Colombo Telegraph

Misleading Infographics: The Pernicious Influence Of US Election Coverage

By Rohan Samarajiva

Dr. Rohan Samarajiva

Many people outside the US had great difficulty understanding the 2000 US Presidential Election. How could Al Gore have won more votes than George W. Bush but fail to be elected as the President of the United States? I remember telling people over and over again that the US does not have a single national election to see who will be President, but that according to their Constitution simultaneous elections are held in each of the states to elect members of an electoral college who in turn elect the President. In that system, it matters which candidate wins a state.

Infographics that color states red and blue on the basis of which political party win the state election highlight the fact that no single, national election is held. The infographics contribute to understanding and do not mislead.

The Second Republican Constitution of Sri Lanka introduced direct elections for the executive President. Here, we do not have an electoral college. Here, each vote is of equal value. Here, it makes absolutely no sense to make infographics using administrative district or electorate-level data, because gaining a majority of votes in those units has no bearing on the outcome of the election. In Sri Lanka, the entire country is one electoral district; each vote in the country is of equal value.

Pic | http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sri_Lankan_presidential_election,_2015

Infographics that mimic the US red-blue maps demonstrate a lack of understanding of the Sri Lankan political system. Some may be using them to challenge the legitimacy of the victor, but there are others who think the infographics are okay but are just being used badly. What they do not realize is that these infographics are a result of unthinkingly aping an artifact of US politics without understanding either the US system or the Sri Lankan system.

Constitutional change is on the agenda. If people want to dispense with direct Presidential election and elect a college of electors who will in turn choose a President they should so propose. The original US model, with all its flaws, is there to learn from. So is one of the more recent versions, the Myanmar Constitution. Here, the people vote for Members of Parliament (two chambers). The members of Parliament form the Electoral College that votes for the President and Vice Presidents. Then they go back to being members of the legislature. After we make this kind of change, any amount of colored maps can be developed and published without harm.

Until then, please do not impose the US system on Sri Lanka. Do not produce, publish or take seriously any infographic that shows majorities in any unit smaller than that of the entire country.

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