27th Jun 2022


The sick man of the world’s democracies

Looking at the huge queues outside polling stations on 2 November, I had to ask myself some simple questions.

How many Europeans would have left such queues, refusing to wait for up to seven hours (as happened in some places in Ohio) to cast their votes?

Read and decide

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And, how many Europeans would then, the next day, have taken to the street to denounce this flaw in the electoral process?

I came to the conclusion that, in both cases, the answer would be the same: a lot.

We still do not know how many Americans decided that they did not want to or could not afford to wait for many hours in order to be able to exercise their voting right.

And we can see that nobody demonstrated against the extraordinary situation after polling day.

Growing transatlantic rift

I believe that this example says a lot about the growing rift between Americans and Europeans. It also says a lot about the current status of US democracy, which has become the ‘sick man of the world's democracies’.

As was stated by the OSCE election observers, the US election system is worse than many in Third World countries and is totally unable to match the basic criteria for a 21st century democracy.

First, it is not a national election, nor an election in 50 states - it is an election organized in 13000 different ways, one for each district. Without one or just a few election laws, there is no way to ensure its fairness.

Fraud is already part of the game because of the obsolescence of a system dating from the early 19th century. For instance, due to local regulations, OSCE observers could not enter polling stations in one state … guess which one … Ohio!

Identifying voters

Second, without a proper ID card system, securing the identification of voters is almost impossible. As one OSCE observer pointed out, the US should be using the ‘ink on the thumb’ system to prevent people voting twice.

Meanwhile, the lack of a credible identification system (people use drivers licenses or social security numbers - both of which are easily forged) generates a messy attempt of control through voters lists.

This paves the way for all sorts of litigation while not preventing multiple votes.

Third, the US voting system is unable to deliver anything but machines which cannot give any warranty on their reliability (electronic voting with no paper printing control system), nor on their accuracy.

Privatisation of polling stations

Meanwhile, the belief that private companies can do a better job than a publicly-owned voting system casts a big shadow over the whole process - particularly when those companies have direct political connections with one candidate.

And fourth, the insufficient number of polling stations leading to a large number of US citizens who could not wait or would not wait for such a long time to be able to cast their vote.

The fact that there are huge queues obliging people to wait for hours before casting their vote is not a sign of a healthy democracy, but rather a sign that the democratic system is unable to match the demand of its citizens.

Waiting to vote for hours

This puts this US election closer to the recent election in Afghanistan than to one in any developed world democracy.

A question then immediately comes to mind: who decided and how about the number of polling stations?

It is a way of denying access to the vote to several sections of the population.

Workers with low income, who cannot afford to miss a days work, are for instance part of such a group. Young voters are another one, who, unless they are highly politically motivated, are most likely going to turn away from a 3 hour waiting election line.

No questions

But still nobody is reacting in the US. Journalists, politicians, experts, citizens … stay mute.

In today's US, people grumble on their own, or cheer the success of their own candidate, as if democracy was not, first of all, depending on the quality of the electoral process, rather than who is the winner.

This is what is being heavily discussed in Europe. This is what I have been debating with my US friends. This is what I want to share with you today even if it brings very transatlantically incorrect topics on the agenda, because this is part of the new image of the US in the world.

Franck Biancheri - is director of Studies and Strategy at the foundation Europe 2020 and President of the transatlantic organisation TIESweb


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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