The changing face of American Elections
Four years ago, we witnessed a change in the way elections are conducted. Instead of the simple top-down communications model presidential candidates had employed previously, the internet became a new tool not only for two-way communications, but perhaps more importantly, for fund raising. The Obama Administration used websites such as Facebook as well as their own platforms to conduct grassroots campaigns.
As a result, President Obama had a war chest that totalled 750 million dollars. This was more than anyone had ever raised before and significantly changed the way an administration communicated with the people. Not only is the new government in power more connected with its citizenry via the internet, such as taking part in virtual town hall meetings and Skype discussions, but also campaigning aggressively throughout its networks. This leaves open some possibility for a more inclusive form of direct democracy, but with a country of the size and population such as the USA this is still considered impractical.
On the other hand, voting practices have also been revised, especially after the voting scandal in Florida during the 2000 presidential election. Several measures have been implemented in order to make the procedure more "high-tech". The most notable of which was the somewhat controversial requirement for new, electronic identification cards in order to vote within the United States. While such a measure would seem very standard to Europeans and Germans in particular where such standards have been in place for quite some time, this is notable because of the form of quasi-exclusion to those who cannot afford the new and significantly more expensive ID cards. The move has been criticized by various left-wing groups as an exclusionary measure to ensure that lower-income families will not be able to vote. Taking into account that wealthier Americans tend to vote Republican in favor of lower taxes, this does offer some room for debate.
The newest change will affect American citizens living abroad: now one must re-register to vote for each individual election. While this in itself might not be so bad, the communication regarding the change is left up to the respective embassies of the countries. Additionally, the steps to register to vote are to be managed by the individual states as they please.
While some states have taken measures to ensure a simple, quick and easy transition into the digital age by allowing online registration as well as voting, others have opted for slightly more complicated and less reliable methods. When asked about the need for the changes, an employee of the American embassy in Berlin stated that "non-voters needed to be purged from the system". Basically, this amounts to the former system being antiquated. Specifically, it did not ensure deceased or relocated voters would be taken off the list. So a new, electronic and fast system was devised to enable voters to easily and securely vote through a basic internet connection. All one needs is a valid license or ID from one's respective state.
Taken as a whole, the measures make a lot of sense and will benefit the USA in a post-globalized world, where we as citizens are no longer bound by geography. A worrying aspect is the degree of freedom each individual state has in what is clearly a federal matter. Why should the voting procedure for a Florida State resident living abroad be any different than for a Washington State resident? The answer lies in the somewhat questionable realm of states' rights. While on a basic level the adjustment certainly makes sense, and the federal voting assistance program (FVAP) works to standardize the process to a certain level, it does not fully guarantee an equal process across the board.
Furthermore another problem arises when it comes to the communication of the new measures. This has similarly been left up to individual embassies and missions in host nations and requires citizens to take the individual initiative in informing themselves. With some countries, this only entails a quick visit to the local embassy's website, while others make the whole process incomprehensible if one has not gone through the process before.
In effect, these new vote abroad measures do fulfill a certain need and could serve to streamline the process significantly. This will be the case only if it is properly communicated, which is presently not the state of events.