Great Britain: Participatory elections money can’t buy.

Election reform will be  a long and winding journey for the US.  Great Britain/England & Scotland are further along.  65% of the voting age population turned out last Thursday to elect members of parliament,  which will drive the choice of Prime Minister.  The Queen is unaffected.   Some time-tested practices of the mother ship from which we could learn include: 

Have vastly shorter campaigns.  British general elections have a one (1) month short campaign periods immediately preceding election day, following a “long” campaign period of about three months (there is a formula).  Sure, the parties publicly position themselves prior to the long and short campaigns, but it isn’t the endless show we have.  When you have less time, issues matter more than personality (and there is less time to make personality an issue). 

Make it affordable for candidates to run.  During the 2010 “long” campaign,  candidates were  limited to no more than the equivalent of approximately $37,000 plus seven or ten cents per voter in the constituency (depending upon whether it is a borough or county).  During the short campaign, candidates were limited to no more than approximately $10,000 plus a few cents per voter.  All together, candidates could not spend more than $60,000 – $70,000.  This includes advertising.  Candidates themselves may not pay more than approximately $900 for their personal campaign expenses.  Expenses of $30 or more must be reported.  Check out the campaign expense details here.  Elections money can’t buy are alive and well in Great Britain!  Bring them to a secretary of state election near you:  vote YES! on Prop 15 in the June 8 election.

Respect local elections for the big deal they are.  Thursday night, C-SPAN (the anti-CNN) televised, one after another, the announcements of election results for the local “constituencies,” as they are called.  For tiny town after tiny town, there were all (yes, all) the candidates standing for member of parliament in a row, listening to the ballot results being read.  In every case, there was a sizable audience of voters and supporters listening.  Even candidates winning a few hundred votes were applauded.  For the first time, the candidates were learning the winner.  There they stood, all together, each wearing some extreme version of a state fair first place ribbon in their party’s color.  After the winner was realized (results were read in alphabetical order by candidate surname), candidates congratulated the beaming winner in the most civilized way.   I felt pride in the process, and I wasn’t even involved.  Elections aren’t all about monarch-making (now paying attention, celebrity LibDem leader Nick Clegg, whose party lost seats at the local level).  Politics really are local.  Let’s celebrate that more often and more loudly. 

One thing we already have in common with Great Britain is that power transfers smoothly.  While last week’s election created confusion at the top, there is no question that the new parliament will be seated as elected.  And there is no question the Prime Minister question will be resolved without bloodshed and soon.  True enough that settling the question will occur in that least attractive of political institutions – the dreaded back room.  This is something Great Britain should put on its list of electoral reforms to address.   Further reminder that democracy is a living thing.  LLII. 

ps. anticipating an inquiry:  58% of the US eligible voters turned out to vote in 2008.

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