3 years ago

Electoral system in the United States needs overhauling

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No one in the United States ever thought that a person defeated in the presidential election would refuse to accept the outcome of the electoral exercise and create roadblocks for the elected president to come to power. The authors of the constitution never anticipated that a person like Donald Trump would one day enter into political arena, come to power through an election but would refuse to step down after losing the election. Their lack of imagination for such circumstances to unfold some two hundred years after the country gained independence indulged them not to insert any clause in the constitution to protect the country from an unscrupulous person and his obsequious followers. The presidential election held on November 4, 2020 marked the end of an electoral exercise that lasted for more than six weeks. Due to the pandemic that rattled the country, voters had the option to submit or mail the "Ballot papers" or make early voting prior to the Election Day. This arrangement was unprecedented but enabled millions of people to exercise their right of franchise at ease and without being exposed to infection of the pandemic. About 153 million people voted, of whom nearly 75 million either sent ballots through mails or cast early votes.

The outcome of the election is normally announced in the same evening or within 24 hours of polling. But this year it has taken about 48 hours due largely to huge turnout of the voters and high volume of early voting. Some of the states were required by law to process the mail ballots and absentee ballots after counting "in person voting". These states took about three days to complete the exercise. On November 5, the leading news media projected that Joe Biden was leading by more than two million votes and was leading in electoral votes as well. On November 8, in all states, the Secretary of State confirmed that Joe Biden had scored over 74 million votes and bragged 306 Electoral College votes. Trump rejected the official announcements and demanded recounting of votes in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nevada. The recounting confirmed Joe Biden's victory in these battle ground states. But Trump complained widespread rigging.

Trump did not concede defeat. Instead, he complained that he was denied victory through massive vote fraud. He asked the Secretary of State of Georgia not to certify the election result and when the Secretary of State declined the request, Trump asked the Governor of Georgia to dismiss the Secretary of State. When the Governor refused to intervene Trump demanded the Governor to resign. Trump filed countless law suits seeking abrogation of the election results, but the judges quashed the requests stating that Trump Attorneys failed to produce evidence of "voting fraud". The Supreme Court, in a rare unanimous judgment, dismissed the petition and upheld the certification of the electoral outcome by the States officials.

As the law suits collapsed one after another, Trump asked the Department of Justice led by Attorney General William Barr to launch investigation on alleged "vote rigging". He also invited the Attorney Generals of 19 Republican States at the White House and urged them to renounce the election results and let the State Congress declare him elected. The Republican members of the State Congress were not thrilled by Trump's proposal and by end November Governors of all 50 States certified the outcome of election confirming overwhelming victory of Joe Biden. Attorney General William Barr also confirmed in early December that the Department of Justice has not found evidence of large scale voting fraud. Trump got infuriated at Barr's lack of action and reprimanded him. Barr resigned effective December 23, 2020.

On December 14, the Electoral College members met in the D.C and other locations and cast their votes. Joe Biden received 306 votes as against 232 by Donald Trump. Biden achieved formal victory defeating Trump by a margin of 74 EC votes.

On January 6, 2021 the Congress in its joint session is expected to endorse the certification of election results submitted by the states. This is a ceremonial exercise presided over by the Vice President. Neither the Vice President nor the Congress is empowered to revoke the electoral outcome and award Trump another term in office who lost to Joe Biden by over 7 million popular votes and 74 Electoral College votes. But a group of 12 Republican senators and some members of the House of Representatives vowed to challenge the "vote tallies" in six states. They would also demand for an "emergency 10-day audit" to investigate Trump's claim of malpractice in the election. Vice President Mike Pence though earlier recused himself from the protest, now made a U-turn and welcomed the senators demand for investigation of malpractice in the election. Trump invited thousands of supporters to fill the streets of  D.C on January 6 in mass protest of his defeat. This has never happened in the past. Those who were defeated in the past and accepted the outcome with reservations did not allow the supporters to make protest in the Congress against ratification of the election result.

Ten former Defence Secretaries in a recent joint statement said, "Our elections have occurred. Recounts and audits have been conducted. Appropriate challenges have been addressed by the courts. Governors have certified the results. And the electoral college has voted. The time for questioning the results has passed and the time for formal counting of the EC votes has arrived."

The US constitution has provided many options in order to ensure check and balance against any malfeasance that now appear to be counterproductive and inappropriate. The outcome of popular voting does not always corroborate with the electoral college voting. In 2000 presidential election, George Bush received 50,456,002 popular votes when Al Gore scored 50,999,897 popular votes-- 543,895 votes more than Bush. But in EC polls George Bush got 271 votes as against 267 by Al Gore. The Supreme Court weighed heavily on EC votes and declared Bush winner. Many legal experts now believe that the Supreme Court was wrong in declaring Bush winner. The crux of the matter was Al Gore was defeated in Florida by a margin of only 537 popular votes where over 5 million people had voted. The margin was too insignificant to declare a winner especially when Florida had 25 electoral votes to cast. A fair decision would have been to order reelection in the state within two weeks. The reelection would have created a convincing margin between the two candidates and the winner would have emerged as the elected president of the United States. In 2016, Trump received 304 EC votes as against 227 by Hillary Clinton. But Hillary Clinton got 2.9 million popular votes more than her rival. Nonetheless, Trump was declared winner. This underlines the fact that 2.9 million people were disfranchised because their votes hardly had an impact on the electoral exercise. The EC votes should be proportionately shared between the candidates based on the popular votes each received. The proportionate sharing will restore unique role of the states in the election process. The alternative would be to abolish the EC votes altogether.

There are too many rituals in between the election day and the day in which the elected president takes oath. The Electoral College assembles after 40 days to cast its votes and after another three weeks the Congress in its joint session endorses the final vote counting done by the states. The long interregnums in between the events are unnecessary and provide ample opportunities for malfeasance. All these three events should be held within two weeks of the election day to enable the new administration to focus on the challenge lying ahead.

There is a gap of 74 days between the election day and the day in which the elected president takes oath. This is unwarranted. The newly elected president should be allowed to take oath during the first week of December. This would prevent the unscrupulous elements from developing conspiracy theories and set road blocks against peaceful transfer of power to the new administration. President-elect Joe Biden should seriously consider setting up a bi-partisan commission to look into the conducts of the outgoing administration and recommend how to avert repetition of the same fiasco in future.

 Abdur Rahman Chowdhury is a former official of the United Nations.

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