(I did not create this node, but I wish I had)

The US election system is a one-round, indirect election : in each state, people elect several Electors, who then elect the President. To understand this somewhat cumbersome system, you must remember that it was designed at a time when the various states which compose the USA were not yet one single nation 1).

Now why is this a Bad Thing ? Technically, in most democracies, only two candidates are likely to win a presidential election. Those two candidates usually represent "the left" and "the right" (although those concepts are hardly applicable to US politics, there is still something of the sort between resp. Democrats and Republicans). Still it is difficult to imagine that only two candidates (or two parties) perfectly represent all the variety of opinions that exist among a given population. There are other candidates, representing different trends and opinions, and although they usually have no chance to get elected, they are an important part of the political system.

But in the US, those people hardly get all the attention (and all the votes) they deserve. People who might vote for them often prefer to vote for a major candidate, for fear of seeing "the other side" win ("useful vote"), which is perfectly understandable. This reduces the scores, and therefore the influence, of independant candidates. The two dominant parties have total control over the political game.

On the other hand, most democracies around the world use a different system : direct, two-rounds election . In the first round, people can vote for whoever they please; only the two candidates with the highest scores are eligible for the second round, and the winner of the second round is the elected president/prime minister/whatever.

The difference seems purely technical; it is not so. In the first round, voters can freely give their vote to their favorite candidate. Independant parties get significant scores, and can therefore exert much more influence over the dominant parties who will need their help (and their votes !) in order to win the second round. Although this may lead to severe abuse (dirty undercover alliances of all kinds, best described by the Italian word combinazione), this ensure more ideological diversity, and has allowed independant parties to enter various European governments (the best example being probably the Green Party in Germany and France).

The flaws of the US election system are painfully illustrated by the current (November 2000) presidential election, with George W. Bush and Al Gore racing neck to neck, way ahead of Ralph Nader at 5%. Because of this tiny score, Mr. Nader won't be able to exert any significant influence over the Democrats; but he might be able to get Mr. Bush elected, by taking from Mr. Gore the few points he needs in several key states (the "winner-takes-all" scheme is another questionable feature of american elections).

In a direct, two-round vote, Mr Nader could have reached a much higher score in the first round: his ideas (which are in fact hardly distinguishable from european center-left) are shared by many American voters. Before the second round, he could have used this score to influence Mr Gore's programme ("you want my votes ? Okay, just promise you'll do this and that - and if you cheat me, remember that I 'll still be here in four years"). Mr Gore would then have been elected at second round, and everybody would have been much happier.

Instead of that, the current system leads us to the frightening situation where the more votes Mr. Nader gets, the higher Mr Bush's chances are. And if Ralph Nader reaches 7-8%, the only real result of this score on american politics is that the most powerful leader in the world will be George W. Bush, instead of Al Gore.


(Read the last sentence again. I called the situation frightening, but to us little Eurokids it sounds downright terrifying).



1) - And indeed, according to the Federal Election Commision, "there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that requires States to conduct a direct popular vote for President or presidential Electors" - this is decided by each state on its own, although in practice direct popular vote is the only method in use)

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