Elections on TV: Scotland Aye, France Non

May 6, 2007

I must say I feel a bit cheated by the French elections. Not because of the result (I rooted, in my totally irrelevant way, for the “extreme centrist” candidate François Bayrou, eliminated in the first round), but because on this side of the pond the coverage was over as soon as I tuned in. I was hoping for a nice afternoon of watching trenchant political television, preferably in subtitled French with lots of bickering to fill the gaps between results arriving. Instead, I switch to C-SPAN at 2 pm EDT (only 8 pm Paris!) and get charming English-speaking anchors and graphics screaming “SARKOZY WINS 53%.” Seemingly they have very accurate poll result forecasts in France. What a let down.

The recent local/Scottish Parliament/Welsh Assembly elections in the UK were a good deal more fun to watch. C-SPAN didn’t carry them, unfortunately, so I had to resort to BBC streaming video of much lower resolution. As election night coverage should go, it ran into the not-so-early hours of the morning, with the anchors loudly lusting after full English breakfasts at the end. The results weren’t fully in by the time the show was interrupted by the BBC equivalent of “Good Morning America.”

It’s faintly reassuring to know that the US is not unique in our vaguely messed-up electoral ways. Fog stranded ballot boxes on remote Scottish islands. In the rest of Scotland, electronic ballot counting machines failed to count ballots and huge numbers of votes were rejected due to being wrongly filled out. The ballots were later deemed “confusingly designed.” (The electorate was confronted with three different voting systems at once: one winner-takes-all Parliamentary seat, one proportional representation seat, and finally a rank ordering of local government candidates under single transferable vote.) The commentators rushed to remind the audience that, no matter how bad it was, there were no hanging chads.

We also got to enjoy quaint traditions such as:

  • Results announced by Returning Officers with the candidates standing on stage with them
  • Only having to listen to acceptance speeches
  • Results in Wales given in Welsh
  • Breakaway party from Scottish Socialists (“Solidarity”) failing to get anyone elected
  • Liberal Democrats explaining that, no matter what else has happened, at least they won Eastbourne
  • Conservative councilors in Birmingham declaring that they were elected due to their spectacular record of weekly trash collection
  • Representatives of three major parties in the BBC studio, wearing party-color ties, attempting to rebuff nasty questions from the anchor (“This really isn’t a good night for you, is it?”)
  • Green spokeswoman declaring that maybe Conservatives pick up the trash every week, but what about the recyclables?
  • Welsh nationalist party being beaten back to rural, conservative heartland, where apparently they belong
  • Wildly inappropriate graphical metaphors used by BBC statistics people while displaying results: Tony Blair lobbing tennis balls, David Cameron building a townhouse, and Sir Menzies “Ming the Merciless” Campbell trying to earn some, er, bling
  • No other politicians wanting to hang out with the Scottish Nationalists

The best part about the election? It doesn’t really affect me! Although if the SNP does manage to achieve an independent Scotland, it’s going to be really weird going through passport control on vacation.

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