By Kingsley Moghalu
It’s understandable that President Donald Trump and his supporters are shell-shocked by the outcome of the 2020 US presidential election. According to the vote tallies confirmed (but not yet formally certified) so far, as well as media projections and “calls” on the basis of the vote count, Trump has lost to Joseph R. Biden, who will become the 46th President of the United States.
No electoral candidate likes to lose an election, let alone one with Trump’s well known temperament and personality. His favourite word for his political opponents is “loser”. It must hurt and strain the limits of Trump’s relationship with facts, truth, and reality (always controversial even at the best of times) to be put into the same bucket by the outcome of an election which, in its 2016 edition, made him the winner.
I have written this post, which will seek to state FACTS as opposed to opinions, because of the strong interest in Nigeria in the outcome of this particular election and comments on Nigerian social media by some disappointed Trump fans who appear to be quite disconnected from facts and reality.
The two main issues are: (a) is Biden the “President-Elect” of the US when the elections have not been formally certified by electoral authorities (elections in America are supervised independently by different state and local (county) authorities, not the federal government, so there is no central “INEC”); (b) legal disputes based on allegations of “fraud” , “stolen election” or irregularities.
On (a) Biden is, as a matter of fact, the President-Elect of the United States. He is so because, based on votes counted and collated in all the states of the US, he won the election. He won by a margin of more than 5 million votes in the popular vote nationwide (78.2 million for Biden versus 72.8 million for Trump). More importantly because the American President is elected by a majority of an electoral college and not by the direct popular vote, Biden has won and exceeded the minimum 270 electoral college votes out of the 538 total. He has won 306 projected electoral college votes in this election.
Biden won all the states Hillary Clinton won in 2016, and in addition won FIVE states she lost as well as the 2nd Congressional District of Nebraska. These states are Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Trump had won these five states in 2016 and overall won 306 electoral college votes (Clinton won the popular vote by more than 2 million votes). It’s a supreme irony that Biden has flipped Trump’s performance with the very same outcome in terms of the electoral college, while winning in traditionally Republican states such as Georgia and Arizona that a Democratic candidate had not won in decades, and hitting a record 5million lead in the popular vote.
American election results are “called” and projected by the media in the US based on ACTUAL vote tallies and projections of outstanding voting outcomes. This has been a tradition for at least 70 years. It is respected by all the political parties contesting. The formal certification, as well as the formal casting of votes by the Electors of the Electoral College, are formalities and legal requirements prior to swearing in the new president but do not prevent the winner of the vote counts in presidential elections from being formally addressed (and even recognized by law) as “President-Elect”. The incumbent president remains so until 12 noon on January 20 under American law.
By 2.30 a.m. on November 8, 2016, the Associated Press, CNN, Fox News and other media had “called” the presidential election for Donald Trump on the very same basis set out above.
Within an hour Mrs. Clinton, who was leading in the sample polls and had been widely expected to win, placed a concession phone call to President-Elect Trump. Within a couple of days President Barack Obama invited Trump to the White House for the traditional “transition meeting” between the 13. incumbent president and the incoming one.
Presidential transitions in America are governed by law, in this case the Presidential Transition Act of 1963. While President Trump is under no obligation to phone President-Elect Biden and formally concede the election (it’s a tradition not a legal requirement), Trump and his administration are bound by law to comply with the Presidential Transition Act.
Trump has deliberately refused to do so and to accord Biden and his incoming administration the cooperation required by the PTA. This includes funding for transition activities, office space, “beach-head” landing teams of the incoming administration in various government agencies, and intelligence briefings for the President and Vice-President- Elect respectively.
These steps are required regardless of legal challenges to voting outcomes. Obviously, if a legal challenge were to succeed in changing the outcome of the election then the matter becomes moot naturally. In fact, under the PTA the transition process begins in ernest SIX months before the elections. Recognizing that the outcome of a presidential election can’t be known in advance at that time, the candidates nominate representatives to the Presidential Transition Council.
