The American Electoral College v Nigeria’s Presidential Elections (Part 2)

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Introduction

That a sitting American President (Donald Trump) even had to address whether or not he would leave office after roundly losing the election, underscores the extent to which President Trump has smashed one convention after another in just four years. While there is no evidence of any widespread fraud that Trump has been alleging, he and his legal team have nonetheless, been working to cast doubt on the integrity of the US Presidential election and trying to overturn the American voters’ will, in an unprecedented breach of Democratic norms. It is on this sad note of Trump turning America into a Banana Republic that we continue our discourse of the above issues today, with the American Electoral and party system. Please, read on.

Party Systems

One clear documented trend is that in-person votes and early votes are more likely to lean to the Republican Party, while the provisional ballots, which are counted later, trend to the Democratic Party. This phenomenon is known as ‘blue shift’, and has led to situations where Republicans won on election night, only to be overtaken by Democrats after all votes were counted. This is what has just taken place, in the US Presidential election. President Trump already declared himself winner with the early in-person votes, as the Republican party was leading. However, the Democrats later upset the applecart with a barrage of mail votes that gave President-elect, Joe Biden, the largest number of votes in American history, which totalled about a record over 80 million votes. He defeated sitting President Trump by over 10 million votes, cancelling Obama’s 2008 record.

Early Voting

Early voting is a formal process where voters can cast their ballot, prior to the official Election Day. Early voting in person is allowed in 33 American States and in Washington, D.C., with no excuse required.

Voting Method

The earliest voting in the US, was through paper ballots that were hand-counted. By the late 1800s, paper ballots printed by election officials were nearly universal. By 1980, 10% of American voters used paper ballots that were counted by hand, which dropped below 1% by 2008. Mechanical voting machines were first used in the US in the 1892 elections, in Lockport, New York.

In Nigeria, the Electoral Act provides for how ballots are cast. Sections 64 and 65 of the Electoral Act provides thus:

“64(1) The Presiding Officer shall, after counting the votes at the polling station or unit, enter the votes scored by each candidate in a form to be prescribed by the Commission, as the case may be.

(2) The Form shall be signed and stamped by the Presiding Officer and counter-signed by the candidates or their polling agents where available at the Polling Station.

(3) The Presiding Officer shall give to the Polling Agents and the Police officer where available, a copy each of the completed Forms after it has been duly signed as provided in subsection (2) of this section.

(4) The Presiding Officer shall count and announce the result at the Polling Station.

65. A candidate or a Polling Agent may, where present at a Polling Station when counting of votes is completed by the Presiding Officer, demand to have the votes recounted, provided that the Presiding Officer shall cause the votes to be so recounted only once”.

Levels of Election

Federal Elections

The United States has a presidential system of government, which means that the executive and legislature are elected separately. Article II of the United States Constitution requires that the election of the U.S. President by the Electoral College, must occur on a single day throughout the country; Article I established that elections for Congressional offices, however, can be held at different times. Congressional and Presidential elections take place simultaneously every four years, and the intervening Congressional elections, which take place every two years, are called midterm elections. In Nigeria, the election of the Presidents, Governors and members of the National and State Houses of Assembly take place as determined by INEC. See Sections 71, 112, 131 and 177 of the Constitution.

Voting Eligibility

The American Constitution states that members of the United States House of Representatives must be at least 25 years old, a citizen of the United States for at least seven years, and be a (legal) inhabitant of the State they represent. Senators must be at least 30 years old, a citizen of the United States for at least nine years, and be a (legal) inhabitant of the State they represent. The President and Vice President must be at least 35 years old, a natural born citizen of the United States, and a resident in the United States for at least fourteen years. It is the responsibility of State legislatures to regulate the qualifications for a candidate appearing on a ballot paper, although, in order to get onto the ballot, a candidate must often collect a legally defined number of signatures.

In Nigeria, a person must, under the 1999 Constitution, be 40 years old to contest for the Presidency [Section 131(b)]; 35 years for Governorship [Section 177(b)]; and 35 years for Senate [Section 65(a)] and 30 years for House of Representatives [Section 65(b)].

Presidential Elections

The American President and the Vice President, are elected together in a presidential election. It is an indirect election, with the winner being determined by votes cast by electors of the Electoral College. In modern times, voters in each State select a slate of electors from a list of several slates designated by different parties or candidates, and the electors typically promise in advance to vote for the candidates of their party (whose names of the presidential candidates usually appear on the ballot rather than those of the individual electors). The winner of the election is the candidate with at least, 270 Electoral College votes. It is possible for a candidate to win the electoral vote, and lose the (nationwide) popular vote (receive fewer votes nationwide than the second ranked candidate). Prior to ratification of the Twelfth Amendment to the United States Constitution (1804), the runner-up in a presidential election became the Vice President.

