Browsing articles from "November, 2010"
Nov 30, 2010
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Americans want to cut, increase foreign aid

World Public Opinion released a poll today that shows Americans want to cut foreign aid by 50% and raise it by 1300%. How is this possible? Well, on average, poll respondents think that 27% of the US federal budget goes to foreign aid. The average respondent thinks that the federal government should allocate only 13% of the budget to foreign aid. Bad news for aid advocates, right? Well, it depends how you look at it. Yes, cutting foreign aid by 50% would be a big deal. At the same time, considering that the federal government only allocates 1% of the budget to foreign aid, the government would need to increase foreign aid by 1300% to get it at the level where the public thinks it should be. Now, I am not advocating that we increase aid by 1300%. That seems a bit ridiculous. Rather, this is just a factoid that you can use the next time someone talks about how much money we waste on foreign aid.

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Nov 29, 2010
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

WikiLeaks, Diplomatic Secrets and US Foreign Policy

Image courtesy of Beehivecity.com

More likely than not if you’re reading this blog and interested in issues of foreign policy you’ve heard about the most recent WikiLeaks controversy.  Regardless of one’s opinion on American foreign policy, and however one may feel about organizations like WikiLeaks, a quarter-million confidential diplomatic cables being publicly released is a pretty big deal.  Judging by the reactions of our administration the “candid” nature of these cables is likely to cause all manner of problems in regard to the country’s current efforts abroad.

More than judging the moral righteousness of the recent leaks or pondering the potential dangers they present to individuals in the field, this most recent WikiLeaks scandal strikes at issues relevant to all Americans.  This leak is an excellent reflection of our growing troubles with domestic privacy and the ability to speak freely. Amusingly, the fact that our government is the victim of this recent espionage has raised some interesting questions regarding the broader issue of the secure nature of communication.  In a way our government seems tragically slow to catch on to the same realities of security the rest of us have to deal with on a daily basis.

I understand the importance of being able to have candid communications with Washington, but on a certain level I’m surprised that leaks of this magnitude are still possible.  I find it deeply disturbing that given the issues of domestic spying in recent years and the ongoing difficulties of keeping government secrets secret, our government continues to communicate internally in a fashion that could be so dangerous if exposed.  It seems to me that US citizens caught on much more swiftly than did our government when it comes to issues of insecure communications.  As we personally must grow more and more careful about what is said in public and through private communications like email, it gets much harder to be understanding when government gaffs like this occur.

Nov 28, 2010
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

What to expect when you’re expecting…an election in Haiti

Today is the much-anticipated Presidential election in Haiti. Previously postponed immediately after January’s earthquake, this election is fraught with expectations, anticipation, and pressure to deliver a leader who will arguably make or break Haiti’s recovery.

I have a piece up at The Will and the Wallet on the election’s significance and relevance to U.S. foreign aid, but I just want to take second to make a few totally obvious predictions:

  • the lack of comprehensive reissuing of Haiti’s national ID cards (required to vote) will creative countless problems and reports of identity fraud
  • reports of fraud, vote-rigging, and general corruption will inevitably run rampant
  • violence is likely to erupt in crowded, urban areas such as the capitol city of Port-au-Prince
  • between overall voter apathy, limited voter education, and the recent cholera outbreak, total voter turnout will be extremely low Continue reading »
Nov 27, 2010
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Egypt’s Elections & Middle Eastern Democracy

Often in the past scholars have argued whether or not there is any hope for democratization in the Middle East.  It has further been argued whether Islam is somehow innately incompatible with liberal democracy.  Recently in light of the difficulties in Egypt’s parliamentary elections, particularly claims of violence against activists and candidates and media being barred from covering the elections, this issue has again risen to the fore.

Certainly the difficulties of Egypt’s elections are nothing to take lightly, they display many of the troubles seen commonly in elections under semi-authoritarian regimes.  On the other hand to state that these difficulties somehow lay rooted in faith rather than all the standard flaws of corruption, politics and governance strikes me as terribly unwise.  This argument effectively asserts that democracy is simply not a possibility in the region, as we certainly cannot expect religion to just go away here or anywhere else in the world.

