Aren\’t governments efficient?

We are voting to determine who will run our government, and the process of voting is run by government. On our local news last night, they said that an estimated 90 million people will vote today. I imagine that, on a given workday, at least 90 million people buy their lunch from somewhere, and they will not have to wait anywhere near as long in line as people will have to wait today to vote. Perhaps there is a lesson there in the efficiency of the private vs. public sector upon which people could reflect as they decide for whom to vote. They\’ll have plenty of time to do the reflecting.


19 thoughts on “Aren\’t governments efficient?”

  1. I would also have to say (and I appreciate that I have no experience of the US system) that it often takes me longer to buy lunch than it does to vote. Partly this is because I am buying lunch at lunch time, hence the shop is busy, whereas I generally vote (when I’m not using a postal vote) mid-morning, when my local polling station tends to be fairly quiet.

  2. It is very quick and easy to vote in the UK (in tower hamlets allegedly to do so more than once).
    So I don’t think this is a great arguement against Governments.

  3. If you had to set up thousands of temporary sandwich shops for only one day every four years, rather than them being open every day, you might get a similar effect. This doesn’t look like a very persuasive argument to me.

  4. The main problem with US elections is that they’re run by politicians, who are relaxed about making it difficult for people to vote for the other side. More on this here (Frum seems underinformed about the UK system, but no matter).

    Not unrelated to that, in most states politicans have control of electoral boundaries. Hence gerrymandering.

  5. It is simply that for governments (and most of the public sector) “efficiency” doesn’t take account of costs in time or money to private citizens. “If it’s not attributed to my budget it isn’t a cost.”
    So government wants a queue so that its paid employees don’t have any of their time wasted waiting fior the next voter to arrive.

  6. john77: that doesn’t explain why every other English-speaking democracy manages it just fine – UK, Canada Australia, Ireland, NZ, none of these places have regular polling booth queues. As noted above, this is a consequence of using elected politicians instead of independent civil servants to provide local services.

    So hurrah for police commissioners, eh.

  7. Does anything in the USA match the level of ballot fraud that we had with Labour’s postal votes, all overseen of course by independent civil servants. Hopefully the Alliance changes have improved things, hopefully.

  8. Buying a sarnie not a good analogy. Nothing is at stake.

    How about access to all your money?

    How many secure financial transactions does the private sector handle every day?

    Considerably more than 90 million, I would guess.

  9. “Access to all your money” is a stupid one as well. I’d be annoyed if someone stole my vote, but the cost is an absolute maximum $500, and that’s because I’m a petulant sod who cares about politics. Whenever vote-sale rings have been cracked, it’s never been for more than a tenner a time.

    So the same levels of security you get using a RFID card at the 7/11 are approximately appropriate.

  10. 1. In the US, you vote for just about everything. The ballot takes much longer to fill out than the ballot anywhere else. Because of this, you tend to have expensive voting machines, rather than a desk and a pencil, so it’s expensive to provide overcapacity. In the UK, I can double the capacity of my polling station with a few sheets of hardboard and a box of pencils. The lack of overcapacity leads to clumping problems when lots of people turn up at the same time to vote.

    2. Lots of people turn up to vote after they’ve finished work for the day. Whilst in most states employers are required to allow people time off to vote, they’re only required to do so if there isn’t time before or after the employee’s scheduled work hours. So in practice, you get a clump of people in the morning, and a clump after work, and not so many during the day.

    3. The long queues are a localized phenomenon. Most places do not have long queues. There is endless political speculation about this.

    4. Whilst Ian B certainly has a point about temporary sandwich shops, I think the real answer is even simpler. There are more sandwich shops, because sandwich shops make money. Elections are an expensive cost, and local governments try to get it done as cheaply as possible. If the queue at the sandwich shop is too long, I’ll start bringing my own sandwich. I can’t hold my own election.

    5. The US seems to have a surprisingly high tolerance for bureaucracy and tedious paperwork. This is true not just for government, but for things like banking, where the consumer banking system is decades behind the kind of online possibilities in the UK and Europe.

  11. Sam-

    Regarding point 5, it reminds me of Bill Bryson writing about Britain, and how tolerant we are, or were, of bureaucracy and queueing and the like. But he was writing about coming here as a young man in the 1970s, and it seems to me that we successfully rid ourselves of that to a large extent during the Thatcher years.

    My only personal experience of US banking is trying to get wire transfers in and out, which seems to me to be hopelessly primitive compared to British and European systems. It always feels like flinging a bucket of money into the unknown and like a minor miracle when it arrives at its intended destination. There seems to be a crazy-paving patchwork of banks “wiring” the money from place to place instead of some kind of coherent system.

    Reminds me actually of a situation with a website subscriber (American) when, for no apparent reason, the subscriptions started failing. His card was in good order, but the transfer was failing at some intermediary bank which nobody- not him, not me, not my credit card processors, not his own bank- could gain access to to discover the problem. So he had to just do without. The whole thing is Byzantine.

  12. Ian B // Nov 7, 2012 at 11:37 am

    If you had to set up thousands of temporary sandwich shops for only one day every four years, rather than them being open every day, you might get a similar effect. This doesn’t look like a very persuasive argument to me.

    Yes, but the date of the next Presidential election is already known and its hard to envisage massive population shifts so it shouldn’t be too hard to get the logistics in place.

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