Many of those who followed the drama of the US presidential election last week were struck by the seemingly patchy and disorganised manner in which the votes were counted. This also led to the impression that Joe Biden “caught up” with Donald Trump in the four battleground states that ultimately swung the election in favour of the Democrats. A number of Indian commentators took the opportunity to pat themselves on the back by comparing India’s own voting system favourably with that of the United States. As much as these conclusions are right at a superficial level, a deeper look suggests both direct comparisons are misleading and that democracies can learn things from each other.
The US president is not directly elected by the majority of people by design. Indeed, in many recent elections — including in 2016 — the winner of the electoral college has received fewer popular votes than the challenger. It might startle a lot of people — even in the United States — to know that it is a part of their constitutional system. Now it is fairly well known that the founders of the United States paid a lot of attention to prevent accumulation of power in the hands of one person. We have them to thank for the doctrine of separation of powers between the executive, legislature and judiciary. What is less well known is that they also engineered the system in such a way that raw democracy — in terms of majority votes — does not override individual liberties, and does not wreck the federal structure of the United States.