America’s Messy Election Procedures Still Help Protect Our Liberties

America’s Messy Election Procedures Still Help Protect Our Liberties

A man votes during early primary voting at a polling location at Union Station in Los Angeles on March 4, 2024. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

John Seiler

John Seiler


Updated: 3/15/2024

Who won California’s March 5 election? Technically, we still don’t know. That’s because final, certified results won’t be available until April 12, according to Secretary of State Shirley Weber’s website. That’s eight days after the registrars in the state’s counties must complete their tallies. And it’s 38 days after the official Election Day.
Despite calls for the federal government to take over all elections, it only enforces civil rights laws involving voting. Under America’s federalist system, the states are the locus of vote counting. The National Council of State Legislatures lists all of the deadlines. For example, Virginia’s certification deadline is three days after an election, Minnesota’s is 10 days, and Texas’s is 18–33 days.
When looking at the numbers for different states, I don’t see a pattern. The longest, 33-plus days, are liberal California, Colorado, and New York—plus very conservative West Virginia. The shortest, just three days or less, include four liberal New England states, plus conservative Wyoming, South Dakota, Louisiana, and South Carolina.

Global Elections

The day after the Nov. 3, 2020 U.S. election, the Washington Post ran an article on elections around the world. Unlike our decentralized system, other large countries run a centralized system. It quoted David Carroll, director of the Atlanta-based Carter Center’s democracy program, who said, “It is not at all unusual for election counting results to take a little longer. The time frame that’s required for elections can vary widely depending upon how complicated the terrain is, logistically speaking, to get election results back to headquarters, the communication system to get that information back, and how close and contested the results are. ... All other countries have a system where there is a central [election] office and sub-offices. In our country it is run, overseen, and counted at a state level.”
The article noted Brazil’s election officials release results on election night. Since the article was written, the country held a presidential election on Oct. 30, 2022, with results posted that night. Bloomberg reported at 8:18 PDT: “Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva defeated the incumbent Jair Bolsonaro in the second-round election on Oct. 30, according to data from the country’s electoral court. ... With 100.00% of vote sections accounted for (472,075 of 472,075). Results based on a total of 118,552,353 valid votes.”
However, just three weeks later, on Nov. 22, Mr. Bolsonaro contested the election. But that went nowhere and Mr. Lula da Silva remains president.

Attacks on the Electoral College

Aside from the state votes, the U.S. presidential election also stretches into the next year because of the Electoral College. The infamous Jan. 6, 2021 “insurrection” (really a protest that got out of hand) was the final act of the 2020 election, when Congress certified the vote of the 538 Electoral College members, who are chosen according to the state votes.
Every election cycle brings new attacks on this system. This year, a major book is “Tyranny of the Minority: Why American Democracy Reached the Breaking Point,” by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, two professors of government at Harvard University. Actually, if you’re an old conservative like me, we insist America is not a democracy, but a republic.
The Founding Fathers feared direct democracy as mob rule. As John Adams wrote to John Tyler in 1814: “Remember Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes exhausts and murders itself. There never was a Democracy Yet, that did not commit suicide. It is in vain to Say that Democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious or less avaricious than Aristocracy or Monarchy. It is not true in Fact and no where appears in history. Those Passions are the same in all Men under all forms of Simple Government, and when unchecked, produce the same Effects of Fraud Violence and Cruelty.”
That’s why the federal government is only one-sixth “democratic,” the House of Representatives. It’s half of the legislative branch of government; the other half is the Senate, elected two for each state. Of the other two of the three branches of government, the U.S. Supreme Court is appointed; and the presidency is protected from mob rule by the Electoral College system.
According to the summary of the Levitsky-Ziblatt book, “Most modern democracies—from Germany and Sweden to Argentina and New Zealand—have eliminated outdated institutions like elite upper chambers, indirect elections, and lifetime tenure for judges. The United States lags dangerously behind.” Except none of those countries’ leaders wields 5,244 nuclear weapons, as the U.S. president does, and none is a superpower dealing with the other nuclear-equipped superpowers, Russia, communist China, and now India.
President Franklin Roosevelt, as he was warping the Constitution for his 1930s New Deal, branded it fit for the “horse-and-buggy era.” But it turns out the old document is a perfect fit for the nuclear age. That’s because it produces a clear-cut winner at the top—even when the actual votes are divided among three or more candidates.

The Electoral College Moderates

As the great historian Charles Beard pointed out, the Electoral College produces two moderate parties. Third parties, which I like having and promote, never last long because at best they end up like Ross Perot in 1992. He got 19 percent of the national vote, but zero votes in the Electoral College.
By contrast the winner, Democrat Bill Clinton, garnered just 43 percent of the total vote, to 37.5 percent for incumbent President George H.W. Bush. But Mr. Clinton won the Electoral College 370 to 168; or 69 percent to Mr. Bush’s 31 percent. Decisive.
That mandate is crucial for clear command-and-control over the nuclear weapons. There’s no dispute who’s in charge.
Contrast that with the United Kingdom and its unfolding election disasters. It also has 225 nuclear weapons, but now is a medium-sized military power. Its last election, in 2019, brought to power Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson, with 42 percent of the vote; followed by Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn with 40 percent; then Liberal Democrat Jo Swinson at 7.4 percent and Scottish National Party’s Nicola Sturgeon at 3 percent.
Mr. Johnson lasted until 2022, then was replaced by Liz Truss, without an election of the people; she lasted 50 days. Next came the unelected Rishi Sunak, in power since, and like Ms. Truss also a Conservative, but not expected to survive the next election that must be held before next Jan. 28. What chaos.
Moreover, a key feature of a republic is it guarantees certain rights, as in our Bill of Rights. These rights cannot be abolished by a mere democratic vote, but can be modified only through the difficulty of amending the Constitution itself. The UK and the other countries cited by the professors as models of democracy now regularly limit the freedoms of speech, assembly, and even religion.

A Decentralized System Is Best

In contrast to its critics, America’s decentralized, federalist system remains the bulwark of our liberties. A centralized, direct-vote democracy might give us same-day voting results, but it also could produce splintered results in which a radical party, of the left or the right, might gain power and start destroying our rights.
After all, the country is called the United States, plural, not “The United State,” singular. Despite much centralization over the decades, our 50 free states retain much of their unique identities, including in their sometimes ramshackle voting procedures.
John Seiler

John Seiler


John Seiler is a veteran California opinion writer. Mr. Seiler has written editorials for The Orange County Register for almost 30 years. He is a U.S. Army veteran and former press secretary for California state Sen. John Moorlach. He blogs at and his email is

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