Robert Buddan | American president by fair or foul means?
Weekly American polls report on the ongoing presidential campaign, specifically the Clinton-Trump contest. Who will win? Who is more popular, they ask? But might Trump or Clinton, neither of whom is particularly likable to voters, win by cheating rather than popularity? The polls and pundits ignore this.
We shouldn't. Recently, I received a complimentary report from the University of Sydney, Australia, updating its rating of the integrity of elections in 2016 in exchange for answering an 'expert' survey on the February elections in Jamaica. Its Perception of Electoral Integrity (PEI) ranked Jamaica in the category of 'high to very high', consistent with my rating. Jamaica even had a higher score than the United States in the same category.
I was struck by what the report thought could possibly happen in the coming US presidential election. It fears cheating. It is often thought that political parties in the United States are above cheating and that cheating is a Third-World thing.
But we should be reminded of Bernie Sanders' claim, apparently true, that the Democratic Party used tricks to defeat his run to be that party's candidate. If Hillary's side did that to Sanders, wouldn't they do it to Trump? Isn't Trump cynical enough to do it to Hillary? Neither is rated well by the American public for character and each campaigns that the other is unfit to be president.
The Sydney report studies people's perceptions of electoral integrity in their respective countries. It reported that only 60 per cent of Americans thought their vote would be counted fairly or counted at all. This had fallen from 75 per cent 10 years ago.
The American contest is close enough for cheating to make the ultimate difference, especially in the swing states. The Sydney Report cites five dangers:
1: "Senator Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have battled through an exceptionally brutal campaign generating highly negative and deeply polarised opinions among the electorate." Trump, for one, fears the elections could be 'rigged'.
2: "Ever since Florida in 2000, the Republicans and Democrats have become increasingly divided over processes of electoral registration and balloting." The Republicans have emphasised photo identification and verification checks to prevent voter impersonation, while the Democrats have highlighted voters' rights and advocated measures to increase legitimate voter turnout.
3: "The FBI and the National Security Agency have taken very seriously the threat of external attempts to hack the results of the election." Cybersecurity officials worry because hackers recently tried to break into the emails of the Democratic Party and into two state registration databases to steal 200,000 voting records and commit other breaches.
4: "The issue of campaign finance has fuelled further mistrust of the process, with attacks on the fund-raising role of major donors and corporations." This is heading to be the most expensive election in history, with spending on all contests expected to reach as much as US$5 billion, more than double the amount spent in 2012.
5: "These developments are likely to exacerbate and deepen long-standing shortcomings of electoral administration observed in previous American contests." Experts regard the 2012 and 2014 contests relatively poorly when compared with other established democracies. Concerns over electoral laws, voter registration, redistricting boundaries, and campaign finance worsen electoral administration, which already suffers from "exceptionally partisan and decentralised arrangements".
The electoral integrity index of the Sydney study ranked the United States at the bottom of the established democracies. Not an inspirational ranking.
Jamaica's political parties, independent members and electoral office must be congratulated for their decades of work towards building the respectable Electoral Commission of Jamaica. But they must keep improving the system. There is the new danger of hacking, for example, and we must do more about campaign financing and campaign violence, vote buying, low voter turnout, unsustainable promises, and outright lying.
However, we must also commend a party which, when widely expected to win, lost by just one seat and left office peacefully. In the US, in contrast, both sides appear ready to accuse the other of fraud, whoever loses.