On Wednesday, the 20th of January 2021, the world stood still as Joe R. Biden and Kamala Harris were sworn in as President and Vice President of the United States of America. This brought to an end the rather tumultuous presidency of Donald Trump.
The US Elections have always used a variety of modes of voting, including mail-in, online, and in-person. Mail-in and online voting provide the opportunity for expatriates, military personnel, and others who cannot be physically present to cast their vote. On polling day, it is typical that these votes are counted after the tabulation of in-person votes.
For this election, the use of mail-in voting expanded considerably as it provided a safer alternative to in-person voting under the threat of community transmission of COVID. On the eve of the election, more than 94 million Americans had already cast their vote through remote and early in-person means.
The combination of the virus and high turnout meant that a large volume of mail-in ballots was cast, putting pressure on election returns teams to process votes after the polling booths had closed. This combination was further confounded by the disproportionate number of Democratic voters using mail-in ballots, where early leads for President Trump on election day were eroded as the mail-in ballots were counted. This ‘whittling away’ of votes for the President led to his claim that fraud was evident and that only the ‘legal’ votes should be counted.
As any sore loser would, the then president, Donald Trump went on a rant about how we won the elections fair and square, refusing to concede defeat. He made inflammatory statements, forcing insinuations that undermined the credibility of the Electoral Officers and cried wolf where there was none.
This led to the eventual attack on the US Capitol by his supporters who violently gained entrance, causing a stampede killing five (5) and injuring several others. Donald Trump had until the final week before the inauguration insisted that he won the election and made no attempt to relinquish power. He also did not support the transition committee. Many had thought it would end up as a tussle and had begun to wonder what would happen if a sitting president refused to leave the office. However, he did. What lessons can Nigeria and the rest of the world learn from the American Elections?
First, free fair and credible elections are possible. It isn’t rocket science. Forget the claims that the elections were stolen. Donald Trump or his supporters have not been able to support this claim with a shred of evidence. Joe Biden won by an outstanding majority, and the reason he did was that people were clearly tired of the status quo. Votes were cast via mail and not a single ballot was snatched or hijacked? Nigeria needs to learn a lot from this. Here, votes are even snatched in the presence of security operatives.
Next, do not underestimate the importance of an independent judiciary. Numerous observers have viewed these events as extremely dangerous for democracy and for the conduct of free and fair elections. However, the effects could have been significantly worse in the absence of an independent judiciary.
Many election administration officials in the US are elected officers from one of the two main political parties, so some observers have commented that a more partisan Secretary of State than Brad Raffensberger could have claimed that votes in some counties needed to be thrown out on account of voting irregularities. But the Secretary of State cannot make such a claim without evidence. Just as the Trump campaign has been asked to produce robust evidence in court to show voter fraud where it allegedly occurred, a Secretary of State would have had to do the same, in response to the forthcoming lawsuits that would have challenged the Secretary’s actions.
The Trump campaign’s string of losses in court reveals that state and federal judges, including those appointed by Trump, have not suffered easily claims of fraud where little evidence exists. Possibly the final chapter in this saga took place on Friday, 11 December, when the Supreme Court denied that a group of Republican state attorneys general had the standing to claim that millions of votes in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin should be thrown out. Thus, while there are concerns about the politics of courts when the president nominates and the Senate confirms federal judges, these rulings have demonstrated that there are basic standards for evidence and judicial interpretation that the Trump campaign lawsuits simply have not met.
Although US institutions performed well on balance, the elections highlighted crucial areas of democratic vulnerability.