X Marks the Spot

Yesterday was mid-term election day here in the States, something I could watch as a detached observer, being disenfranchised because of my status as an alien. It’s all rather different from what I’m used to, not least because you get to vote for a lot more things. In Britain, it’s pretty much just local council, House of Commons, European Parliament – here, there are school boards, judges, and even the state mine inspector to be elected. This is actually kinda disturbing: if I was a miner, the last thing I’d want was Joe Public choosing the guy in the corner, prodding at the pit-props. Especially when, looking at the ballot, the electorate require detailed instructions (with diagrams) on how to vote.

This wealth of choices perhaps explains why turnout is so woefully low. In this, the land of the free, if one in three voters exercise their right, it’ll be about what’s expected, which is a pretty sad state of affairs. Mind you, just as in Britain, it’s easy to understand such apathy – no matter who you vote for, a politician is still going to win. The choices for governor of Arizona were particularly poor: the current attorney-general, a woman of dubious ability, versus a Mormon. Truly a choice of the lesser of two weevils.

Another interesting US/UK difference is the presence here of various ballot measures, ranging from the obscurist (municipal debt limits) to the controversial (legalizing the use of medical marijuana). The most contentious here in Arizona were three separate propositions, regarding casinos. At the moment, slot-machines, etc. are only allowed on Indian reservations, but there was a huge spat between the tribes and the racetrack owners, who want a slice of the action. The various groups spent almost $40m on advertising during the campaign, and the outcome is still murky, with quite possibly none of the suggestions getting voter approval.

Such are the joys of democracy in action: whoever has the largest bank-balance usually gets in. Every candidate swears they’re going to stick to the issues, but eventually out will come the nasty adverts, insinuating their opponent is homosexual/soft on crime/racist/a borderline psychopath. Voters say they don’t like these tactics, yet they happen in every campaign, and the slot-machine debate was largely each camp telling you loudly how bad the others were.

A weird concept on the whole though, handing out legalised vices as compensation for past injustices. If the Indians get gambling, should we give African-Americans a monopoly on cigarette sales? And maybe the Eskimos could run the liquor stores? I’ve been to an Indian casino – once – and the air of desperation was in sharp contrast to the surreal-but-fun atmosphere in Vegas. The irony is, it seemed as if the main customers there were our local underclass, the Mexicans. One set of oppressed people turning another upside-down and shaking their loose change out. Brings a whole new meaning to ‘scalping’ though.