method of “winner takes all voices” that is the candidate who received the most votes will automatically get all the other voices, even if they were cast for other candidates. In this scheme, the position of the American electorate is ignored. As a result, that, in turn, leads to the fact that many Americans do not want to go to the polls and vote for the “no-go” candidate, knowing that their voice will go in favour of the winner. The possible solution is to abolish the Electoral College. However, the adoption of such a decision is very unlikely. The appropriate changes to the Constitution must be ratified by state legislatures, which are unlikely to part their electoral potential.
The other problem of the U.S. voting system is that candidates from third parties or non-partisan candidates must receive at least 5% of the vote in the previous presidential election in order to receive financial assistance from the State to participate in the election campaign. Also, candidates do not an equal access to debates; usually only two candidates - the candidate of the Republicans and the Democrats can take part in debates.
The main problems occurring in the election are:
- Problems with the operation and maintenance of voting machines;
- Problems with voter registration, preparation and updating of voter lists;
- Limited access to polling stations and unacceptably long queues;
- Manipulation of the electorate votes, intimidation of voters and introducing them to err;
- Failure to obtain absentee ballots by voters and their insufficient.
These facts were the reason to draw conclusions about the serious problems of the U.S. voting system and the urgent need to change them.
One should draw the conclusion from the American democratic experience, highlighting all the main features, which are essential for maintaining the stability of the democratic process in any country of the world and especially in the U.S. The workable solutions must be found.
The first, citizens should be given ample opportunity to elect and be elected, accordingly to the principle of equality of votes, without exception. In particular, the restrictions of political rights that base on sex, political opinion, race or religion weaken the legitimacy of the government. By contrast, the provision of universal suffrage allows people to realize that each of them has the chance to influence the election.
The second, the priority should be to increase the proportion of voters participating in the elections. Low voter turnout is the case for concern, if not alarming. In this situation, the election can lead not only to the election of officials who are not supported by the majority of eligible voters, but also exaggerate the influence of well-organized groups that pursue their own interests.
The third, the most crucial point to the democratic process is a high degree of freedom of expression of political views. Restricting the allowable dissent not only inhibits the development of electoral politics, legitimizing the practice of suppressing opponents, but the restriction of free thought can make dissidents refuse lawful activities, choosing the path of violent forms of protest.
The fourth, elections and representation system must provide the possibility for the control of state power by the majority population, and at the same time measures to protect minorities from oppression and dictatorship of the majority must be provided. However, giving the interests of the minority disproportionate weight in elections can shake a key component of the consent of the voters: legislation actually reflects the will of the majority. Otherwise, the minority view will prevail over the opinion of the majority that will damage the process of making decisions to the extent that the state power will be totally incapable.
Fifth, since the effectiveness of the election depends entirely on the confidence of the majority of the population in a free and fair election, the procedures that allow responding quickly to allegations of violations of the electoral law must be provided. Without such remedies, electoral process would soon be regarded as a continuous fraud.
Finally, in a society that characterized by an irreconcilable split among the majority of the population concerning the most urgent issues of society; free and fair elections can be problematic. Sometimes the viability of the political system can be determined by the situation in which the districts that are not directly related to the election campaign, and the existence of proposals that will never be included in the ballot.
“Democratic institutions are never done:” - Woodrow Wilson noted over a century ago – “they are like living tissue, always a-making. It is a strenuous thing, this of living life of a free people” (John Kennedy).
In conclusion, it should be noted that careful monitoring of elections and possible changes in its procedures are extremely important point nowadays.
One should especially focus on overcoming the problem of updating of the technical support of elections, because election machines simplify voting technique, impede the fraud during the counting and provide reliable secret ballot. However, Rebecca Mercuri stated, “If you think technology can solve our voting problems, then you don’t understand the problems and you don’t understand the technology. Computerization alone cannot improve elections”.
In fifteen states, voter registration can be done not only in the election commissions, but also in the workplace, in public institutions. It should be said that the exclusion from the voter lists of persons serving sentences in prison can not be considered as a democratic action in the United States. Therefore, it is necessary to increase the number of subjects of the right to vote by including this group.
According to Martha Moore, the standard system does not work for all states. In this case, the voting procedure are different not only from state to state, but even within the same state, which is not conducive to clear and transparent elections in the country as a whole. If gerrymandering in the state takes excessive scale or going on for several years, the Supreme Court may consider such action as a violation of the Constitution, but excepting this fact, such a practice is a time-honoured tool of the U.S. policy. Country boundaries should not give the impression of arbitrary imposed; districts must have an optimal form and include neighbouring areas.
A truly wise solution will be to find some way to reduce (by means of amendments) electoral rules at least to the same principles enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. It will be a significant step in the development of whole U.S. voting system.
The change in the electoral system in the United States in the context of bringing it to the parameters of a direct vote is objectively necessary for the moment. Currently, there are positive and negative aspects of the existing system. While the majority of the U.S. population, according to the latest opinion poll, agree that changes in the American electoral system must be done, it would be extremely difficult to do this, especially in financial terms. Appropriate changes to the Constitution must be ratified by state legislatures, which are unlikely to wish to part with their electoral potential. Lawrence Norden concludes, “To reduce the kinds of problems that cause lost votes, voting system vendors should be required to report both voting system failures and vulnerabilities they have knowledge of”.
In American elections, there is also a problem with the financing of various candidates. Therefore, tt is necessary to provide for public financing for small parties in at least a small amount, as there exists a procedure today in which candidates from third parties or non-partisan candidates must receive at least 5% of votes in the previous presidential election in order to get the State's financial assistance to participate in the election campaign.
At the same time, proposed by the Republican and Democratic parties, get a substantial amount of money on the presidential election campaign automatically. The idea of a treaty between states to achieve the goals of the plan nationwide general elections should be supported by all of the United States in order to achieve the integrity and effectiveness of the national electoral system of the United States of America. Smikle Basil stated, “The nation should move toward interstate uniformity of voting methods and registration incorporating technologies and systems we already use in our everyday lives” (Everyday Solutions to a Regular Problem). Lastly, knowing the weaknesses of the electoral system is just as valuable as the recognition of its merits.