US election system tested again in tight presidential race

Americans drive on the right side, or the wrong one if you are an Indian, go the distance in miles, weigh in pounds and take the temperature in  Fahrenheit besides voting in 50 confounding ways in 50 states.

It may be a but confusing, it may not be perfect, but it has worked like clockwork for over 200 years providing America stability, say the supporters of the US election system as it's tested again in Tuesday's tight presidential race as it was in  2000.

Republican George Bush then "stole" the election despite polling half a million fewer  popular votes than his Democrat rival Al Gore with a mere 537 votes more in Florida taking him past the magic 270 in the Electoral College that really chooses the president.
The reasons for  choosing an indirect system that had produced such a result thrice before in 1824, 1876, 1888 are steeped in history.

A direct  election did not sit well with the framers of the constitution in 1787 because of a division between states that had slaves and those without, according to the Washington Post.

An Electoral College based on population emerged as a compromise only after it was agreed to  count each slave as three fifths of a person for the purposes of calculating  each state's allotment of seats in the US Congress, it said.

The Electoral  College is but one of the many quirks in the US electoral  system. Yet unlike India there is no central body  to supervise the elections. There is a Federal Election Commission (FEC), but it only supervises and enforces campaign finance laws.

The process of registering voters, conducting the balloting and counting the votes is left to state and local election officials, who have varying degrees of independence in  how they do it.

There is no national list of eligible voters either, so a citizen must first qualify by becoming registered, but the procedures for registering voters vary from state to state.

In some states, independent candidates too can stand for election by submitting a specified number of petition signatures, while in some others, the ballot may include a  place to "write in" "self-nominated" candidates.

In yet another quirk, questions of public policy may also be placed on the ballot for voter approval or disapproval.

For instance  election 2012 has more than 1,000 issues including Right-to die in Massachusetts, gay marriage in Maine, abortion in Florida and Montana, death penalty in California and segregation in Alabama.

And 13 States  from Arkansas to Washington are set to vote on whether to make the use of marijuana for medical purposes legal, while Florida voters have to decide on as many as 12 constitutional amendments listed on a two page ballot the size of a tabloid  sheet.

Currently, there  are no national standards for ballot forms. Under the Voting Rights Act, election officials may have to provide ballots if needed in multiple languages as they did in Hindi in a Los Angeles county in a primary election last June.

Though since 2000 America has moved toward adoption of direct recording electronic (DRE) devices, some states still have  paper ballots where one has to an mark "X" in front of a candidate's name to "lever" machines to the controversial "punch-card" machines used in Florida.

Complicated, one may wonder. Yet there is a reluctance to change. For as Thomas Neale, a specialist  in American national government at Congressional Research Service, says  "It's not perfect" but "we've had a pretty good record, 47 of 51" of popular vote winners becoming president.

But more important, an amendment of the Constitution requires ratification by three-fourths of the states, and the states are not going to give up their turf anytime soon.

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