Democracy or hypocrisy?

Why election processes aren't as democratic as you think

Mauragh Scott | Fri, 6 Mar 2020

Credit to Gage Skidmore

“Government of the people, by the people, for the people.” – Abraham Lincoln


Some of the ‘great democratic nations’ of the world have unequal electoral systems riddled within them, despite popular belief. With ageing traditions and outdated election systems, many democratic nations have inherently unequal rules and regulations. The United Kingdom and the United States of America are prime examples of countries where election results tend to be extremely unrepresentative, and this is due to the systems and processes that they use during election times. This is not news to most voters in these countries, especially during the disappointing and often confusing elections in each country. These inconsistencies and inaccuracies in electoral systems are not set in stone; they can be changed and should be changed, in order to reflect the times that we live in now.


Nowadays, it seems that election results are often met with shock and dissatisfaction. Both the United Kingdom and the USA’s main electoral system is First Past the Post (FPTP). FPTP is known for being a poor electoral system for representing voter behaviour as it discards a lot of the votes polled and thus encourages tactical voting. For instance, in the 2016 Presidential election, Trump got elected President with 3 million fewer overall votes across the country than Hillary Clinton, because of this backwards electoral system. This is just one example of many which proves this system is riddled with flaws. There are other fairer forms of election systems, such as proportional representation, that, while it may not be without its limitations, is arguably much more democratic than FPTP. All of this naturally leads to the question of why we have electoral systems that don’t live up to their one goal: representing a nation’s voting behaviour.


However, it’s not just the form of the electoral system that takes place in these two countries that make their results so undemocratic, but also the rules and regulations around voting boundaries. Gerrymandering is typically known as a political practice which manipulates boundaries of an electoral constituency to favour one political party. The problem here is not that boundaries are redrawn, as this is a practice that is needed - the problem is that the boundaries are redrawn by biased politicians, who often do so in ways that benefit their political party. Ultimately, gerrymandering has a very unpopular reputation, but despite this, it is not commonly discussed during elections in countries who practice it, nor is it forbidden. It greatly affects the results of every election in the countries that practice it, and when parties or political figures are campaigning, they tend also to be tactical in where they campaign and how, so as to use gerrymandering to their advantage. Ultimately, gerrymandering is a way that governments ensure that election results are not representative and instead allow governments to hold their power – even if it’s undemocratic.


There are many countries that have successfully gotten rid of this undemocratic political process. Canada is a prime example of a country which abolished gerrymandering and thus made Canadian elections fairer. In the 1960s, Canada took this power away from politicians and gave them the power to independent commissions. This is a perfect solution that puts democracy back into the process of dividing up voting boundaries.


While it may be that countries that don’t practice gerrymandering still have unfair and unrepresentative elections, abolishing this practice is the first step of many towards a fairer electoral system. Moreover, election processes are not something that should be traditional, but instead something that grows and evolves into something fairer and more representative to match the current times. Unless countries start to develop fairer and more representative electoral practices, our elections and our government will continue to be undemocratic.


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