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(First appeared on November 14, 2020)

Are you surprised by the drama that is slowly unfolding in the US election? Some parts can be easily explained. Yet there are others which may seem very similar to what goes on in our neck of the woods. The easy part first. So far there have been only three things out of the ordinary. Delay in vote counting due to a larger number of Covid-related postal ballots, higher turnout, and each state’s different set of laws. A President who refuses to concede. And the president-elect not getting access to the transition resources owing to the absence of certification by the General Services Administration (GSA) which is critical for the transition team to place its representatives in various government agencies. The rest is as is supposed to be. While the media calls the election in the US, the process of compiling, certifying, and notifying the results is done by each state. It is a lengthy and cumbersome process and that is precisely why the stipulated timeline is a liberal one. Each state has to compile and certify its results six days before the day the Electoral College meets (December 14). Once the Electoral College has voted these results are delivered to the designated officials by December 23. On January 3, the next year, the new Congress is seated. The joint session of the Congress counts the electoral votes on January 6, and declares official results. The new president is then sworn in on January 20, and the transition is complete.

Given that in the usual circumstances as soon as the media calls the election the losing side concedes all of the above becomes a mere formality. However, in the exceptional contested elections, these deadlines stand out and acquire importance. So, before the final certification deadline, any party can exhaust their legal options. In 2000, when in a contested election between Al Gore and George W Bush, counting and legal battle dragged on for 36 days and reached the US Supreme Court the dispute was swiftly resolved. But back then the dispute was over a few hundred ballots in a single state. This time however the difference is far bigger, in many states and in the electoral votes too. Now let’s say Biden somehow loses in Pennsylvania where he has a lead of over 50,000 but keeps Nevada and Arizona, he is the president. If results are reversed in Georgia and Arizona and even Nevada but he keeps Pennsylvania he is still the next president of the US. President Trump however will need three of these states to get a path to the second term. And judging by the quality of challenges filed by the Trump campaign it seems highly unlikely that the matter would reach the US apex court. Stranger things are known to happen but so far this seems to be the trajectory.

Now the difficult part. The quantum of misinformation being used to discredit the election outcome. When over 70 million voters have voted for you and you still lose, denial is understandable. The problem is that the winning side got even more votes. Then a massive complicating factor this year was that of a near partisan split over the mail-in ballots. President Trump, ever the skeptic, was highly critical of voting through the mail and discouraged his supporters from using the method. Democrats on the other hand with a far more diverse base including vulnerable minorities preferred the postal ballots. This gave birth to a discrepancy. The states which first counted the in-person votes kept showing strong support for President Trump on the election night and the ones that first tabulated the postal ballots initially turned blue. A notable example is Texas which has a strong record of voting for Republican presidential candidates since 1976. But when the other batches were counted on balance the picture became clearer. And given that it took longer to tabulate all the votes misunderstanding was natural. However, the problem was far bigger than just this.

When you go through the thickets of hearsay it almost becomes clear that there was a pre-meditated effort to discredit the election. Doubts about postal ballots are one thing, but the way half-baked and often cooked so-called video evidence was in circulation even before the voting began on Election Day would point to psyops. Who would want the election process to be discredited? Trump? Russia, China, Iran, or North Korea? It is unlikely that the Trump campaign would try something like this. Why? Because until the end of the election the campaign could not know if it was winning or losing and discrediting the election this soon would backfire by affecting the morale of the supporters. Interestingly, while there were intelligence reports that hostile actors might try to influence the outcome, none of the countries could benefit from discrediting an election that could elect their preferred candidate. Well, Iran perhaps because it is not invested in either outcome but it does not have the kind of muscle to pull off something on this scale. 

I know this could be my paranoia speaking but we have lived through two recent elections when something similar happened. In 2013, a religious scholar returned from his stay abroad just before the elections and staged a sit-in in the federal capital where he kept sowing the seeds of doubt about the election. Which led to post-election misunderstanding and more sit-ins which delayed some important political and diplomatic milestones. Likewise, in 2018 similar rumours were spread, and on the election night apparently because of an unreported DDOS attack the result transmission system slowed down which was later presented as proof of election rigging. The funny thing about all these doubts is that there seldom is a credible piece of evidence that can stand the test of judicial scrutiny. So, everything is primarily based on hearsay. 

It takes me back to the election eve in 2013 when I told the BBC that I felt very proud because for the first time in our history a civilian to civilian transition was made possible by an election that made us a democracy. When this interview was aired, I remember our Indian detractors scoffing at the idea of Pakistan ever becoming or being recognised as a democracy.

In the past pieces, I have explained in detail the emerging nexus between India’s Hindutva elite and the US white supremacists. A dream of the Western neo-Nazis is to witness a civil war in the US which ensures the ascendency of an Aryan order stretching from America to India. It can be pure coincidence but the DNA of the disinformation campaign to undermine the US election seems eerily similar to the one Pakistan endured. Constant vigilance is the need of the hour then.

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