Despite the bluff of the US president, the elections will go ahead. Five days after Donald Trump hinted at a postponement because postal voting would turn out to be fraudulent, he backed down and said that in Florida postal voting would be okay. That is not crazy. Trump himself votes there… by mail. In addition, Florida electoral law may appeal to him. In 2016, 65 percent of citizens were in this swing state ruled by referendum to end the tradition that citizens who have once been in prison do not have the right to vote. That was a blow to Trump. But in July, the Supreme Court ruled that this voter verdict does not have to be enforced and that the 400,000 punishers can only vote if they have paid all their fines.
Trump’s acceptance of the already scheduled election date does not mean that those elections will be over after Tuesday November 3. When will depend on the power difference between Trump and challenger Joe Biden. The smaller it is, the longer the conflicts over voting and counting procedures will last.
The graduated system with electors, which goes above the general ballot box results, will also be involved in this battle. This one electoral vote is indispensable. In 2016, Trump got into the popular vote nearly 3 million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton (46 to 48 percent), but among 538 electors, it was 57 percent for Trump versus 43 percent for Clinton.
This quasi-representative system dates back to slavery. When the constitution was drawn up in 1787, one of the questions was how the 700,000 slaves of that time would count towards the number of seats a state could delegate to the federal House of Representatives and the Senate on the basis of its population.
Of electoral vote per state equals the number of seats in Congress. The constitutional assembly reached a compromise: a slave was 3/5 of a ‘free man“. The southern states received a bonus in Congress and the electoral college for the president. After the abolition of slavery in 1865 – the number of slaves was now 4 million – the Southerners managed to retain this advantage with racial laws that denied black citizens the right to vote.
This has been impossible since 1965. But because the fifty states have a lot of freedom in their electoral system, the right to vote is limited (voter suppression) through whether or not to issue voting passes, such as in Florida, is still possible, and vice versa also the registration of voters (get out the vote) can be manipulated. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court already approved the limitation of votes in absentia (absentee voting) in Wisconsin, Alabama and Texas as well.
This battle for the ballot box will continue after 3 November. The magazine The Atlantic was recently a guest at a summer camp where specialists from Republican and Democratic circles presented a series of post-election ‘war games‘played.
Because Trump Republicans are unpredictable, their simulation games did not lead to unambiguous outcomes. But one thing was clear: until the final vote of the electors on December 14, anything is possible, including the unthinkable of democracy under the rule of law: from violence at local polling stations to forgery. In America, elections – free after General Von Clausewitz (1780-1831) – are a form of war, but by other means.
Eastern Europe expert Hubert Smeets works at the knowledge center Window on Russia. In this place he writes about the tilting world order.
A version of this article also appeared in nrc.next on August 7, 2020