By Shivaji Sengupta
Those of us who have lived in South Asia are familiar with the ways heads of states of countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar have, time and again, attempted to annul votes cast democratically in their countries. We have seen how the will of the people have been sabotaged through strong-arm tactics by political leaders in India. Each of those countries have professed democracy at one time or another – India prides itself as the largest democracy in the world. Yet, what constitutes democracy? Is it freedom of speech? Is it respecting the legally cast votes of the people? Is it accepting the will of the people?
Alas, we are not talking about those South Asian countries, not about some African or Middle Eastern nations.
We are talking about our own country, the United States, the oldest democracy in the world!
Donald Trump, our 45th president, refuses to accept the will of the 81 million who voted for Joseph R. Biden to be our next president. Trump is being supported by 140 Republican house of representatives and a few senators. Together, they will challenge the democratic right of Joe Biden to be president-elect. They claim, without evidence, that the voting in six states, Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin was illegal even though over 50 cases brought by them to 90 courts have all ended in defeat. The president started it, even before the November 3 elections by openly declaring that the only way he would lose would be if the elections were rigged. He kept up the allegation throughout the two moths since November 3. A famous propagandist for Adolf Hitler once said if you keep repeating the same lie to the public over and over again, eventually people will believe you. That is exactly what has happened here in America. Almost 80% of Donald Trump’s 74 Republican million voters believe him. These Republican constituents are apparently “demanding” of those representatives and senators they have elected to question the legality, and hence the validity of the votes from those six states. This is what Senator Josh Hawley said during the so-called recent “hearing” on the elections in the Senate. Said Hawley, “I have people in my constituency who are not crazy, who are not hallucinating, who have told me that they want me to examine this thing – the illegitimacy of the elections – that our president is complaining about. It is my duty to my constituents to follow it through.” May I remind the young senator from Montana what another venerable Republican senator did in a similar situation? He was the late John McCain of Arizona. When, during his presidential campaign against Barack Obama in 2008, a woman claimed that the Democrat was an Arab, a Muslim, McCain immediately cut her short. “No, ma’am, Mr. Obama is a Christian. I have differences of opinion with him, but he is a good, decent man.” The lady was silenced.
Silence your constituents, Senator Hawley! You know they are being deliberately lied to by the president. Follow the example of your own departed senator, and not pander to a megalomaniac who shows scant respect for the law.
The law states that when the Vice President (who is in charge of counting the Electoral College votes per state) begins to count the votes in a joint session of Congress, members of the House and/or the Senate may object. Their objection will amount to naught unless at least one representative and one senator jointly challenge the votes. If that happens, the Vice President will break up the House and the Senate members into two separate monolithic groups, and the senators and representatives may debate the issue in their respective chambers, and vote to sustain the objection. However, even if one of the two chambers – House or the Senate – vote to turn down the objection, the Electoral College decision stands. The president-elect is anointed.
So, this is what will happen next – for the first time since 1887.
On January 6, a day celebrated by Christians as Three Kings’ Day, Congress will hold a joint session, the only one of its kind every four years, to ratify the decision of the Electoral College that has declared Joseph R. Biden the lawful winner of the 2020 presidential elections. He will officially become the president-elect and await inauguration on January 20. All legal and constitutional scholars agree, as do all the courts, that nothing can be done to overturn the decision of the Electoral College.
The pundits keep saying that the results of November 3 will not be changed. But as each day goes by, there are signs that this challenge to our elections is growing ominously. Even as I write this, the number of senators who have said they will object has grown from two to eleven. Apart from Josh Hawley, the junior senator from Montana, who was the first from the upper chamber to announce his intention to protest, GOP Senators Ted Cruz (Texas), Ron Johnson (Wisconsin), James Lankford (Oklahoma), Steve Daines (Montana), John Kennedy (Louisiana), Marsha Blackburn (Tennessee) and Mike Braun (Indiana) have said they will object. Senators-elect Cynthia Lummis (Wyoming), Roger Marshall (Kansas), Bill Hagerty (Tennessee) and Tommy Tuberville (Alabama) announced in a joint statement that they will vote against accepting the election results until there is a 10-day audit. Braun said realistically, “We are not naïve. We fully expect most if not all Democrats, and perhaps more than a few Republicans, to vote otherwise,” they said. “A fair and credible audit — conducted expeditiously and completed well before Jan. 20 — would dramatically improve Americans’ faith in our electoral process and would significantly enhance the legitimacy of whoever becomes our next President.” The Hill has reported today that Mitch McConnel, Republican Senate Leader, who has been trying to dissuade senators from protesting, told some Republican senators on Thursday that he viewed the vote on the election results as “the most important vote he has taken during his decades in Congress.” I am predicting that, come January 6,McConnel is also going to vote with the protesters! You read it for the first time in this column.
Still, eleven senators, or 140 representatives do not assure majority in either chamber. Democrats in the Senate have 48 votes. Only three more are needed to achieve majority. More than three Republicans will vote against the challenge. In the House, Democrats are already in the majority, although with 222 seats their strength has dwindled by nine. So, in both the House and the Senate, to quote Senator Cornyn, the challenge to Joe Biden’s election will “go down like a shot dog!” So, why am I worried?
For two reasons. One is the inordinate time the protest will take to be debated, if all six states votes come up against objection. Each will take two hours to debate: that is twelve hours consecutively! It is not clear yet how the challenges are to be conducted; whether Vice President Mike Pence will allow the objections to be announced state by state (which is most likely), or as a group of six. Either way, the move will please Donald Trump immensely to get a high-profile examination of the 2020 presidential elections in front of a joint session of Congress.
The second reason is democracy itself. If the Republican challenge is allowed to happen, all future elections in the United States will be vulnerable to shenanigans like this. What that means is that the people of this country will lose the basic trust they have had in American free and fair elections for centuries. Since free and fair elections is the very foundation of democracy, democracy itself may be weakened.
We should all think about that.
By Shivaji Sengupta