US electoral system isn’t always pretty, but it is open, engaging and key to America’s success
James Zimmerman says though imperfect, America’s electoral system has worked well for over 200 years and allowed the country to prosper
Several recent editorials in the Chinese media have taken the view that the US election process is confirmation that American-style democracy is corrupt and scandalous, and would never work in a country like China. The unease is reasonable without a better understanding of the underlying principles of our system of choosing our leaders. Simply put, our electoral system is an exercise in public discourse, transparency and civic engagement.
First, our election process allows Americans to express their legitimate anxieties about their future. Indeed, candidates of different ideological stripes can advance a diverse menu of policy ideas to influence the direction of the country. This public discourse allows voters to participate in shaping the discussion concerning America’s future.
Second, our system is open, allowing voters to receive and digest information from a variety of sources to make informed decisions. There will always be tribal voters that follow the party line, but most voters take their obligation seriously and will weigh the information available to them when making decisions.
The exposure of the candidates’ past bad behaviour is a direct result of the transparency driven by our press freedoms that allow the media to unearth details and hold candidates for office to high standards of personal character and experience.
The transparency of the system can also expose the shortcomings of a populist candidate that seeks to merely inflame the anxieties of voters without proposing workable solutions for complex problems.
Without question, the system can result in ugly altercations that even we Americans find revolting. The bluntness of the process is even more telling in today’s world of real-time social media.
Third, for better or worse, the openness of our political process allows even the most brazenly unqualified candidate to pursue office. Yet all American citizens have the right and opportunity to pursue their civic ambitions to serve the country.
Although quite imperfect and at times tumultuous, the US electoral system has worked for 240 years and, without question, has allowed our country to grow to become the largest economy in the world, a leading hub for technological innovation, and a societal magnet that attracts a diversity of new citizens from around the world.
On November 8, the American people will have the opportunity to vote for the next president of the US and thus demonstrate to the world that our system is open, engaging and reflective of the will of our citizens.
James Zimmerman is a lawyer in Beijing and chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China