Election 2020

India Would Have Counted the Votes Already

The world’s largest democracy might have some lessons to offer the oldest democracy on how to conduct an election.

This article is part of Election 2020: America Votes, FP’s round-the-clock coverage of the U.S. election results as they come in, with short dispatches from correspondents and analysts around the world. The America Votes page is free for all readers.

Indian voters line up at a polling station to cast their ballots during the fifth phase of general election in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh, India, on May 6, 2019.
Indian voters line up at a polling station to cast their ballots during the fifth phase of general election in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh, India, on May 6, 2019. SANJAY KANOJIA/AFP via Getty Images

NEW DELHI—In India there are many reasons to feel gobsmacked by the U.S. elections. That tens of millions of Americans would vote a second time around for a racist, sexist, lying, and deluded president is just one of them. More curiously, how is it that the world’s oldest democracy, and the largest economy, finds it so difficult to conduct an election?

In 2019, the last year India conducted a national election, more than 614 million citizens cast their votes. By comparison, only about one-fourth as many Americans will have cast their vote in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. But if this were an Indian election, by now not only would the authorities have finished counting votes, the winning party would also have been distributing celebratory sweets to party cadres, journalists, and opponents alike.

Yes, our voting can sometimes be spread over a few weeks. This is mostly because of the sheer scale of our democratic process and the need to ensure security. But our counting of ballots is fast, seamless, and rarely disputed; our results are announced within a few hours on counting day.

This can’t just be because of the difference between paper ballots and electronic voting machines, which India mostly uses. With the different rules across U.S. states on how late ballots can be counted past Election Day, plus a sitting president who declared victory while millions of votes were still being counted, the United States has come across to the world as almost amateurish in some of its fumbles and stumbles. And now the result, delayed as it is, could head toward a recount and potential litigation.

You have to forgive us Indians for cracking a joke or two at America’s expense. Our Election Commission is on standby to send some international observers should the United States need it to supervise the polls the next time around.

Other than that, it’s been a fascinating election with echoes around the world. For liberals everywhere it is one more powerful illustration of how our storytelling has to be as compelling as our facts are. A Joe Biden presidency in these circumstances is in no way a repudiation of President Donald Trump’s politics. For mainstream politicians—not just in the United States but everywhere, including here in India—that is the lesson this election has brought home. It doesn’t matter how worthy your message is if you can’t mesmerize the public while sharing it. It doesn’t matter how egregious you believe your opponent to be; if you are seen as the status quo, you can never win resoundingly. From New York to New Delhi, the refusal to engage and talk across the ideological fence is dividing countries, neighborhoods, and homes. In the civilizational battle between left and right, the space for free thinking has been shrunk by competing dogma.

And for those of us who are journalists, the result is one more embarrassing lesson in humility: We really do inhabit echo chambers that prevent alternate realities from being considered. Indians will rightly wonder if the U.S. election might finally force elites around the world to listen more than they talk.

Barkha Dutt is an award-winning journalist and founder-editor of the digital platform Mojo. She is based in New Delhi. Twitter: @BDUTT

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