Congressional Elections

Congress has two chambers: the Senate and the House of Representatives. In Nigeria, by Section 142(1) of the 1999 Constitution, a Presidential candidate must have a running mate. A person becomes elected as President under Section 134(2), which provides that a “candidate for an election to the office of President shall be deemed to have been duly elected where, there being more than two candidates for the election- (a) he has the highest number of votes cast at the election; and (b) he has not less than one-quarter of the votes cast at the election in each of at least two-thirds of all the States in the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.”

Senate Elections

The American Senate has 100 members, elected for a six-year term in dual-seat constituencies (two from each State), with one-third being renewed every two years. The group of the Senate seats that is up for election during a given year is known as a “class”; the three classes are staggered so that only one of the three groups is renewed every two years. Until the Seventeenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1913, States chose how to elect Senators, and they were often elected by State legislatures, not the electorate of States.

There are 109 Senators in Nigeria, with three Senators representing a State (see Section 48 of the 1999 Constitution).

House of Representatives Elections

The American House of Representatives has 435 members, elected for a two-year term in single-seat constituencies. House of Representatives elections are held every two years on the first Tuesday after November 1, in even years. Special House elections can occur between, if a member dies or resigns during a term. House elections are first-past-the-post elections that elect a Representative from each of 435 House districts that cover the United States. The non-voting delegates of Washington, D.C., and the territories of American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands, are also elected. House elections occur every two years, correlated with presidential elections or halfway through a President’s term. The House delegate of Puerto Rico, officially known as the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico, is elected to a four-year term, coinciding with those of the President.

In Nigeria however, the 365 members of the Federal House of Representatives are elected for a four-year term, always renewable for as long as he/she wins elections.

State Elections

State law and State Constitutions, controlled by State legislatures regulate elections at State level and local level. Various officials at State level are elected. Since the separation of powers applies to States as well as the Federal Government, State legislatures and the executive (the Governor) are elected separately. Governors and Lieutenant Governors are elected in all States, in some States on a joint ticket and in some States separately, some separately in different electoral cycles. The Governors of the territories of American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands, are also elected. In some States, executive positions such as Attorney-General and Secretary of State are also State offices. All members of State legislatures and territorial jurisdiction legislatures, are elected. In some States, members of the State Supreme Court and other members of the State judiciary, are elected. Proposals to amend the State Constitution are also placed on the ballot, in some States.

As a matter of convenience and cost saving, elections for many of these State and local offices are held at the same time as either the Federal Presidential or midterm elections. There are a handful of States, however, that instead, hold their elections during odd-numbered “off years.”

In Nigeria, a Governor is elected for a four year term with a running mate (see Section 187(1) of the Constitution). He can run for a second and final term of four years. The Attorney-General of the Federation is not elected, but is appointed by the President under Section 160 of the Constitution.

Local Elections

At the local level, county and city government positions are usually filled by election, especially within the legislative branch. The extent to which offices in the executive or judicial branches are elected, vary from county-to-county or city-to-city. Some examples of local elected positions include Sheriffs at the county level, and Mayors and School Board members at the city level. Like State elections, an election for a specific local office may be held at the same time as either the Presidential, midterm, or off-year elections.

Section 7 of the Nigerian Constitution discusses the local government system and elections.

Features of the Election System

Multiple Levels of Regulation

In the US, elections are actually conducted by local authorities, working under local, State, and Federal law and regulation, as well as the US Constitution. It is a highly decentralised system.

In around half of US States, the Secretary of State is the official in charge of elections; in other States, it is someone appointed for the job, or a Commission. It is this person or Commission who is responsible for certifying, tabulating, and reporting votes for the State.

The situation is sharply contrasted in Nigeria, where it is the INEC which organises elections under Sections 78, 118, 132(1) and 178(1) of the Constitution, and sections of the Electoral Act.

Unlike Nigerians, Americans vote for a specific candidate instead of directly selecting a particular political party. The United States Constitution, has never formally addressed the issue of political parties. The Founding Fathers such as Alexander Hamilton and James Madison Jr, did not support domestic political factions at the time the Constitution was written. In addition, the first President of the United States, George Washington, was not even a member of any political party at the time of his election, or throughout his tenure as President. Furthermore, he hoped that political parties would not be formed, fearing conflict and stagnation. Nevertheless, the beginning of the American two-party system emerged from his immediate circle of advisers, with Hamilton and Madison ending up being the core leaders in this emerging party system. Due to Duverger’s law, the two-party system continued following the creation of political parties, as the first-past-the-post electoral system was kept.

One would have thought that America, having practiced democracy since 1776, would be free of election manipulations, ballot snatching and sit-tightism. President Trump has however, broken all these myths, making America look like a 3rd world Banana Republic. Mtcheew!

THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK

“When you start talking about elections being rigged, you’re pushing people beyond democratic governance. And it’s a very, very dangerous thing to do.” (Bruce Springsteen)