Todays Date
November 17, 2019

The us elections

Writes: Aleksandar Krzalovski

 

After the start of the procedure for constitutional changes was voted on October 19th, the public debate, as well as the debates in the Parliament seem to have subsided. It seems that this vote was the catharsis in the process of fulfilling the obligations of the Prespa Agreement, i.e. the culmination of the polarization on this issue: in favour of and against the agreement itself; or some parts thereof; against or boycotting; traitors or patriots; whether those who are against the agreement are not for the EU/NATO; etc. In the days after, and especially after the turbulences in VMRO-DPMNE (exclusions of MPs who voted “in favour” that day, and then some other members as well) there were no mass protests, there were not many debates about the proposed constitutional amendments, and in the meantime – they have already been adopted in the competent committees of the Assembly. It seems that the last episode of this process – the final vote on the constitutional amendments – will pass with a much smaller drama than what we saw in the Friday night voting. Of course, in the meantime, we did not miss other interesting news and events in our country, but there was room left to look around and follow a little what was happening outside of Macedonia.

 

One of such more interesting things last week were the elections in the United States (USA), which are held every two years according to the rule on “the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November.” The elections were for both Houses of Congress, as well as for governors in a number of federal states. This time there were no presidential elections (they happen every 4 years, therefore the next ones are in 2020).

 

 

On the same evening, the two most important results of the election were known, that the Democrats won the majority in the House, and the Republicans retained the majority in the Senate, and similarly as in our country, both parties (i.e. everyone) declared victory. These results by the end of the evening were as follows: 220:199 (out of 435) in the House of Representatives for the Democrats (with 16 seats remaining open) and 51:45 in the Senate for the Republicans (4 electoral “races” remain to be decided).

But what is strange to me is that a week after the election itself, the situation has not changed much, that is, the results are 51:46 (only one seat in the Senate is decided, and three remain) and 225: 200 (i.e., six more new “victories” were announced, and ten more remain in the race).

 

This led me to investigate a little why this is so, and I learned a few things in the process. For instance, that every federal state has its own election commission, and the elections are not organized in the same way in each of them, that is, there are different election rules across the states. This also applies to the manner of voting and counting of votes, so for example in Arizona – over 70% of the ballots are sent by mail and must be signed (identically as in the voters list) and if there is no signature or it is not identical – the ballot is returned to the voter for correction, and then is sent back to the committee. Therefore, the determining of the result itself lasts much longer than in most other countries.

 

Arizona (and Florida) are particularly interesting, due to the narrow difference in the number of votes counted so far in senator races, and for which President Trump has already published a (Twitter) comment about an “electoral fraud”. Namely, just over 2.1 million counted votes, despite Republican candidate Martha McSally on election night, now Democratic candidate Kyrsten Cinema leads for just over 30,000 votes or 1.5% of the votes. Both electoral headquarters expressed expectation and the hope that the remaining votes to be counted would be in their favour and ultimately lead to victory.

Some of the media that are leaning towards the Republican Party and President Trump continued to exploit the President’s thesis on electoral fraud, although they did not provide evidence of such a thing. Sounds familiar?

But, unlike in our country, in the United States, very high representatives from the Republican Party themselves refute “their” president. First, the re-elected governor of Arizona Doug Ducey (by those same voters who voted in the race for a senator from Arizona) released a tweet, emphasizing that each vote is important and must be counted before anyone declares victory for one or the other candidate. Then, Senator Jeff Flake has said that there is no evidence of electoral fraud. In the end, the candidate McSally herself expressed confidence in the election process, saying an equal treatment of all the votes was guaranteed.

 

However, the most important thing that caught my attention was an article in the Washington Post by Christian Caryl, entitled “Now I know what it feels like to live in a banana republic”. Namely, he was a long-time (20) correspondent for elections in many countries around the world (and with a long democratic tradition, and in the new post-communist countries, as well as third countries outside Europe). He has consistently reported from the press conferences of the OSCE observer missions in all those elections, and the article addresses the OSCE report precisely for the recent US elections (by the way, you can read the report in full on the following link: https://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/usa/402401?download=true).

 

Some of his most important findings are worth sharing and comparing with our situation and similar OSCE reports for our elections.

The first of his conclusions is that, unfortunately, most of the Americans do not know that the OSCE monitors the US elections as well, and the OSCE report itself often does not receive much media attention (unlike in our country). And here he states the first “shock” that in fact in 12 federal states – it is not allowed (i.e. it is forbidden) to have foreign observation missions!?

 

Furthermore, while the introductory statements of the OSCE report are traditionally positive and diplomatically expressed (for example, that the elections were competitive… and this sounds familiar to us too, from our December 2016 elections), the “good news” end here more or less, and most of the time in the key findings the shortcomings of the process are criticized. For starters, there are several major observations regarding the electoral roll (voter registration) and the exercise of the right to vote. The report said at least over 11 million voters could not vote (for example, the Columbia District in Washington, or over 6 million convicts), and there is an estimate that over 50 million eligible voters were not registered at all for these elections. It is about ¼ of the total voting body, and the figure in Macedonia of about 40,000 “phantom voters”, out of whom over 10,000 themselves registered to vote (and turned out not to be phantom) reduced the problem with the roll of about 1,5% of the voting body. The OSCE calls for “addressing these long-term challenges of providing an appropriate electoral infrastructure”. And this sounds familiar to us, right?

The manner of financing is highlighted as a separate problem and it is stated that “there is a lack of full transparency”, noting that these elections were the most expensive until now with the indicated costs of 5.2 billion dollars (this is more than the annual budget of the Republic of Macedonia) and that the largest part of the costs have been made by the two largest parties (Democratic and Republican), linking it with the well-known phrase for “rugged terrain”.

Finally, there are no compliments on the rhetoric of the campaign. Although the great diversity of media and good coverage of the campaign that enabled an informed decision by voters is highlighted, an intolerant and discriminatory rhetoric has been pointed out in many cases, and there have been reminders of “the essential role of the media for true and balanced reporting”. Nothing new, is it?

The report abounds with other conclusions and criticisms, but I believe you got the picture and the comparison with our reality of the electoral process.

 

Instead of a conclusion – a dilemma: either America is no longer (as good and democratic) as it used to be… or we should not have such great expectations in our electoral process and overestimate the deficiencies that occur every election cycle to a lesser or greater extent (and which, compared to the American ones, seem to be relatively small and irrelevant to the outcome of the vote).

*The text is written exclusively for the purposes of Inbox 7. For each republishing, a consent by the editors must be obtained. Inbox 7 does not always agree with the opinions and views of the authors in the debate section.

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