Trump versus Biden election: What America needs to learn from India 

2 weeks ago 4

In its presidential election, the US has to count about one-fourth of the number of votes cast in 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The Election Commission of India counted that number in a matter of few hours. In the US, Donald Trump versus Joe Biden contest hangs in suspense on the third day.

 What America needs to learn from India

US presidential election: An artist painting an image of Democrat candidate Joe Biden next to a painting of Republican candidate and incumbent President Donald Trump in Mumbai. (Photo: AFP)

Make America Great Again. This has been incumbent American President Donald Trump’s election battle cry. The world’s oldest modern democracy holds elections in a manner that may not qualify as “free” and “fair” in many other democracies. Certainly not in India. Here, the Election Commission has set such a high standard that its observers are called to some fledgling democracies of Africa to give elections there credibility.

Let’s see first how the US conducts its election to arguably the most powerful office in the world to understand why the American presidential election -- where Joe Biden of the Democratic Party has challenged Donald Trump of the Republican Party -- has become controversial. Even before the first vote was cast, there were talks about the election being contested in the courts.

AN AMERICAN ELECTION

The US has a Federal Election Commission but it does not conduct elections in America. Its job is to regulate financing in election campaigns. The US presidential election is conducted by local authorities in different states. Simply put, the ruling government or governments conduct the US presidential election. And, it goes without saying that the ruling party would love to see its party candidate win, at least from the state it governs.The US does not have a central or national voters’ list. That is, local authorities create a voters’ list in every locality through a process that requires citizens to register as voters. Selective registration procedures have been used in the past to discourage certain group of citizens. African Americans have often been at the receiving end.Each state has its own voter registration requirements. Some states allow registration of voters even on Election Day. In some cases, if an unregistered voter turns up at the polling booth, the local election administrators may issue a provisional voter registration slip. There is no uniform ballot form or format applicable across the US. Additionally, some states have replaced paper ballots with electronic voting machines, which are maintained by local officers, who train volunteers for Election Day duty.The Election Day in the US is not actually the day of polling. Actual voting may start days before Election Day and continue days after Election Day. Election Day is actually the day when most votes are cast in the polling booth and, more significantly, the counting of votes begins.For its 10 electors, Minnesota, for example, started voting 46 days before the Election Day. But to choose 15 electors, a voter in North Carolina, on the other hand, can vote till nine days after Election Day through postal ballots.Another issue with the American election is that voters are given or allowed to procure ballot papers days in advance for postal voting. Postal ballots in these cases can be bought, stolen or snatched by people with vested interest as mass-mailing of ballots is allowed. This is additionally vulnerable as Election Day is not a public holiday in the US making it difficult for the poor and the working class to stand in queues for hours to cast their votes.Further, there are no set rules for rejection of postal ballots, which come in millions in the US presidential election. Some reports said the ballots were rejected as the voter had not sealed the envelope with saliva but by tape.

ELECTION INDIA STYLE

Now, take India’s case where there are about four voters for every American voter. Both countries allow a person of above 18 years to vote provided they are registered as voters.

In India, the Election Commission conducts the entire election process. In fact, once the election is announced, the powers of the government are severely limited till the completion of the entire exercise. The Model Code of Conduct (MCC) kicks in soon after the announcement of the election schedule. The general administration practically functions under the command of the Election Commission.The Election Commission, a centralised body with offices at various administrative levels across the country, is the custodian of the voters’ list. The Election Commission, and not a government body, is the final authority in deciding who is a voter.In India, votes are cast on the day of polling -- the election day -- which is a public holiday in the constituencies going to the polls. Postal ballots are allowed in India but to a select group of voters and the rules are uniform throughout the country. Voters cannot cast their vote after polling hours realising that their favourite candidate or party is trailing.India records its votes in stand-alone devices called the electronic voting machines (EVMs). To ensure greater transparency and credibility, the Election Commission has now padded up EVMs with VVPAT (Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail) machines in which the voter can see a printed slip coming out with the same marking as recorded in the EVM.And, most significantly, the counting of votes is done within hours by the Election Commission at the district headquarters of constituencies. In 2019 Lok Sabha election, over 61 crore voters (of over 91 crore eligible) cast their votes in India. By late afternoon, most seats had been declared. In the US, around 15 crore people have cast their votes and counting is still going on. Some experts have said the counting may take weeks to finish the counting.

The way how the US conducts elections has drawn criticism from many election experts. The American election has many loose ends that are open to manipulation. Elections are the bedrock of any true democracy. The US has a lot to learn from India before it takes pride in MAGA (Making America Great Again).

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