US Electoral System, or Freedom House Up To Its Usual Tricks

What is the difference between a good teacher and a bad teacher? A good teacher is at least the one who is able to solve the task he gives to his students. That is why I have always been puzzled by the fact that while “introducing democracy” all over the world Americans are evading this natural teaching “do as I do” method. They say what is right and what is wrong in the electoral systems of other countries, what is democratic and what is not democratic and even who is the right and who is the wrong candidate, according to Washington. It would be much easier to say “Hey, guys! You see how perfectly it works in our country. Do as we do and you will be happy!” But they don’t say it. The question is: why?

It is simply because the electoral system in the “stronghold of democracy” is far from matching the concept of “the rule of people”. If it is introduced in Ukraine or in Russia it will lead to a big scandal and to complaints that the government violates the main democratic principle – the winner is the candidate who gathers most of people’s votes. It would sound ridiculous, but this very principle, natural for the nations the US teaches “how to live”, is regarded as unnecessary in the US.

The American “teachers” made us so strongly believe that the US democracy is like Caesar’s wife who is above suspicion, most of Ukrainians, Russians and other “barbarian” nations of the post-Soviet territory, according to the West, are not concerned with the question how presidents are elected in America? That is why few people in our countries know that four times (!) in the history of the US the president was elected without receiving the majority (!) of votes of the American people.

For example, George Bush Junior, who also liked to teach democracy to the Russian people, became the US president despite the fact that he gathered 500,000 votes less than his main rival Albert Gore. Bush received 50 460 110 (47.9%) votes, Gore – 51 003 926 (48,4%). Is it absurd? Yes, it is. But this is in compliance with the US legislation.

The main provisions concerning the presidential elections are contained in article 2 of the US Constitution and a number of amendments attached to it. They are easy to understand. The rest is regulated by the laws of the states which is worse because in every state lawmakers set their own rules.

Technical issues of the election organization are regulated by the United States Code, which states control over the elections on the side of the society but this control concerns only one aspect: the Archivist of the US is obliged to keep filled-in and signed certificates of the electors one year after the elections and to make them accessible for the public. And that’s all! The US legislation does not envisage any other control on the side of the American and international public over fairness and transparency of the elections. This is despite the fact that the organization of the whole electoral process in the states, including the formation of electoral commissions (“councils”), is the authority of local officials. At the same time the officials have the right to put up their candidacies for different posts in the elections. They also have the right to agitate for the candidates which represent their party.

We can only imagine how indignant Ukrainian in Russian liberals would feel if the lists of the electoral commissions were made by the officials whose names are written in the ballot papers and the presence of monitors from political parties, international organizations like OSCE at ballot stations was not allowed. Although our “Americanophiles” regularly visit US embassies in order to teach us later how to live in American style they do not go into detail of the US electoral system. They could (at least as a mere formality) ask the US ambassadors how democratic control over the elections is conducted in their “stronghold of democracy”.

It is common knowledge, that the US president is elected not directly by voters but by the Electoral College. Now it is to include 538 members. The number of electors from each state and the District of Columbia depends on the number of citizens residing on their territories and should be equal to the number of congressmen from a given state (senators and members of House of Representatives).

It seems not a big deal. But because every state does its own thing deciding how to distribute votes, “the winner takes it all” principle plays a low-down trick with US citizens, when the candidate, who gets the majority, receives votes of all electors of his or her state.

This graphic demonstrates how the winner of the popular vote can still lose in a hypothetical electoral college system.

Absurdity of this system becomes especially obvious in those states where neither the Democrats nor Republicans have overwhelming majority (so-called “swing states”).

As a result, just like in case with the election of George Bush Junior, it can be that the number Democrats and Republicans in the Electoral College does not reflect the choice of the most of the US citizens, which would be obvious in case of a direct vote. In some states, a member of the Electoral College is not obliged to give his or her vote for the candidate who put him/her on the list of electors. There were rare cases in the history of the US when a member of the Electoral College gave his vote to another candidate or abstained from voting.

There is also an obvious violation of the principle of equality. If we take correlation between the population number and its representation in the Congress it turns out that a vote given by a voter from a small state “weights” much heavier than a vote cast by a voter from a state with larger number of population. Where is the democracy, which main principle is equal rights of all citizens?

Although the results of opinion polls in the US have been reflecting for many years the wish of most of Americans to switch to direct presidential elections, the Congress consistently blocks any attempts to change the two-stage system.

Some congressmen believe that the lack of the single legislation for all the states strengthens the federalism, i.е. decentralization of power, someone believes that inequality in the “weight” of votes prevents domination of the large cities in the electoral process; someone thinks that this system makes a candidate listen more attentively to the opinions of different minorities, which can provide him decisive support in “swing states”.

Summing it up, the electoral system of the “stronghold of democracy” is so complicated and so undemocratic in letter and in spirit that many US citizens simply do not vote.

For some reason, the US foundations, institutions and centers, promoting democracy all over the world do not speak about these issues. They are interested in “democracy” in any other country but not in their own.

In mid January 2012, a self-proclaimed rater of the “freedom level” in the world, an (allegedly) non-governmental organization Freedom House, delivered another ridiculous report “Freedom in the World 2012. The Arab Uprisings and Their Global Repercussions”. As usual, the report contains nice charts and tables with points of “freedom level” the countries deserve, according to Freedom House. The report also contains notes why the US “promoted freedom” in Africa and the Middle East last year and that, according to Washington, the amount of freedom in the world is decreasing. As if it is a report of a salesman who travels around the world to sell unsalable stocks.

Strict American monitors have criticized almost every country, even some European allies of the US receive some critical (though moderate) remarks. The report only briefly deals with the situation in the US and these remarks are off the point. For example, the report says that the US has gone through the year of deep political polarization and legislative “jam”… The legislative branch and the White House failed to agree on how to reduce the federal deficit to an admissible level. As soon as the Congress and the president failed to agree on key economic issues, the left wing critics… discontented with imbalance in distribution of wealth and the link between politicians and big businesses set up the “Occupy Wall Street” movement… The local authorities suppressed those protests, usually using peaceful means, but in some cases the police used batons, tear gas and detained people. According to the report, some of the observers made critical statements with regard to the police for using confrontation tactics and military type of ammunition remarks.

On making only several critical remarks regarding the US police the authors of the report switch to the “achievements” of the US democracy. As the main achievement they name the fact that Barack Obama has kept one of his pre-election promises – he allowed gays and lesbians to serve in the US armed forces provided that they are not asked about their sexual orientation and they do not make an exhibition of it. The state of New York received additional points from the raters for joining the company of other states, which legalized gay marriages.

Freedom House does not see any other problems with freedom in the US. According to the report, the right of gays and lesbians to wear military uniform is significant for democracy, while the fact that the US president often can be elected by the minority of the country and lack of equal rights of US citizens when electing the head of the state are minor drawbacks which are not worth the attention of the “protectors of freedom” in other states.

I am almost tempted to quote the New Testament here: “Cura te ipsum!

Source: Strategic Culture Foundation

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