America’s Divisive Elections
When the dust will finally settle – and unless a strange thing happens beyond our conception – Joe Biden will take oath as the 46th president of the United States. But the election 2020 has sullied American democracy – perhaps forever. Will the US political system be able to recover from the destabilizing polarization that it now faces remains to be seen.
United States is now decidedly a very confused social order that is breaking apart at the seams under pressures of multiple identities. But the way election 2020 was conducted with more than 100 million votes cast before the election day has only made matters worse. More than 70 million of these 100 million plus votes, mostly democratic, were postal ballots raising all sorts of troubling questions.
As we rush to the press, president Trump and Republicans are asserting – from TV screen and on the streets – that only legal votes should be counted and if legal ballots are counted then Trump has already won the Tuesday elections of Nov 3. Democrats are already on the streets demanding that every vote should be counted. But what constitutes a “legal vote” is far from clear.
While at this point, most if not all analysts, are convinced that courts – even the Republican dominated US Supreme Court – will not be able to help Trump delay or reverse the process. But the “raison d’être” for democracy and elections are not only to declare a winner; process is to ensure a smooth transfer of power, to provide for trust and continuity in the system.
And 2020 elections have miserably failed the United States in that test. The original American democracy of its founding fathers, borrowing from Athenian principles, was more or less a “direct democracy” like that of Greek city states where select people used to assemble in the amphitheaters. Initial US elections were affairs of a very limited franchise – rich, landed affluent white men.
They used to make selections through ‘voice votes’ or raising of hands. Postal ballots – now called mail in ballots- were first introduced during the US civil war in 1860’s when almost a million men were fighting on the front and Abraham Lincoln correctly assessed that most will vote for him. Postal ballot was expanded for GIs during the Second World War and later through an Act for the overseas Americans.
Oregon and later Washington made laws to prefer postal ballots. But to this day, there were no uniform laws or codes as how to handle the mail in ballots as elections are conducted not by the US federal government but by fifty different states with different laws and conventions.
Prodemocratic sites are full of articles that argue that there is no credible evidence that postal ballots have promoted fraudulent elections – but as some have pointed out that there is hardly much evidence of proven fraud in the elections, across the world, that were condemned by US State Department and western NGO’s as systemically rigged. Almost always, such allegations are based on perceptions. And now the way things stand, almost half the United States will remain convinced that something was seriously wrong in Biden’s victory.
Hopefully in the months to come, US legislatures and courts will ponder on ways to make postal ballots more credible. In the pages that follow, we will attempt to examine what ails the US political system, what has changed in the last quarter century and what a Biden presidency will mean for Pakistan and this region.
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