Tuesday, June 25, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

An Orwellian democracy

Update : 16 Nov 2016, 12:01 AM

The top vote getter is supposed to win in a democracy. That is not what happened in America’s presidential election on November 8.

With all votes yet to be counted, as of November 14, Hillary Clinton has won 668,483 more votes nationwide than Donald Trump (Clinton: 61,039,676; Trump: 60,371,193).

The difference is expected to balloon to 1 million when all votes are tallied.

The Republicans don’t want to talk about it. They spin this stubborn fact more sharply than Muralitharan, and stress that the Electoral College, not popular vote, elects America’s president. As though by pronouncing the magic mantra, “Electoral College,” they can make Trump’s vote deficit disappear.

In polling stations nationwide, every ballot asked the voters to choose between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton for president.  More chose Hillary Clinton.

If Trump, the second place finisher, is declared the winner and elected the president, then the wishes of the majority of Americans have been disrespected.

This is not democracy as the rest of the world understands it. This is Orwellian democracy.

In the topsy-turvy, dystopian world of George Orwell’s 1984, “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” In the parlance of the just concluded American presidential election: “Less vote is more vote. The loser is the winner.”

The Electoral College is reminiscent of Pakistani dictator Mohammad Ayub Khan’s Basic Democracy (BD) experiment of the 1960s.

Popular vote elected the BDs, who then elected the president. The BD system is extinct in Pakistan. The Electoral College should also be abolished in the US.

A little history

This is the fifth time that the winner of the popular vote lost the presidency in America. In the last four, Republicans have been the beneficiary, and the Democrats the victim of the faulty electoral system.

In 1824, Andrew Jackson won 38,000 more votes than John Quincy Adams, but lost the election.

Both ran as Democratic-Republicans.

In 1876, Democrat Samuel Tilden beat Republican Rutherford B Hayes by 253,000 more popular votes, but ultimately lost in a complicated political deal known as the Compromise of 1877.

In 1888, Republican Benjamin Harrison was elected president even though Democrat Grover Cleveland won 93,000 more popular votes.

In 2000, Democrat Al Gore won 544,000 more popular votes than George W Bush, but lost the presidency.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton will end up winning a million more votes only to be denied the presidency.

It is a safe bet that the Republicans will be in no hurry to change a system that has served them so well.

The framers of the US constitution believed in the supremacy of the popular vote.

But they worried that a demagogue may sweep the people off their feet momentarily and get elected.

Therefore, they devised the Electoral College as a circuit-breaker.

They reasoned that the Electoral College would prevent an insane popular verdict from being implemented.

Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist No 68: “The sense of the people should operate in the choice of the [president]” -- that sense would operate through an intermediate body that would meet separately in the states, cast their ballots, and then transmit the results to Congress.

By requiring they all meet on the same day, in many different places, the Framers thought they could avoid collaboration and “corruption.”

But, by vesting the ultimate decision in these bodies of electors, they intended, according to Hamilton, that: “The immediate election should be made by men most capable of analysing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favourable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice.”

In other words, the constitution gives a set of elected representatives (the “electors”) an opportunity to use their judgment to second guess the outcome of a popular election. If the citizens got carried away and elected a scoundrel though popular vote, the electors have the power to correct the mistake through the Electoral College.

“The Framers did not limit the reasons the electors might invoke for voting however they vote. They are free to vote however they want, for whatever reason they want,  recognising, no doubt, that they will need to justify what they do to a public that might ask why. They were empowered to veto the democratic will,  if the democratic will needs to be vetoed. But in a republic, they should only exercise that power when circumstances demand it.”

To reverse America’s Orwellian democracy, Democrats need to migrate to sparsely populated, heavily Republican states, such as, Alaska, the Dakotas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana en masse

But, if the people get it right and elect an immensely qualified candidate through popular vote (Hillary Clinton), it would be a dereliction of the electors’ duty to annul popular will and elect a demagogue (Donald Trump) through the Electoral College. That is the dilemma facing the electors in the aftermath of this election.

Because of the undemocratic way the electors are allocated, despite winning the popular vote, Clinton will lose in the Electoral College if the electors blindly follow the winner-take-all norm currently in vogue for casting their votes (this norm is not specified in the constitution).

Nothing compels the electors to vote against the popular will. Each elector is free to vote his/her own conscience.

It would be completely justified for an elector to vote to assure that the will expressed by the majority of Americans prevails in a presidential election.

The electors can cast their vote to make the popular vote winner the president when the Electoral College meets on December 19.

Under the leadership of Lady Gaga among others, a petition with over 3 million signatures and counting will be submitted to the electors urging them to vote for Clinton. Don’t count on the petition succeeding.

An amendment to the US constitution to eliminate the anti-democratic Electoral College will be impossible.

The mal-apportioned US Senate will never pass it; and the smaller states which benefit from mal-appropriation will never ratify it.

This brings us to the other two un-democratic US legislative bodies -- the Senate and the House.

On November 8, 34 Senate seats were contested. Republicans won 22; the Democrats 12. However, 6 million more votes were cast for Democrats (46 million) than Republicans (40 million).

The votes cast for the Democratic candidates in California were 8.5 million, whereas votes cast for Republican winner in Alaska, Lisa Murkowski, was only 111,382.

Yet, Lisa Murkowski, the Republican senator from Alaska, and Kamala Harris, the Democratic senator from California will exercise absolutely equal legislative power.

It is the same story in the House of Representatives. Republicans control two-thirds of the states. To give an advantage to the Republican candidates, they gerrymander congressional district so grotesquely that they look like moth-eaten leaves.

In 2012, for example, the Democratic congressional candidates won 1.17 million more votes nation-wide than the Republicans.

Yet, with 50.59% of the vote, Democrats won only 201 seats; whereas, thanks to gerrymandering, Republicans won 234.

To reverse America’s Orwellian democracy, Democrats need to migrate to sparsely populated, heavily Republican states, such as Alaska, the Dakotas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana en masse.

Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed is a Rhodes Scholar.

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