In some ways, I see the problems of the Middle East as reflective of some of those faced in developing democracy in Latin America. There exists a tendency among scholars and practitioners to apply democratic principles successfully used in the Western world to new areas, contrary to the history and culture of said area.  In the Middle East the culture and heritage of a state often seems pointedly ignored to the detriment of any push toward successful democratization.  I see no reason that democracy shouldn’t grow and flourish in the Middle East as much as it has done elsewhere.  The Middle East is certainly not an Islamic monolith, and to suggest that religion keeps states in the region from democratizing must be rather insulting to those Muslims living and successfully participating in democracy in our own country.

Nov 26, 2010
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

What reality TV can teach us about election managment

Not a lot it turns out, but enough for a blog post.

The structure of an Electoral Management Body (EMB) is a critical element in effective and fair election administration.  The legal framework for how the members of an EMB are appointed varies greatly from country to country, with each model offering a unique set of advantages and disadvantages.

Although practitioners should be aware that local context is important, it is always helpful to have an understanding of how EMB design can shape incentives and affect the management of elections.   In a paper submitted to APSA, Barry C. Burden, David T. Canon, Stéphane Lavertu, Kenneth R. Mayer, and Donald P. Moynihan have explored the effect of partisan EMB membership on the body’s behavior.  In their paper, Election Officials: How Selection Methods Shape Their Policy Preferences and Affect Voter Turnout, the authors find that how clerks are selected has a noticeable impact on the body’s priorities.

We employ a uniquely rich dataset that includes the survey responses of over 1,200 Wisconsin election officials, structured interviews with dozens of these officials, and data from the 2008 presidential election. Drawing upon a natural experiment in how clerks are selected, we find that elected officials support policies that emphasize voter access rather than ballot security, and that their municipalities are associated with higher voter turnout. For appointed officials, we find that voter turnout in a municipality is noticeably lower when the local election official’s partisanship differs from the partisanship of the electorate. Overall, our results support the notion that selection methods, and the incentives that flow from those methods, matter a great deal. Elected officials are more likely to express attitudes and generate outcomes that reflect their direct exposure to voters, in contrast to the more insulated position of appointed officials.

I think the recent  kerfuffle with Bristol Palin does a good job of demonstrating this tradeoff in priorities.  Bristol Palin, daughter of the ubiquitous Sarah, lost in the Dancing with the Stars finale the other night.  Palin’s run generated a fair amount of controversy due to the fact that she kept advancing despite receiving poor scores from the judges.  This was exacerbated after accusations surfaced of Tea Party activists exploiting a glitch in ABC’s internet voting system that allowed supporters to cast an infinite amount of votes.   Whether of not this electronic ballot stuffing actually happened in a way that influenced outcomes, it demonstrates how incentives shape behavior for EMBs.  ABC’s incentive for the show’s voting system was access, not security, which is a perfectly understandable tradeoff for what they were doing.  There were definitely steps ABC could have taken to strengthen the verification process, but it would have probably reduced convenience for users.  We shouldn’t be surprised that many reality TV systems have security holes, as long as there is a tradeoff with accessibility involved.

Related, electoral system design is also critical in reality TV voting.  I noticed that Last Comic Standing, for example, used a Cumulative voting system.  Viewers were allowed to cast ten votes, but could distribute those votes in anyway they wanted (meaning they could vote 10 times for one contestant).  I’m guessing this method was employed in order to ensure adequate minority/female representation in the higher rounds.  If we assume that female viewers are more likely to support female contestants, and the same being for minorities, than those viewers would be able to contribute all their votes to the few female candidates while men would spread their votes among men.

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Founded in 2004, Democracy and Society is a biannual print journal published by the Center for Democracy and Civil Society at Georgetown University. The D&S Blog provides web-only content, including special reports and investigative series, on issues relating to democracy and development.

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