Monday, 9 November 2020

US Presidential Election - The Washup


I've deliberately avoided commenting on the outcome until today because I was (naively perhaps) waiting for Trump to concede, something that every other previous defeated candidate has done once the results are clear.

Biden's electoral college votes are in, and they put him convincingly in front, at a level slightly higher than Trump's figures in 2016. He has been congratulated by leaders worldwide and all the media, even his megaphone (Fox) have called the vote for Biden.

The counter narrative (allegations of fraud) are characteristic of how he has always operated, and unsurprising. They are irrelevant, and will fade away as they are unsupported by evidence. His reaction, however, deepens the already broad chasm confronting the USA.

The figures are interesting. Biden has received more votes than any previous candidate in history, and his popular vote exceeds Trump's by around five million.

Trump's vote is also an improvement on his 2016 performance, and the turnout is the highest since 1900. It still doesn't match what routinely happens in Australia (72% USA Vs 91% Australia). Compulsory voting improves turnout of course, and enhances participation, one of the cornerstones of democracy. Lincoln did not refer to "some" of the people at Gettysburg

and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

The decentralised electoral system in the USA doesn't help, and is largely responsible for the ongoing chaos following this poll. Each state organises it's electoral college districts, and creates the rules applying to mail-in votes, counting arrangements and supervision. The problem with this arrangement is that whichever party controls the state administration also controls the electoral arrangements. Each party does its best to set up boundaries and arrangements that improve its chances. Hence the routine tolerated Gerrymandering. 

The fact that the poll is always held on the first Tuesday in November doesn't help. So many of the conventions that continue to apply to the US process were set up over two hundred years ago. The Tuesday after the first Monday in November was chosen because the harvest would have just finished, and Sunday was for church. This left Monday to hitch up the dray and use the day for travel to the voting booth. These days, people who are on low incomes are often unable to get to vote because they can't afford to take time off work. The fact that in many parts of the USA, they have to queue for hours doesn't help. Contrast that with the ten minute pause (on Saturday) to lodge a vote in this country.

The bottom line, of course, is the gap between the popular vote and the electoral college. Australians find it hard to accept that a candidate who receives fewer votes than his or her rival is not the winner. This processes effectively disenfranchises millions, and to a degree, is responsible for a great deal of the divisions in US society. It infers that the votes of these people really don't count. The same process happens in Australia, but nowhere near to the same extent, and we have a mechanism (state and federal Electoral Commissions) that make a fair job, over time, of addressing it. 

The Electoral College system was a compromise cobbled up over a period of months by delegates frustrated by a lack of progress at the 1787 Constitutional Convention. Given that 40% of the population of the Southern states were slaves, and the owners were reluctant to give them full franchise, they settled on this inelegant compromise which has, like the date of the poll, held ever since. The whole compromise thing fell in a heap in 1861, but that's another story.

So the USA is (excuse the pun) a slave to its history. The resulting chaos will continue, as it is almost impossible, given the divisions that exist, to reform out-of-date institutions and constitutional amendments. 

The second amendment is probably the most stark example.


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