The American Electoral College v Nigeria’s Presidential Elections (Part 3)

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Introduction

We have so far seen in our discourse, that in American elections, though candidates are elected directly by popular vote, however, the President and Vice President are not elected directly by citizens. Instead, they are chosen by “electors”, through a process called the Electoral College. This process of using electors, comes from the American Constitution. It was a compromise between a popular vote by citizens, and a vote in Congress. On this note, we shall conclude our three-part discourse on the above topic.

Ballot Access in the US

Ballot access refers to the laws which regulate under what conditions access is granted for a candidate or political party, to appear on voters’ ballots. Each State has its own ballot access laws. According to Article I, Section 4, of the United States Constitution, the authority to regulate the time, place, and manner of federal elections is up to each State, unless Congress legislates otherwise. Depending on the office and the State, it may be possible for a voter to cast a write-in vote for a candidate whose name does not appear on the ballot, but it is extremely rare for such a candidate to win office.

In Nigeria, elections are governed by the Constitution and the Electoral Act

Campaign Finance

The funding of electoral campaigns, has always been a controversial issue in America. Infringement of free speech (First Amendment) is an argument against restrictions on campaign contributions, while allegations of corruption arising from unlimited contributions and the need for political equality, are the reverse arguments. Private funds are a major source of finance from individuals and organisations. The first attempt to regulate campaign finance by legislation in the US was in 1867; but major legislation, with the intention to widely enforce on campaign finance, was not introduced until the 1970s.

Money contributed to campaigns can be classified into “hard money” and “soft money”. Hard money is money contributed directly to a campaign, by an individual or organisation. Soft money is money from an individual or organisation not contributed to a campaign, but spent in candidate-specific advertising or other efforts that benefit that candidate by groups supporting the candidate, but legally not coordinated by the official campaign.

The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, required candidates to disclose sources of campaign contributions and campaign expenditure. It was amended in 1974, to legally limit campaign contributions. It banned direct contributions to campaigns by corporations and trade unions, and limited individual donations to $1,000 per campaign. It introduced public funding, for Presidential primaries and elections. The Act also placed limits of $5,000 per campaign on PACs (Political Action Committees). The limits on individual contributions and prohibition of direct corporate or labour union campaigns, led to a huge increase in the number of PACs. Today many labour unions and corporations have their own PACs, and over 4,000 in total exist. The 1974 amendment also specified a Federal Election Commission created in 1975, to administer and enforce campaign finance law. Various other provisions were also included, such as a ban on contributions or expenditures by foreign nationals (incorporated from the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) (1966).

The case of Buckley v Valeo (1976) 424 U.S. 1 (1976), had challenged this Act. Most provisions were upheld, but the court found that the mandatory spending limit imposed was unconstitutional, as was the limit placed on campaign spending from the candidate’s personal fortune, and the provision that limited independent expenditures by individuals and organisations supporting but not officially linked to a campaign. The effect of the first decision was to allow candidates such as Ross Perot and Steve Forbes, to spend enormous amounts of their personal money in their own presidential campaigns. The effect of the second decision, was to allow the culture of “soft money” to develop.

Election Information on the Web

In most States of the U.S., the Chief Election Officer is the Secretary of State. In some States, local officials like a County Registrar of voters or supervisor of elections manages the conduct of elections, under the supervision of (or in coordination with) the Chief Election Officer of the State. Many of these State and County offices have web sites that provide information to help voters obtain information on their polling places for each election, the various districts to which they belong (e.g., House and Senate districts in the State and Federal legislature, school boards, water districts, municipalities, etc.), as well as dates of elections and deadlines to file to run or register to vote. Some allow voters to download a sample ballot in advance of the election.

Beyond this, various media outlets provide information they think will interest.

In Nigeria, it is INEC. For LGAs elections, it is State Electoral Commissions.

Criticism

As detailed in a State-by-State breakdown, the United States has a long-standing tradition of publicly announcing the incomplete, unofficial vote counts on election night (the late evening of Election Day), despite the fact that many of the mail-in and absentee votes have not been counted yet. In some States, in fact, none of them would have yet been counted by that time. This tradition was based on the assumption that the incomplete, unofficial count on election night is probably going to match the official count, which is officially finished and certified several weeks later. An intrinsic weakness of this assumption, and of the tradition of premature announcements based on it, is that the public is likely to misapprehend that particular candidates have certainly won before any official vote count has been completed, whereas, in fact, all that is truly known is that those candidates have some degree of likelihood of having won; the magnitude of the likelihood varies by State, because the details of election procedures vary by State. This problem affects all non–in-person votes, even those cast weeks before Election Day and not just late-arriving ones. This is why Trump, who prematurely declared himself winner based on early returns has been whining and sulking like a little child, after late mailed in ballots put Biden as clear winner.

