A Politically Sophisticated Election

January 2001

After the electoral farce in Florida, it behooves us to think long and hard about how we might improve our efforts. Fortunately, another country provides us with a useful role model in how to conduct a fair election, and how to respond to unavoidable difficulties.

As in our country, there were two main parties contending for power. The authorities were determined to insure that everything was handled on the up and up. In one case, for example, the polling station was located in a rather dark room whose only light came through the windows. The voters were suspicious of the arrangement, and the atmosphere grew ugly. The police showed up, and a police official looked over the situation and ordered the polling station personnel to move the ballot boxes out into the sun where they could be seen by all. The process was assisted by roving reporters who broadcast every irregularity, forcing authorities to race to the scene to investigate on the spot.

The results were close; neither of the leading candidates received a majority. The leading candidate received 49% of the votes while the second-best got 45%. However, it soon became clear that the candidate for the NPP would win the run-off election, because the minor party candidates all pledged to support him. Nevertheless, based on the closeness of the election, the NPP candidate declared that he would form a government of national unity (that is, his top-level appointments would be divided evenly among the two main parties). This went a long way toward defusing the resentments of the losing voters.

Here we see how an advanced country deals with electoral difficulties: an atmosphere of complete transparency (even the ballot boxes were literally transparent, and the voters were encouraged to watch the counting process); a rapid response to any reported irregularity, with immediate correction of the problem; and most important of all, a willingness on the part of the winner to recognize the political legitimacy of the loser, and translate that willingness into political reality. The astuteness and political wisdom of this country’s system makes us look like a banana republic.

By the way, the country in question is Ghana. They concluded their election on December 28th.