Generation Z. Cruising in an RV.: WOW: Experiencing Election Fever!

Monday, November 12, 2012

WOW: Experiencing Election Fever!

Carol at the Cottonwood , Arizona Post Office, addressing an express delivery envelope for her ballot
On Election Day, Nov. 6, 2012, I cast my vote by mail via guaranteed express mail delivery (Bill had already mailed his vote a week before) that will arrive at the King County Elections Office of Washington State two days after. It is my first time to vote after my naturalization February of last year. So this fever a different.
First Baptist Church, polling place in Cottonwood, Arizona

I served the Philippine government twice, as Deputy Commissioner of the Bureau of Internal Revenue in the late 1990s and as IT consultant to the Commission on Elections in the early 2000s, both for the automation of their systems. Therefore, while the buzz and hype was flaunted in traditional and alternative media, my brain was reeling with ‘what ifs’ for my home country.

Romney and Obama
So I felt compelled to write about my first direct experience of the US elections along two areas, process and culture. At 11:15 PM EST on Election Day, major broadcast stations called Ohio for Obama, and with that, his reelection. An hour later, Romney gave a gracious concession speech and thirty minutes later, Obama gave a rousing call for unity! How can a country of 312 M be able to agree on the results in such a short time after the polls close (actually just an hour after those in the Pacific time zone, with Hawaii and Alaska polls still open)? It was truly amazing to see and rather inspiring to watch!

The Electoral Process: Convenience

the ballot and the guide
Process is key to this phenomenon. Articles One and Two of the US Constitution and various amendments lay the foundation for the American electoral process. It is more by the state (who delegates to counties things such a technologies and processes) rather than by the federal government. The latter regulates presidential campaign finance which involves public funds.

It is estimated that there are about one million positions filled every election period. My ballot is only one page, back-to-back, because it is designed at the county level. So it contains very few federal (3) and state (8) positions. I was asked if I wanted to register as a voter when I first applied for a drivers’ license in the county where I was residing, King County in Washington. The county delivered to each voter an Election Guide (also available on the Net). I used it extensively for it had discussions of the state measures being asked (same-sex marriage, legalization of marijuana, etc.) for approval and the resumes of the candidates for each position.

Same-Sex Marriage passed in Washington
along with 2 others, making  it a total of 9 states
marijuana is now legalized in 18 states
At the polling place we visited in Cottonwood, Arizona, voters had the choice of voting manually (OCR) or electronically (voting machines). Once identification is validated (signature-checking machines vs a drivers’ license, a student ID, a work ID, etc.) and an online check with a county voter data base), his ballot is printed or made available on a screen. Very few provisional ballots are preprinted for emergency cases.  As soon as the poll is closed, the ballots are counted; the polling place (church, library, fire station, or school) sends their data to the county which holds all of them (including the paper ballots and other control papers) and sends summary data to the state. And it is the Secretary of State of any state, an elected position that is accountable to the People, who releases official poll results.
one type of voting machines in the US
ballot drop box

The key trend is to provide convenient access to as much of the electorate as possible. It was not too long ago when there was only one day for elections, the second Tuesday of November, which was not even a holiday, and everything was entirely manual. Today it is estimated that 30% do absentee and early voting. Although some states define these to be the traditional like attesting to being away on voting day (absentee) or not being able to vote during polling hours due to work shifts (early), there are those like Washington and Oregon which mail ballots to 100% of those registered. As a matter of fact, ballot drop boxes have become popular there. But there is still great controversy about all these new processes. Please see http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/Early-voting-a-trend-but-does-it-diminish-4026673.php.

Culture of Elections: Trust

Electoral College System
Such an open process can be very difficult to control and safeguard thus unacceptable in countries like the Philippines. This gets us to a discussion of the culture of elections. I have often been so amazed that Bill or I would leave a camera or a bag in a retail store or items of apparel at the community center and come back to find it with the Supervisor or right where we left it! I feel that voter fraud (although there were cries about it throughout Election Day+1 and seven House positions still remain unresolved) constitute small, sporadic, isolated incidents in a country that has developed for almost a quarter of a millennium. The electorate, the electoral administrators, and the candidates through their parties have achieved electoral grace by its trust for the Electoral College system that has been used for the past 238 years and the people who have evolved to cherish first and foremost the stability of the Union. Please see the history of presidential elections here: http://www.history.com/topics/presidential-elections.

King County Board of Elections
The other thing that continues to amaze me is that, though there seems to be a melting pot, an assimilationist culture that embraces the country, its demographics is still so diverse and constantly shifting. Romney won the over 45 years old, the whites, the men. Obama won the less than 45 years old, the Hispanics, Afro-Americans, Asian-Americans and other minorities, the women, and the LGBT. Microtargeting each demographic segment is truly a must. When I was teaching ‘Diversity Issues in Business’ at the Seattle Community College in 2007-08, I asked all my students to visualize business in the year 2050 (when the current minority will be the majority) at once because it certainly will not come in a second.

Philippine ballot boxes
My fever brought me all the way back to thoughts for my home country for whom I will never cease to want to help. It is representative of other struggling democracies in the world. The Philippines may not be as large in area or population, not as culturally diverse, and not have the same form of government as the US (binary with federal and state vs unitary, federal only) but it is more densely populated than any state in America. And it is also very young (66 years, if reckoned from US-granted independence, or 114, if from the defeat of the Spanish) Thus the design of the electoral process is still complex. It would be interesting to see which one (or any combination) of the 50 states’ models can be the most beneficial.
   
voting machines in the Philippines
Can the Philippine electoral process have the same convenience for the electorate and trust by every participant? I believe trust must precede convenience. So the first question to ask is: can election administration be accountable to the people by making its positions elective and professional, not appointive and partisan?  Can it be decentralized at some pragmatic level? Can it be made more accessible and convenient without the perception of losing control? Can the national government be open to needed changes? The technology for any scenario is already available. It is not the issue. Culture is. And maybe economy is. So now may be the time. And maybe that is what is happening now, continuing the effort to build trust.
trust in government is now very high and the economy is at a high
with the election of Benigno Aquino, Jr. in 2010