Elections in Nigeria

Elections in Nigeria are forms of choosing representatives to the Nigerian federal government and the various States. At the federal level, a Head of State (the President of Nigeria) and a legislature (the National Assembly). The President is elected by the people. The National Assembly has two Chambers. The House of Representatives has 360 members, elected for a four-year term in single-seat constituencies. The Senate has 109 members, elected for a four-year term. Each of the 36 States are divided into 3 senatorial districts, each of which is represented by one Senator; the Federal Capital Territory is represented by only one Senator. Nigeria has a multi-party system, with two or three strong parties. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had controlled the Presidency from 1999 until 2015, when APC’s Muhammadu Buhari won the Presidential election.

2007 Election in Nigeria

The Nigerian general elections of 2007 were held on 14th April and 21st April 2007. Governorship and State Assembly elections were held on 14th April, while the Presidential and National Assembly elections were held a week later on 21st April. Umaru Yar’Adua won the election for the ruling PDP. He was sworn in on 29th May, 2007.

The ruling PDP won 26 of the 36 States, according to INEC, including Kaduna State and Katsina State, where the results were hotly contested by the local populace. Following the Presidential election, groups monitoring the election gave it a dismal assessment. Chief European Union Observer, Max van den Berg reported that the handling of the polls had “fallen far short” of basic international standards, and that “the process cannot be considered to be credible.” A spokesman for the United States Department of State said it was “deeply troubled” by election polls, calling them “flawed”, and said it hoped the political parties would resolve any differences over the election through peaceful, constitutional means. President Yar’Adua himself conceded this much, and set up the Justice Uwais Electoral Reform Committee.

2011 Election in Nigeria

National Assembly election was held in Nigeria on 9th April, 2011. The election was originally scheduled to hold on 2nd April, but was later postponed to 4th April. A Presidential election was held in Nigeria on 16th April, 2011, postponed from 9th April, 2011. There was controversy as to whether a Muslim or Christian should be allowed to become President, given the tradition of rotating the top office between the two religions and following the death of Umaru Yar’Adua, who was a Muslim, and Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian, assuming the interim Presidency.

Following some election violence that took place in the northern parts of the country, Goodluck Jonathan was declared the winner on 19th April, 2015. The election was reported in the international media as having run smoothly with relatively little violence or voter fraud, in contrast to previous elections, in particular, the widely disputed 2007 election. The United States State Department said the election was “successful”, and a “substantial improvement” over 2007; although it added that, vote rigging and fraud still took place.

2015 Election in Nigeria

The 2015 general elections was originally scheduled to hold on 14th February, but was later postponed to 28th March (Presidential, Senatorial and House of Representatives); and 11th April, 2015 (Governorship and State House of Assembly). General Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (PMB) emerged as the winner of the Presidential election, and was sworn in on 29th May, 2015. It was the first time in the history of Nigeria, that an incumbent President lost an election. Goodluck Ebele Johnathan of the PDP, lost his seat to Muhammadu Buhari of the APC. He conceded defeat, to national and international acclamation.

2019 Election in Nigeria

Presidential and National Assembly Elections were scheduled for 16th February, 2019, while State and Local government elections were scheduled for 2nd March, 2019. Elections were suddenly postponed by one week, after INEC cited logistic challenges. The rescheduled dates were, 23rd February and 9th March, 2019.

PMB was re-elected for another four-year term, in a hotly disputed election. The primary contender was former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar of the PDP. The 2019 Governorship and State House of Assembly election, with two major political parties, APC and PDP fielding candidates in the elections across various States, except Rivers, where a court order prohibited the APC from fielding candidates as a result of internal crisis with the state chapter of the party.

Conclusion

The recent United States election should suggest to a rational mind, how we should tailor and organise our elections in respect of the hostile nature which has always clothed and suffused the Nigerian election. Recent Nigerian elections, are akin to allied soldiers making preparation to invade the German Army at Omaha beach. Elections in Nigeria are characterised by massive deployment of soldiers and Police, because of fears and suspense that surround every election, regarding the deployment of thugs and hoodlums. Violence, ballot box snatching, ballot stuffing and killings, have become an unwanted convention which inundates the electoral process. This now appears reflective of the United States politics. Voting based on meritocracy is, however, perhaps, the greatest lesson Nigeria can learn from the American election system. It is the core ethic of choice. As divided as the country appears to be, it is that sense of democratic choice driven by election, that unites the American nation. The election, thus, becomes a moral space of choice to resolve national problems. We need to move along this trajectory.

THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK

“Regardless of who wins, an election should be a time for optimism and fresh approaches”. (Gary Johnson)