The world is having a feast of elections at the moment? Or is it a plague?
There are elections coming up in the United States (November 3) and New Zealand (today).
In Australia, the final voting day in the ACT election is also today. In Queensland, it's October 31.
And yet, democracy is on the backfoot like it hasn't been since the end of the war in 1945.
Authoritarians are on the march. Even when despotic leaders hold elections, the flaws are obvious. And there never was a vote by the people to make Xi Jinping President of the People's Republic of China.
So let's go back to basics.
What is democracy?
There is no single method but broadly it's a system where the people choose their government.
According to the Museum of Australian Democracy in Old Parliament House: "The word 'democracy' has its origins in the Greek language. It combines two shorter words: 'demos' meaning citizen and 'kratos' meaning power or rule."
What's the argument against it?
You wouldn't want to elect the captain of a ship, would you?
So why let people elect the "captain" of a country to steer through the immense complexity of our difficult times. Expertise is needed, and the most popular person will not necessarily have the greatest expertise.
And once you have a popularity contest, who knows who might win? Perhaps the talented person, perhaps the charlatan - and this is even more true in the age of Facebook and the darker manipulation of social media.
So runs the argument.
What's the argument for it?
Running a country isn't just about expertise. It's also about balancing interests and priorities - and there's no right or wrong answer. Should we spend on schools or hospitals or the military? On aged care or kindergartens? On a sports arena or a theatre?
These are all questions of values which an elected government may be better able to answer than some sort of committee of experts, let alone a "strong man" demagogue.
There is a collective wisdom among well-informed, engaged people, and that produces leaders better tuned to the needs of the people in all their complexity.
Just as a jury is a better way of trying people in court because its combination of skills and experience produces a collective wisdom which experts don't always have.
Winston Churchill called democracy the worst form of government (apart from all the others).
Put simply: if we, the people, don't choose the government, then who does?
The general with the biggest army? The owners of big business? The people with the highest degrees from the Australian National University?
And if we don't like the leaders, we can sack them without bloodshed.
One day, they're in the black limo and the next, it might be the bus.
The removalist is a great leveller.
But one size doesn't fit all
On either side of the Tasman, our democracies are similar - but not identical. They are based on the British parliament in Westminster, though in Australia, there are two chambers while in New Zealand only one.
The prime minister emerges from the party with the most seats. There is no direct election of the leader by the people.
In the United States, there are three arms to the democracy.
The President will be elected on November 3 (or sometime after if there are problems and disputes, as there may well be).
The Senate has a hundred members and just over a third are up for election.
All the 435 members of the House of Representatives are up for election.
The idea is that each part of government balances the others.
And voting varies
There's been compulsory voting in Australia since 1925. There are 32 countries which also compel voters to vote.
In other countries, "turn-out" varies.
And in the United States, there is "voter suppression".
The historian Carol Anderson documented the methods: voting stations cut back in poor areas; driving licences as identification block poor voters who don't have cars.
Do democracies work?
Democracies vary. Some have more flaws than others.
But democracies defeated Hitler and brought down the Soviet Union.
During the war, prime minister John Curtin's election victory gave him authority.
There may be situations where autocracy gets better results - say if an epidemic erupts and the people need to be locked down - but democratic Australia and New Zealand have done pretty well.
So everything's fine?
Democracy is under threat in many countries.
There are conditions necessary for it to thrive. People should have the right to talk and think freely. The law must rule. The media should be free and diverse. Citizens must be involved and interested.
"Many forms of government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe.
"No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."