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Is America a banana republic?

The confusion over what has happened in 2020 is absurd

November 5, 2020

11:50 AM

5 November 2020

11:50 AM

Is it all over bar the litigation? Joe Biden is six Electoral College votes shy of victory, unless Arizona flips.

The Trump campaign will contest to death. They’ll claim voter fraud in Michigan, Nevada, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania — or any state they have narrowly lost. Those claims may have legitimacy; it’s too early to tell. But nobody said democracy was fair. The pursuit of power is a grubby business. With an electorate as big as America’s there will always be shadiness around the edges. We all knew that a late and vast blue mail-in surge was coming. We just didn’t know it would be this late.

Donald Trump will cry foul. He has been suggesting that the election would be rigged for years. Mail-in voting is indeed open to all sorts of abuses. But if Trump knew what was coming, and he did, why did he not do more to stop it?


From the beginning of his term, he should have pushed to establish more rigorous standards in American elections. He may have been thwarted. His efforts may have been deemed unconstitutional. His opponents would have claimed he was suppressing voters and trying to fix the next election.

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But Trump has never cared about opposition. The case is easy to make: the most powerful country in the world should not have a situation where days go by without a democratic result. Yes, in 2020 the pandemic has caused a huge surge in mail-in voting, yes there are postal delays — but those are not adequate excuses. Early votes just should not take days to count. If a voter cannot or does not want to cast their ballot in person, states should insist that they deliver it in good time.

Yes, there are constitutional implications. The Supreme Court has supported the rights of states to decide their own rules when it comes to elections. But elections don’t just have to be free and fair. They have to be clear. After the hanging chads debacle of 2000, Florida massively improved its vote counting processes. Something similar should now happen nationwide. Supporters of mass early voting suggest we should get used to the idea that elections are not snapshots of the public’s opinion on one particular day. The idea of everybody turning up to vote on the day is quaint but unrealistic. Maybe so. But election results must not be delayed. How, two days after the Election Day, can Pennsylvania’s votes only be 90 percent counted? North Carolina is saying it might not have finished the count until next week. In Allegheny County, which contains Pittsburgh, the elections staff have reportedly taken today off. They might finish the job on Friday, if they can be bothered.

America may not be banana republic quite yet, but it is doing a very good impression of one. On social media, the Chinese are chuckling. So are the Russians.

The confusion over what has happened in 2020 is absurd. Federal electoral reform is badly needed in America and Trump’s failure to do it may prove to be the greatest error of his leadership.


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