US election process vastly different than elections internationally

Lauren Rathmell

Five hundred and seventy days. That’s the approximate number of days Americans have been reading, talking and hearing about the 2016 election. If you ask Canada, that’s about 500 days too many.

For Canadians, the longest election in history lasted nearly 11 weeks, according to a CBC Radio Canada report.

In fact, the U.S. election process is incredibly different than most elections internationally.

For Kent State political science professor Mark Cassell, he said he realized —while lecturing for two weeks in Lithuania — just how complex our election system is.

“I had to spend three days explaining how our elections work,” Cassell said. “They are a fairly new democracy, so it was very different for them.”

The reasoning behind the lengthy election process may stem from the traditions and practices that Americans have become accustomed to.

The set-in-stone time frame centering around four-year intervals may slow the process. Other countries, like Canada, are less strict with their election dates. Once parliament is dissolved, a new election begins.

Primaries are a concept pretty unique to the U.S. With those beginning as early as March, the primaries take on their own election process. For Canadians, the candidates are chosen by political colleagues, based off leadership skills at conventions.

“Many times, European countries will pick their candidates amongst themselves,” Cassell said. “Those candidates are involved in politics and have been working with policy change already. In Germany, there are basically two elections: one for the party and the next for the candidate, if needed.”

Because we don’t have a parliamentary system, Cassell said the limited two-party system the U.S. has in place may contribute to the length of the election process.

“With two parties, you will rarely have all of your values met, you are sort of constrained,” he said. “You’re looking at a candidate that may be close to your views but doesn’t totally align with them.”

The two-party style lengthens the process further due to the time between the announcement that they are running to Election Day. This length of time gives the candidates more room to change or alter their platform.

“In other countries there is just a much broader range of government,” Cassell said. “I think that makes voters feel better about the process, and much less fatigued.”

It may seem surprising that this election fatigue has not been shown to impact voter turnout. Cassell said he can understand why.

“If you’re fatigued from this election, it’s probably because you have been paying attention,” he said. “If you’ve been paying attention, you’re most likely going to be at the polls on voting day.”

Cassell said changing the process in the U.S. would be a huge undertaking.

“The rules of the constitution make it very hard to change,” Cassell said. “We’re basically using the same rules that were made, to address issues in 1789.”

Lauren Rathmell is a features correspondent, contact her at [email protected]