POSTSCRIPT / November 8, 2020 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Why a selective vote count in US election?

NEW YORK – Why hold a presidential election and then block the counting of nearly half of the ballots cast by an estimated 160 million Americans who performed their civic duty to vote even in the middle of a pandemic?

Selective counting is an odd maneuver in this supposed bulwark of democracy, but President Trump has been pushing it aggressively since he noticed that mail-in ballots appear to favor his challenger former Vice President Joe Biden.

Analysts explain that most Republican supporters of Trump apparently followed his advice to vote in person on Election Day, while many Democrats, for various reasons that include evading pandemic risks, made sure they voted early or mailed their ballots before Nov. 3.

Individual states have their own laws and procedures for managing elections, including the counting of the votes. In many of them, the mail-in ballots are processed but not counted before Election Day. The ballots of walk-in voters on that day are counted right away.

This may explain Trump’s early lead and why it was only later that Biden passed him in several states. As of noon today (Saturday in Manila), Biden has collected 264 electoral votes against the 214 of Trump to creep to only six votes shy of the 270 majority vote needed to win.

When Republicans appeared dominant by election night, Trump announced rather prematurely that he had won! But at that point, Biden had 238 votes, and Trump 213, of the total 538 electoral votes. None of the two could rightfully claim to be the president-elect.

Trump then unleashed ready teams of lawyers to ask courts in vote-heavy “battleground” states to stop the counting of what he claimed, without showing proof, were fraudulent mail-in ballots. Note that Trump himself had voted using a mail-in ballot.

Aside from adding a legal front in his battle to keep the White House, Trump roused up his followers to come out and protect the (his) victory that he said was being stolen. Some of those who showed up near voting stations were seen carrying firearms.

Some of his inflammatory marching orders to “defend” his election were issued via Twitter, forcing that platform to take the unprecedented step of fact-checking his messages or plastering his space with a notice that rules have been violated by the user.

Facebook said Thursday it took down the pages of a rapidly growing group of Trump supporters posting violent rhetoric and claims that Democrats were stealing the election. A camp calling for “boots on the ground” to protect the vote was reportedly adding 1,000 new members every 10 seconds.

For his part, Biden cautioned against precipitate action, asking for patience while awaiting the final count. Addressing voters not as Democrats or Republicans but as Americans, he assured them: “I ask everyone to stay calm. The process is working.”

Also on Thursday, several TV networks pulled out of Trump’s presscon that was timed to catch their evening newscasts when he denounced voting frauds and his being cheated without presenting proof. What he had already said the networks belied with quick fact-checking.

As of this writing, the courts in the embattled states have not stopped the counting. With his path narrowing, Trump is now saying that the legal fight may reach the Supreme Court, where coincidentally three of the eight associate justices were his nominees.

Is the thought of his possibly losing the presidency, together with its privileges and the immunity from suit (including tax cases) driving him to near-panic? Is that a wall, different but reminiscent of the one he is building at the southern border, closing in on him?

In a rally last Saturday in Macon, Georgia, the 74-year-old businessman may have given a hint of his anxieties when he said: “Can you imagine if I lose, my whole life, what am I going to do? xxx I am not going to feel so good, maybe I will have to leave the country, I don’t know.”

Despite the count being delayed by legal challenges, the news media might preempt official announcements and report that Biden has topped the 270 majority electoral vote to become the 46th US president on Jan. 20, 2021.

We wrote here Tuesday after we sensed Trump’s possibly digging in: “President Trump, regardless of how he comes across in the media, is too much of an American not to heed a clear call for a change of administration, if ever it comes to that.” We hope to be proved right.

His refusal to concede (if Biden’s victory is confirmed) reminds us of our own Bongbong Marcos who ran for vice president in 2016 and lost — but is still working on the Supreme Court dominated by Duterte appointees to let him fish in Mindanao for more votes.

Marcos lost that ambitious bid several billion pesos and four years ago, but is still at it — making a protesting Trump look like a rank amateur in the adult art of handling electoral debacles. We’ll write a separate piece on Bongbong’s saga later.

We can only speculate on the horrendous damage that Trump’s post-election rear-guard maneuvers may have inflicted on US democratic institutions and Americans’ faith in the integrity of their electoral system.

But it could be also that Trump’s tantrums and desperation are a mere magnified manifestation on another level of EveryMan’s ugly struggle with his growing discontent in a failing system.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 8, 2020)

* * *

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