Saturday, November 14, 2020

Klaus: On flimsiness (and therefore untrustworthiness) of the American presidential elections

By the second Czech president Václav Klaus, in the LN daily

Even though the U.S. electoral system and its weights of various states of the Union is rather strange for a person – an ordinarily attentive (i.e. not so attentive) to details of politics – from a unitary state such as Czechia, we respect that it reflects a historically evolved American federalism. It wasn't drawn by an election expert who was sitting behind his desk. The U.S. were born through an evolution and they were undergoing a transformation in time.

The extent to which this federalism is authentic and perceived as legitimate today, is something I don't know. It is true that "patriots" of their respective states exist and strongly identify with these states (which is the substantial basis underlying the federal system) but America has been boasting about the unique intra-American mobility – it is easy (and frequent) to move thousands of miles away which greatly weakens the people's bond to a particular place. The Europeans are simply not moving this easily, they have no reason for that. But I digresss.

A far less comprehensible for an "ordered" Czech person (or other people in Central Europe) is the chaos accompanying the 2020 elections. It is fashionable for us to mention transgressions that are unimaginable for us – the American voter doesn't have to show any ID in the voting station (even though it is required in many other situations, e.g. when he buys alcohol in certain states); it is possible to double vote (in person as well as by mail-in ballots); and it is common for "dead souls" to vote (to reuse the ballots from citizens who are no longer alive) and so on.

At many places, the count was suspended due to a blackout; the hiatus elsewhere was due to a broken water pipeline; they ran out of the ink for printers; or they depleted their ballots. We don't understand the bizarre suspension of the preliminary results in several states during the election night. All these details make people suspicious. Rightfully so. We in Czechia also fail to understand why it is possible to vote several weeks in advance.

However, the most harmful stain on the purity of the elections is the very possibility as well as the huge popularity of the mail-in ballots which should only exist as an exception in individually justified cases. Once in four years, a person should be able to avoid travelling, he could reserve some spare time, he could find a clean shirt and a tie somewhere, and orderly and respectably march to the voting station. Isn't it a fair price for the right to participate in the political decisions? Does the price look too high to someone?

Ballots have always been traded during elections (although I have never understood why) but the mail-in ballot system makes these violations much easier to perform. How is it possible that in these American elections, the percentage supporting each candidate was so very different than among the in-person voters? On top of that, it was always the same candidate who benefited from the mail-in ballots. Since the very fall of communism, I have always fought against this election methodology even though this "feature" was repeatedly proposed again and again. The strange results of the repeated Austrian elections was a big red flag for us a few years ago. Does America fail to see a problem here? Or – alternatively – aren't these consequences considered to be "features" by someone in America?

But all these questions are just technicalities and procedural details. I am convinced that something else is essential. Even though the voting act is an individual one, the rational ignorance of the voter (which is a respectable term in public choice theory, not a pretentious insult) makes it necessary to aggregate the voters according to a useful key. History has shown that the political parties are the most effective tool to aggregate voters. When they are ideologically well-defined, they play their role well. Isn't the problem with U.S. elections today also given by the incredible weakness and emptiness of the American political parties?

It seems self-evident that the two main political parties – the Republican and Democratic Party – have turned into flat caricatures of themselves. Even though the main separation of the people's opinions to the left and the right survives, many other defining characteristics which used to define the parties in the past have been lost.

Yes, the Republicans are more conservative but they have embraced many attitudes that their Republican predecessors (and voters) would reject just a generation or two generations ago. Democrats (like our social democrats) have made a radical step to the left. Everything started to be "fuzzy" i.e. blurred and mixed. Consequently, parties no longer play their immensely productive aggregating role. What seems dominant is the personal admiration or, on the contrary, hatred towards politicians and assorted fashionable (and seemingly apolitical) topics. The form seems to trump the substance which makes the P.R. agencies more powerful than ever before.

When combined, all these things incredibly degrade the voting act and lower the credibility of the democratic system itself. Let us not allow something similar to happen in our country. In America, a lot has been at stake, even for us. It shouldn't be possible for the results to be humiliated and questioned.

Václav Klaus, Lidové noviny (People's Newspaper), November 13th, 2020

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