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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Explained Ideas: Why a peaceful transition of power in the US is being doubted

Sajib Baruah writes: The efforts by Donald Trump to undermine the integrity of the election system creates conditions for his supporters to reject the results.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: October 29, 2020 8:40:37 am
Donald Trump, US Election 2020, Election news, Trump reelection, Election date, Election prediction, Indian ExpressPresident Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at MotorSports Management Company, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, in West Salem, Wis. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

There was a time when the United States was regarded as one of the world’s most stable democracies. The peaceful transition of political power is only a bare minimum threshold for a stable democracy.

“Yet, whether this would happen in the US after this election is today in doubt to a degree that is unprecedented in living memory,” writes Sanjib Baruah, professor of political studies at Bard College in New York, in an opinion column in The Indian Express.

In some of the most influential quarters of American life, there is great concern about the prospects of an orderly presidential transition. The New York Times has even published the “nightmare scenarios” of seven election experts — their fears about the worst thing that could happen with the elections — and possible measures to prevent it. 📣 Click to follow Express Explained on Telegram

The efforts by Trump and his allies to undermine the integrity of the election system — through often-repeated but unsubstantiated concerns about voter fraud and misinformation about the credibility of postal ballots — creates conditions for Trump’s supporters to reject the election results.

In addition, the talk of voter fraud provides cover to controversial local- level decisions on polling locations and postal ballot requirements that could lower voter turnout among groups that disproportionately support Democrats.

Postal ballots will most likely account for more than half the votes in the coming elections. But since Trump has successfully politicised the COVID-19 precaution protocols, many more Biden supporters will vote by post than Trump supporters. As a result, the results available on the night of the elections on November 3 — based on the counting of only in-person ballots — are likely to be substantially different from the final count.

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“All this could lead to significant uncertainty, legal battles, public protests and mayhem, plunging the country into a post-election crisis,” says Baruah.

“What makes American democracy particularly vulnerable to the Trump challenge is the peculiar way in which it elects its president. Presidential elections are determined not by the national popular vote, but by the votes of individual states reflected in the Electoral College,” explains Baruah. Donald Trump became president in 2016 even though nationally Hillary Clinton won 2.9 million more votes than him (2.1 per cent of the total votes). But Trump won 304 Electoral College votes to Hillary Clinton’s 227.

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