As the farce that is the 2020 US election rumbles on, much is being made about the sanctity of US democracy.
About whether there the brouhaha over the result is an attempt to protect or subvert the hard fought democratic rights of Americans. About the need to count all the 150 million “legal” votes, although there has been little hard evidence to point to widespread illegal voting.
Joe Biden said Donald Trump’s failure to follow expected norms and concede in the face of almost certain defeat was an “embarrassment” that would not help his legacy. It also goes against the smooth “transition of power” that other incumbents have adhered too, as their final, dignified act in office.
Democracy is something the US holds dear. It puts the nation’s leadership on a pedestal of legitimacy and public support that dictatorships might claim to have – but dare not prove through a poll.
But the US is deluded. Its democracy is neither enshrined in the constitution nor is its spirit adhered to in practice.
The incessant wailing about “illegal votes” just highlights this obscene juxtaposition all the more.
Actually turning up and voting is sometimes the final fruitless act following a disgraceful series of events to ensure that the person’s vote cast counts for nothing – if they can vote at all.
INSULT TO DEMOCRACY
No democracy is perfect, but American democracy is an insult to those who fought so hard to create and protect it. For years, decades, centuries even, politicians have been given almost free reign to chip away at is foundations until it has become little more than a brand – DemocracyTM – that has little of substance behind it.
Let’s start with the constitution. The right to vote isn’t actually in there. Several amendments to the constitution have stated the right to vote cannot be barred on the grounds of race, sex or a number of other attributes. But there is still no specific mention of the right to vote.
Then there’s the Electoral College. Every four years we are reminded of the frankly bonkers way US presidents are elected. A system that means tiny Wyoming gets one Electoral College vote per 180,000 citizens while in California is one per 670,000.
But that’s almost small fry. It’s baffling but it’s transparent and it’s been around since the founding fathers.
CREATIVE WAYS TO DENY VOTES
Instead, voter suppression is one of the major tactics to deny votes. It’s the concerted and entirely legal effort by some politicians to ensure many of their fellow Americans are denied their vote – preferably those who will vote for someone else, of course.
“We really are the only advanced democracy on Earth that systematically and purposely makes it really hard for people to vote,” then President Barack Obama said in 2016.
Of course, it’s never couched like that. No no, it’s not suppression – it’s about ensuring elections are fair and only those who can vote, do vote. What an absolute crock.
Over the years, literacy tests and voting fees have been put in place before people can vote. That, of course, meant poorer Americans, often black, were denied their democratic right.
More recently, some states have demanded to see government-issued ID like a driving licence. Again, its African-Americans that are more likely to lack these documents.
Texas allows handgun licences as photo ID; but not university student IDs. Subtle.
RELATED: How mail voting works in the US
REMOVING VOTERS FROM THE ROLL
Then there is so-called voter purging. Done appropriately, this is just housekeeping, ensuring the electoral roll is up to date.
But done with a nod and wink, it can exclude scores of legitimate voters.
In Georgia, hundreds of thousands of people were removed from the roll. Some simply because they hadn’t voted in a few previous elections. That’s despite voting not being compulsory in the US.
The Democrats’ success in Georgia has at least partly been put down to a register to vote drive initiated by the party that saw some 800,000 people enrol.
REDRAWING BOUNDARIES TO SUIT CANDIDATES
But perhaps the most egregious undermining of democracy in the US is the so-called gerrymandering of electoral districts.
This is not related to the presidential election but for other votes such as the House of Representatives. Who controls the Reps has immense power in US politics.
Drawing electoral boundaries is not a perfect science, but in Australia – as in many nations – it is done by an independent body.
Our electorates, by and large, make geographical sense. The electorate of Sydney encompasses the CBD and surrounding suburbs, for instance.
Not so in much of the US. There, districts in many states can be redrawn on a whim by the party in power.
And boy, do they make the most of this privilege.
Districts are routinely refashioned into ungainly, sinuous shapes to either pack one party’s voters in – or exclude them – to attempt to guarantee election victory.
The ruling Republicans might redraw a knife edge electorate so a suburb full of Democrat voters slap bang in the middle is pushed into another district.
The result? In 2020, the election outcome in more than 90 per cent of districts was a certainty before any votes had been cast.
‘BLOOD SPATTER FROM A CRIME SCENE’
The most gerrymandered district in the US is said to be Maryland’s 3rd district. It winds its way, like a dropped piece of spaghetti, around the gentrified suburbs of Baltimore off into the countryside then back again and finally down the coast to the state capital of Annapolis.
It makes absolutely no geographical sense. A local politician compared it to “blood spatter from a crime scene,” reported the New Republic.
And just to prove both major parties can get up to no good, it was drawn up by the Democrats.
The entire state has been sliced up like this. Because it works. At the 2016 House of Representatives election the Democrats were able to pick up seven of Maryland’s eight seats, despite winning only 60 per cent of the vote.
Politicians shrug at the criticism. If the Republicans are doing it in Texas, they lament, why don’t we do it here?
And that’s the problem with democracy in America. Politicians talk a big talk about how imperative it is that the presidential election result is beyond reproach; that the entire nation’s honour depends on it.
That if a vote is in question, it should be counted again. That there can be no doubt as to the result; that all claims of the dirty being done on democracy in the shadows must be investigated.
And yet much of the damage to the US’ democratic institutions and norms is done in broad daylight long before Election Day.
It’s sad that the US has got to such a state that people, who perhaps went into politics for the right reasons, can cheerfully then deny other people the vote and maliciously redraw electoral boundaries to suit their party.
The only explanation can be that they are so unconvinced by their own arguments and policies, they have to rig the poll to get the result they want.
America could be a beacon for democracy and freedom. But, right now, it’s not. And so it is in no position to lecture any other country on the merits of democracy when it so easily and with such aplomb, undermines its own.