Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Comparative Elections: Building a Basic Reference Collection. (the Alert Collector)

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Comparative Elections: Building a Basic Reference Collection. (the Alert Collector)

Article excerpt

There has been a resurgence of interest in how other countries conduct elections following the controversial 2000 U.S. presidential election. Voting officials and legislators across the country are investigating the types of ballots used outside the United States as well as gathering other comparative data on elections. Proponents of electoral reform have proposed solutions ranging from optical scanner ballots to touch screen computers at the polls in an effort to eliminate the problems caused by hanging, swinging, dimpled, and pregnant chads. This interest in foreign elections is likely to remain strong for some time since there are no quick fixes to the problems highlighted by the most recent presidential election.

James E. Nalen's guest column on comparative elections will help school, public, and academic librarians not only with collection building in this area but also with reference questions about foreign elections. The author has deliberately focused on resources for the study of international elections and electoral systems, rather than on United States elections, as bibliographic guides to the study of the latter are available. Additionally, his introduction makes clear why the study of other electoral systems is important.

Nalen is well informed on this topic. He is currently Social Sciences Librarian and Bibliographer at the University of Akron University Libraries, with collection management responsibilities for a range of social sciences, including political science. Prior to this, he worked in various professional positions at the Boston Public Library. Nalen is currently enrolled in the doctoral program in Urban Studies and Public Affairs at the University of Akron. In addition to the M.S.L.I.S. (Library and Information Science) degree that he earned from Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science, he holds a M.S.P.A. (Public Affairs) from the University of Massachusetts in Boston. Prior to this, he received a Certificate of Advanced Study from Johns Hopkins and Nanjing Universities. This guest column is enriched by his global perspective.


The electoral imbroglio in Florida following the Nov* ember 2000 presidential election focused attention on the administration of federal elections in the United States. Some of this scrutiny was directed toward the types of ballots in and counting practices of various Florida counties. Additionally, broader opinions were formed with regards to the institution of the Electoral College.

At the time, many commentators suggested that while the conduct of the federal election might have been better handled, the United States electoral system was still far better than any alternative--indeed, most of these alternatives for political change were depicted as military coups, riots, or other violent methods. (1)

The study of comparative politics counters this popular conception of the modes of political change in other countries. Although electoral processes and institutions differ from nation to nation, elections generally function to assert democratic values such as liberty and equality. Different electoral systems try to achieve these values in different ways. For example, proportional representation systems attempt to represent the various political groupings present within a given society, while plurality systems typically favor the representation of fewer groupings. An analysis of election results illustrates how these various systems differ in their allocation of political power.

Electoral reform in the United States will necessarily draw upon the alternatives presented by other national electoral systems. An understanding of the conduct and outcomes of elections in other countries will assist U.S. policymakers in meeting some of the criticisms that have been leveled at the current federal electoral system, including, perhaps, its perceived inability to sustain sufficient levels of political participation among different demographic groups within society. …

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