Presidential Elections in the US and Gabon: Which One is More Rigged?
Do any U.S. Presidents really have a mandate?
November 29, 2016
Few Americans took notice this past summer of the Presidential elections in Gabon. The incumbent, Ali Bongo, was reelected with 5,594 more votes than his opponent, out of a total of 349,850 – a 1.5% difference.
At the time, independent observers and members of the “dishonest” media (as the incumbent’s side calls it) pointed out the surprising results in the last province to report votes, Haut Ogoboue.
This area also happens to be the fiefdom of the Bongo family. An impressive 99.93% of the electorate went to the polls there, and 95.46% chose to vote for Ali Bongo.
There were (unsurprisingly) suggestions that the election had been rigged. Any comparison with the American process would seem preposterous. And yet…
Candidate Trump complained repeatedly and loudly about the “rigged” election, that is until he won, fair and square, a majority of the Electoral College on the night of November 8.
On that night, his opponent had a small lead in the popular vote, which has no bearing whatsoever on the outcome of the 2016 U.S. Presidential elections.
Except that what looked as an almost technical anomaly at the time has taken on a new significance: Clinton’s lead has been growing every day ever since and she has now two million more votes than Donald Trump. the President-elect. As in Gabon, that translates into about a 1.5% margin.
In most democratic countries, Hillary Clinton would have won the election. Not in her own.
What’s more, she is now the second candidate in the 21st century to win the popular vote and lose the election, after Al Gore in 2000.
The former Vice President lost in the infamous “hanging chad” dispute in the courts in Florida, and in the Supreme Court. However, his nationwide margin in the popular vote was smaller than Hillary Clinton’s (just 0.5%).
What every American could tell you, but foreigners are less familiar with, is that the November 8 election was technically only a prelude.
The real election will take place on December 19, when the 538 members of the Electoral College will meet and elect Donald Trump (although they legally could choose otherwise).
The Democrats’ handicap
Let us look at the impact of the Electoral College on the American way of democracy in the 21st century:
1. Each state has as many members in the Electoral College as the total number of its representatives and Senators.
Since each state has two senators, independent of the population, voters in the smallest states have a proportionally greater sway in the Electoral College: 4% of the population has 8% of the votes for President.
The thirteen smallest population states to vote Republican this year together have a population of 24 million people and more votes in the Electoral College than California and its 39 million inhabitants. No more one- man one-vote as far as the Presidential election is concerned.
2. The Democrats are structurally handicapped since their voters are too concentrated in the North East or the West Coast states, whose votes are obliterated by the system.
3. In sum, the President is, in this particular case of strong discrepancy between the results of the popular vote and the Electoral College, less the President of the United States than the President of the Swing States.
A dozen or so of these swing states can switch from red to blue and vice versa and whose profile gives more weight to voters in rural and small town communities.
Turnout tends to be far lower in states where the candidates do not contest the race.
Perversions of democratic principles
In short: no question that the President-elect has, if not a mandate, certainly a “huge” victory in the Electoral College. No question either that the system is profoundly rigged.
One could expand ad nauseam the blatant perversions of democratic principles in American politics:
- Systematic voter suppression efforts in some states
- Grotesque gerrymandering of electoral districts, which explains why a party can have the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives with only 45% of the votes
- A Senate structure that favors rural America, all the more shocking given the extraordinary powers of each individual senator
- The fact that, ironically, the people of the District of Columbia, home to the capital of the country, have no representation in the House or in the Senate, even though they outnumber the people of Vermont or Wyoming.
As if that lopsided, significantly undemocratic and quasi-feudalist structure of U.S. politics weren’t bad enough, all of this is made significantly worse by the incestuous and extremely elitist relationship between money, politics and democracy in the United States.
This, in itself, is a saga of truly Tolstoyan proportions, length and drama.
Gabon better off?
Short and to the point: Is Gabon more of a democracy than the United States of America, as far as presidential elections are concerned?
The answer is a resounding yes: In Gabon, at least, you have to stuff the ballot boxes to win the election.
You don’t even need to do that in the United States. Here, the system does the stuffing for you. That is American ingenuity at its best.
It should give contemporary Americans, with either party preference, reason to pause if they see that fledgling African countries put more stock into democracy than does the United States.
In Gabon and many other places, Presidents (or whoever the head of government is) are elected in a direct vote of the people.
The United States, the self-advertised standard bearer of democracy globally, is one of the few countries that distrusts its voters so much that it won’t let its people vote for “the Prez” in a direct national vote.