American elections are always a global event, but with this year's emphasis on the Electoral College, foreigners are cramming to re-learn the complicated state-by-state election system. From France to China to the Philippines to Mexico, local newspaper editors are hauling out last-minute explainers to prepare for the very real possibility of a presidential candidate winning the popular vote while losing the electoral vote and therefore the election. With polls on the East Coast closing in a number of hours, the guides are coming just in time for citizens accustomed to direct representative democracy to brush up on our crazy system.
The French, for instance, find this American system very strange. "U.S. elections, a complex process" reads a headline in France's news outlet 20 Minutes Online according to Google Translate. It goes on to explain the system of electors awarding votes to each ticket with California having the most electors (55) and Texas (38) and Florida (29) close behind. "Strangely, there is no requirement to respect the electoral popular vote," observes the news agency. "Some 700 amendments to amend or remove the Electoral College to establish a direct universal suffrage were submitted to Congress in vain over the last 200 years," i.e., these Americans still can't get it together. France's 24 takes a similarly perplexed look at the voting system.
Over in Germany, today's edition of newspaper Westdeutsche Zeitung runs with the headline "The controversial U.S. election system." The paper begins by explaining the Electoral College is "not a university." So far, so good! In fact, it's an election process that "goes back to the founding fathers of the United States," writes the paper. It also raises the possibility that individual state recounts could extend the vote "over weeks."
Taking a more didactic approach, Germany's Stern runs with the headline: "BACKGROUND: U.S. citizens do not choose presidents directly," which rattles through the voting process while spotlighting criticisms of it. "The electoral system in the U.S. means that it is usually only at the end of a few states of matter in which alternating majorities for Republicans and Democrats traditionally," writes the paper. "Critics argue that these 'swing states' like Ohio or Florida play a disproportionately large weight."
Out in the eastern Pacific, The Australian oes with a blunt reminder: "Popular vote doesn't decide US election." It dives into the totally true irony that the world's most famous democracy practices it in a very strange way. "Though the US is considered the world's preeminent democracy, the American 'people' do not directly elect their president. Instead, the US constitution calls for states to choose 'electors' who do the actual electing. It's known as the Electoral College."
Then there's Mexican news site Terra, which just wants to make sure it's paying attention to the right state: "U.S. presidential race depends only Ohio, right?" reads the headline. Bingo.
The paper notes that while Ohio could decide the election, the outcome could also be decided by races in Colorado, Iowa or New Hampshire "where Obama and Romney are tied in the polls."
Meanwhile, big Mexican newspaper Milenio wants to make it really easy for readers: "What are the basic words to understand the U.S. election?," it says, rambling off a list of elephants, donkeys, electoral college and "winner takes all."
In China, the bemusement in America's electoral college system is such that a pop star scored a hit by simply explaining the voting system for 33 minutes in a video that has racked up a million hits. "In a video from his online talk show that was posted on the popular video-sharing site Youku.com, Gao explained that the college is an attempt to balance the rights of states with the will of the majority," reports the Associated Press. We'll see how entertaining this system is tonight when the vote will either be decisive or drag on for days or weeks.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.