When the country woke up to President Donald Trump relishing in his lawyers’ request for “meaningful access” to vote counting on Thursday, it was to seal what was already turning out a comical reflection of third world countries’ tortured experience with elections.
For once, American voters were coming to terms with the late Edward Carey Francis’s description of politicians – black, brown or white – as “unmitigated scoundrels”.
For so long, their faith and trust in their institutions, processes and quality of their candidates had fooled them things will always be smooth.
These elections were going to be different and it is sounding all familiar in some parts of the world. Firmly in the race was a man the world agrees is different, Donald Trump. And the times, Covid-19 era, were equally different.
The combination of this set of circumstances unfurled these little embarrassments, usually the stuff of Third World democracies;
- 1 Biden takes sweeping measures to curb climate change, vows job creation
- 2 US faces higher risk of domestic extremist violence after Capitol assault, says government
- 3 Biden tries to make good on pledge to heal America's racial divide
- 4 Biden administration aims to have enough vaccine for most Americans by summertime
1. Pre-poll claims and de-legitimisation of electoral process: Long before the ballot day, Trump had near-excelled in delegitimizing the mail-in ballot: “It will allow rampant and unchecked cheating and undermine our entire systems of laws,” he said. And when he was expressing his grievances on Thursday, he was still casting doubts on the future of his complaints. “The damage has already been done to the integrity of our system.” This is all too familiar; how politicians create illegitimate expectations on their voters through advance rigging claims.
2. Self-declaration of wins: It was perhaps the first in recent American history if not the first, where the two leading candidates declared they were winning, ahead of the official declaration. While Trump tweeted several times that he had already won but his victory was being incrementally eaten away, Joe Biden cleverly couched his declaration in statements like “it’s clear that when the count is finished, we believe we will be the winners” and “this will not be my victory alone.”
3. Magic and miracles: The Kenyan presidential election is replete with unexplained miracles and electoral magic. One minute a presidential candidate is toasting to victory and the other minute he has been overtaken. On the morning after the election, Trump was caught up in this situation: “Last night I was leading, often solidly, in many key states, then, one by one, they started to magically disappear…” Again, “I had such a big lead in all of these states late into election night, only to see the leads miraculously disappear as the days went by. Perhaps these leads will return as our legal proceedings move forward!”
4. Fraud and fear: The cultivation of fear among the electorate is a tactic that works magic in Third World democracies. Voters go to the polls knowing they have to protect their vote and that the other side is up to no good. This fouls the election and eats into voters’ trust. The fury with which Trump fought the mail-in ballot, and the show of force witnessed, people clutching onto scary guns, shows the level of fear he cultivated.
5. Grandstanding and scaremongering: In 2007, it was Kenya’s electoral chief who led in scaring the voters when he said his officers were cooking votes. In the US this week, the president himself claimed some people were “working hard” to make his 500,000 vote advantage in Pennsylvania disappear—ASAP! And when the candidates were declaring themselves winners, in a fit of shame, Trump took it to a new level, tweeting; “Joe Biden should not wrongfully claim the office of the President. I could make that claim also.”
6. Media and scapegoats: In Kenyan election, the media has always born the brunt of elections gone awry. From being chased out of tallying centres, TV stations being switched off and being accused of tilting the vote, the man with the mic or a pen is always the fall guy. In the US election, Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani accused the media of “refusing to call Florida, Ohio and Georgia so they can maintain a phony lead for Biden.” Twitter flagged Trump’s controversial tweets, forcing him to retaliate: “Twitter is out of control, made possible through the government gift of Section 230!” Giuliani claimed the media is as “corrupt as the Biden Crime Family.”
7. Slogan shaming and electoral epithets: Whenever campaign slogans continue into the election day, and begin to crop up in vote count, warning signs begin to flash. In the American election, Trump baptised the late ballots as “mail-in ballot dumps”. This is in continuation of his legacy name-calling like christening his rival Sleepy Joe et al.
8. Observers and late relevance: Observers are usually the most ignored lot in election seasons and yet when push comes to shove, they become handmaiden of electoral justice. In the American vote, Trump harped their being denied access to vote counting to demonstrate fraud. “The OBSERVERS were not allowed, in any way, shape, or form, to do their job and therefore, votes accepted…” Kenya’s experience with electoral observers has similarly been torturous.
9. Political correctness and expediency: When it mattered, Trump fell in love with the same media he kept bashing: “All of the recent Biden claimed States will be legally challenged by us for Voter Fraud and State Election Fraud. Plenty of proof – just check out the Media. WE WILL WIN! America First!” On account of a single demand, he tweeted that “demands arise for PA Attorney General to step aside.”
10. Lawyers and lapdogs: Just like our presidential petition lawyers, American lawyers’ commitment to their clients is the stuff zealotry is made of. Counsel Giuliani stood out for his boss, affirming that the cheating was obvious, massive, egregious and “an embarrassment to our reputation throughout the world.”