US Election: Defiant Donald Trump throws electoral process out the window in a terrible advert for democracy

Even though ballots were still being tallied in several battleground states such as Arizona, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Georgia that will decide the outcome of the presidential race, Trump declared that he has already defeated his Democratic challenger Joe Biden

Sreemoy Talukdar November 04, 2020 21:47:59 IST
US Election: Defiant Donald Trump throws electoral process out the window in a terrible advert for democracy

Donald Trump. AP/File Photo

It’s only fitting that an extraordinary election in an extraordinary year will throw up an extraordinary situation. Donald Trump called for a press conference early on Wednesday morning (ET) at the East Room of White House as the presidential race remained deadlocked and nail-bitingly close in decisive states with millions of votes still being counted.

Trump announced that he has won the election, and threatened to challenge the ongoing counting of postal ballots in US Supreme Court — raising doubts over the legitimacy of mail-in votes, jeopardising the integrity of American election process and plunging the polarised nation into a constitutional crisis.

Even though ballots were still being tallied in several battleground states such as Arizona, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Georgia that will decide the outcome of the presidential race, Trump declared that he has already defeated his Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

The reason behind the US president’s premature proclamation remains unclear since none of the candidates have reached the magic figure of 270 — the number of Electoral College votes needed to win the White House. At the time of writing this article, Trump had 213 electoral votes to Biden’s 224, with many states still to count absentee ballots.

While major US networks and almost all pollsters had predicted a blue wave and landslide in favour of Biden, it is clear already that voters in the US have delivered yet another stunning repudiation of the projections done by poll pundits and have remained unconvinced of the mainstream political discourse that seeks to paint Trump as the ‘evil incarnate’ and the sole cause of American decline.

The president has already bagged several key swing states including Florida, Ohio, and Texas while his challenger has Minnesota and an upper hand in Arizona. However, mail-in votes in battleground states have emerged as the final arbiter of the race, and this is a great cause of optimism for Biden and nervousness for Trump because these postal ballots tilt heavily towards the Democrats.

To take the case of Pennsylvania, for instance, that has emerged as a battleground state, Democrats have returned nearly three times as many mail-in ballots as Republicans. Among the 2.5 million mail-in and absentee ballots in Pennsylvania, more than 1.6 million were from registered Democrats, while 586,000 were from Republicans, and 278,000 were from independents or third-party voters, reports Politico.

This, claims the report, is in line with predictions that “Democrats would vote disproportionately by mail, while Republicans would vote disproportionately in person.”

Trump was marginally ahead on Tuesday night in many of these battleground states where in-person ballots were tabulated first. It is not hard to imagine, therefore, why Trump may feel that his chances of clinching the race may progressively diminish as mail-in ballots are counted from areas that are considered to be Democratic strongholds.

However, since voting by mail is a legitimate way of exercising franchise rights in the American system, unless Trump has specific knowledge or evidence of fraud being committed through this route, his call for halting the vote count makes a mockery of the election procedure and is an assault on democracy and its institutions.

“We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election,” Trump said. “This is a major fraud on our nation. We want the law to be used in a proper manner. So we’ll be going to the US Supreme Court. We want all voting to stop,” he said at the briefing while providing no evidence to back up his claim.

Policies on mail-in ballots and counting procedure were decided upon by different states to enable voting amid a pandemic. That led to a patchwork of rules and procedures and it is not unusual for mail-in votes to be accepted even after Election Day, as long as they were postmarked by 3 November.

Pennsylvania — a state where Trump is ahead but Biden may flip it by grabbing a lion’s share of absentee ballots  — accepts ballots if they arrive up to three days after the election. Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat, has said the state “will count every vote”.

Trump demanded that those ballots should not be counted and wrote on Twitter that the Democrats are trying to “steal” a mandate that lies in his favour: “This is a major fraud in our nation. We want the law to be used in a proper manner. So we’ll be going to the US Supreme Court. We want all voting to stop. We don’t want them to find any ballots at four o’clock in the morning and add them to the list. Okay? It’s a very sad moment. To me this is a very sad moment and we will win this. And as far as I’m concerned, we already have won it.”

Trump’s deputy Mike Pence appeared to distance himself from the president’s reckless charge by stressing that votes are still being counted and “I truly do believe as you do that we are on the road to victory…” Trump contradicted himself during his White House speech when he claimed that Biden’s lead over him in the battleground state of Arizona will vanish as more votes are counted. “…There’s a possibility, maybe even a good possibility. In fact, since I saw that originally it’s been changed and the numbers have substantially come down just in a small amount of votes. So we want that obviously to stay in play.”

But he was unwilling to extend that courtesy to the states where he is leading because it leaves open the possibility that Biden might shave off his advantage.  “…Millions and millions of people voted for us tonight. And a very sad group of people is trying to disenfranchise that group of people and we won’t stand for it.”

Trump knows that these legally cast ballots are every bit as legitimate as the ones that were cast in person, but his premature proclamation of victory and threat of moving the court — that raised cries of disenfranchising voters — are tactical moves aimed at keeping his base engaged and buying an insurance in case late results go in Biden’s favour.

If Trump goes to the court claiming that the mail-in votes are fraudulent and attempts to throw some of these votes out with judicial decree, regardless of whether he gets a favourable ruling in the court we are assured of a protracted uncertainty around the outcome of US presidential elections that may last days, even weeks.

This cannot be a good scenario in a heavily polarised nation where the middle ground has simply vanished and both sides are at each other’s throats. Trump’s words, from his presidential bully pulpit, intensify the political and racial tension rife among American society and somehow makes matters worse in a claustrophobic electoral climate.

His aim to delegitimise a section of voters will lead to more tribalism, with the result that the eventual winner — be it Trump or Biden — will preside over a bitterly divided nation.

Already, we have retailers across New York take security measures including boarding up their glass windows with plywood to prevent any damage to their stores fearing looting and riots in post-election unrest and cops considering restricting car and foot traffic in Manhattan as a potential “contingency plan” to deter looting and vandalism. 

With half the electorate rejecting his legitimacy and control of Senate and House divided among parties, the new or incumbent president will face stiff challenge in every step of the way, that is when the likely judicial battle makes way for a clear winner.  The picture that emerges from an election that was supposed to ‘heal the nation’ is one of uncertainty, strife, bad blood and diminishing integrity of American institutions.

Europe has noted the developments with concern. German defence minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said the situation in the United States after the election is “explosive”.  “ This is a very explosive situation. This is a situation that can lead to a constitutional crisis in the US, as experts are rightly saying. And it is something that must cause us great concern.” 

The country’s inability to close the result within a day of holding the election contrasts sharply with the election last year in India where hundreds of millions of votes were counted within hours.

At a time when the US is facing an ideological challenge from presumptive superpower China over the efficiency and effectiveness of US-led liberal democratic system, the portends from its shores are a terrible advertisement for democracy, and China has been quick to rub it in.

Needless to say, the events around 2020 US presidential election will intensify forecasts of American decline.

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