Ending the Endless Election Season

By / 1.28.2013

National elections in the United States now stretch out over nearly 24 months, with each new electoral cycle seeming to start up almost as soon as the last has ended. By contrast, British law allows elections in the United Kingdom to last no more than 17 working days. In 2005, for instance, the electoral season began on April 11 with the formal dissolution of Parliament and the vote was taken on May 5. The U.K. is not alone in the speed of its elections: the 2008 Canadian federal election began on September 14 and ended on October 7. That same year, elections in Italy lasted a slightly longer seven weeks, while in 2010 in the Netherlands the process took ten weeks.

There are reasons that the United States probably can’t have elections quite as compact as those in parliamentary democracies. But do they really need to last 40 times as long as in Britain, or even 10 times as long as in the Netherlands? And do our elections need to be so exorbitantly expensive? The $49 million cost of the 2010 U.K. parliamentary election was 120 times less than the almost $6 billion cost of the 2012 U.S. presidential election, or about 1/23rd as much per capita.

There is much that the U.S. system can learn from other democracies that would enable it to significantly streamline, simplify, and shorten our interminable electoral process for both the president and Congress, as well as state and local offices. Following are five ideas from around the world. Not all could be easily or directly imported into the U.S. system, but at a minimum they offer food for thought; in some cases they offer the start of blueprints for action.

Download the policy brief.