FIXING ELECTORAL SYSTEMS

Trump not wrong to question US election

Much ink has also been spilt on harmful effects of gerrymandering and voter suppression.

In Summary

• Trump may be wrong in how he going about his seemingly futile attempt to overturn the election but he is not wrong to question it.

• In fact more Americans would be better served if they did (and of they asked better questions the he does). Vigilance is, after all the price of liberty.

US President Donald Trump speaks about early results from the presidential election in the East Room of the White House in Washington, on November 4,
LOST ELECTION: US President Donald Trump speaks about early results from the presidential election in the East Room of the White House in Washington, on November 4,
Image: REUTERS

Omnia praesumuntur rite et solemniter esse acta. It was in 2013 while reading the Supreme Court judgment validating Uhuru Kenyatta’s election as President that I came across this legal principle for the first time.

It basically means that unless the contrary is proven, all acts of public bodies accused of irregularities, are presumed to have been done rightly and regularly.

I was reminded of the same principle when watching the US media’s reaction to President Donald Trump’s allegations of fraud and rigging in the recent election.

Journalists and news networks appear to have taken the dictum to heart, demanding that Trump provide evidence for his allegations.

They are essentially taking the US government at its word when reporting official assertions that these were “the most secure [elections] in American history” with “no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised”.

It is instructive to note that this is not the way they report on other countries.

 

When the opposition claimed electoral fraud in the former Soviet state of Georgia five days after the US election, Reuters news agency merely noted that “the opposition accuses the ruling party and its supporters of vote-buying, making threats against voters and observers and of violations during the counting process. Georgian Dream leaders have denied the accusations”.

No demand for evidence. Nor is the official narrative given automatic credence.

In the public square, where media are important gatekeepers, demands, that place the burden on citizens to prove wrongdoing rather than on government officials to demonstrate that they carried out their duties properly, is profoundly undemocratic.

While legal principles like omnia praesumuntur rite et solemniter esse acta may have their place in the courtroom, history has shown that in the court of public opinion, we dare not presume such a thing.

Given the disparity in resources and access to information between the state and the ordinary mwananchi, it would eviscerate public accountability.

Now, none of this is meant to suggest that Trump’s assertions are credible.

However, it is meant to highlight the fact that regardless of whether you believe him or not, questioning the actions of public officials and demanding an accounting from them is the lifeblood of democracy.

Without it, the rule of the people withers and dies.

In the US, the belief that their elections are free and fair is an article of faith with very little to back it up. Many experts have noted multiple problems.

For example, South African academic Dr Sithembile Mbete notes that its fragmented system lacks “uniform standards and regulations for managing elections” and that “vote-rigging … play[s] out in the US every election” through voter suppression and gerrymandering schemes.

Yet very little of this is reflected in US media coverage that seems more concerned with maintaining Americans’ faith in a fraudulent election system rather than with encouraging them to question whether the system is deserving of such faith.

Sure there are columnists and pundits bemoaning the anachronistic institutions such as the Electoral College, and the legal black holes lying in wait at the heart of the system and urging reform.

Much ink has also been spilt on the harmful effects of gerrymandering and voter suppression.

But none of this seems to puncture the self-assured and much-mistaken faith in the system as fundamentally free and fair.

Because of this, Americans, like Kenyans, continue to enact the same drama every election cycle with little being done in between elections to fix the flaws that have been exposed.

Breaking down the façade of quasi-religious faith in the American electoral system and its officials is the first step in getting people to ask why a system that consistently delivers power to those who have garnered fewer votes should be tolerated, let alone celebrated.

 

Trump may be wrong in how he going about his seemingly futile attempt to overturn the election but he is not wrong to question it.

In fact, more Americans would be better served if they did (and of they asked better questions he does). Vigilance is, after all the price of liberty.