However, immediately after the presidential election the General Services Administration, the designated office to manage presidential transitions, is required to “ascertain” the outcome of the election. This is a procedure that normally does not wait for even formal certification of results (which happens about a month after the election) let alone the subsequent formal vote by electors in the electoral college. In this instance the GSA Administrator, appointed by President Trump, has as yet declined to “ascertain “ the election outcome.
It’s never been the case in recent history that all votes in US presidential elections are finally counted by the end of the day of the election, again, hence the “calling” and projections based on advanced counting outcomes and voting patterns of outstanding locations of votes. Yet, the PTA requires that the day after the election “the President-Elect and Vice-President Elect” (notice that the law specifically uses the term President-Elect) have to be furnished with transition offices. So much for the transition process and its legal framework.
On (b) Trump and his supporters have made wild and widespread claims of “fraud” and voter irregularities as his excuse for refusing to concede to Biden. We have heard outlandish allegations that “dead people”, including the showbiz star Will Smith’s deceased father “voted” in the election! Trump has mounted numerous lawsuits challenging the election results, especially in the “swing states” such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
These Trump lawsuits have fared uniformly poorly, have so far been unsuccessful, and in several cases have been literally laughed out of court by judges (including those appointed by Republican presidents). Some lawyers acting on Trump’s behalf in filing these claims have abandoned the case and their briefs! This is because the cases have not presented substantive evidence to back up claims of widespread fraud or even irregularities, let alone of a scale that can materially affect the outcome of the elections.
American lawyers of all political persuasions, Republican and Democrat, have assessed these lawsuits as having no chance of overturning the vote in the courts. Biden won in too many states, and with margins too significant, that he hit the “magic” 270 electoral college votes through several pathways.
AMERICA IS NOT NIGERIA. The FACT is that voter or electoral fraud in America is very extremely rare and isolated, and there is NO established case or incident of organized or widespread electoral fraud in contemporary memory. No election official would want to go to jail for several years for such a crime. Given the margins of Biden’s win (tens of thousands) in each of the five battleground states he flipped, it’s virtually impossible for any vote recount to reverse the outcome even in one state, let alone several.
Even more stark, election officials in all the five states Trump is contesting (including Republican election officials in Georgia and Arizona) have made clear there was NO foul play and have challenged anyone alleging rigging or irregularities to provide proof. Conspiracy theories on videos and social media are not proof, and several of them have been debunked on closer scrutiny.
Christopher Krebs, Director the US Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency and a coalition of federal and state election security officials have issued a formal statement stating that the November 3 2020 presidential election was “the most secure in US history”. So President Trump’s own government officials and agencies have now repudiated his bogus claims. It’s that bad!
So why is Trump peddling these damaging but baseless, evidence-free claims? Your guess is as good as mine. But, clearly, his followers and supporters are living in denial of the reality that Trump has lost and will leave the White House on January 20.
That Joe Biden will be sworn into office on January 21 is as certain as the sun rising tomorrow morning. This is not a matter of whether anyone likes or supports Trump or Biden. The American people have spoken with their votes, and no one (Nigerian, American or both) should think the US is a country where the President or anyone is above the law, or entertain the delusion that it can easily become a dictatorship like Belarus based on the cult-like worship of one man. An election ushered Trump into the White House. An election has ushered him out, post-dated January 20, 2021. That this open defiance of the will of the people in a democracy that previously considered itself a beacon for other countries is happening at all is already a bizarre aberration that is shocking enough. But, short of a coup in America, it is bound to fail.
Trump is entitled to his day in court, but the facts and the law are evidently not on his side. He has zero chance of hanging on to the American presidency. The sooner his followers take a cold shower and stop swallowing and spreading fake news and propaganda, the better.
*Chiedu Moghalu, former deputy governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, was also a presidential candidate of the Young Progressive Party in Nigeria’s 2019 election