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In British eyes, the American presidential election was a complete farce, one that reduces the status of the United States in the world. However, amid a great deal of unpleasant xenophobia in the British media gloating over America’s embarrassment, John Pimlott, in the London Times, made the fairest British comment: “It is not the American Constitution which is at fault but the failure of its present political parties and national culture to produce leaders capable of infusing the American people with ideas and ideals commensurate with their nation’s world power and responsibilities.” And, I would add, the U.S. television networks must also share the blame. But what about the law? Is our electoral system, in itself, inherently better than the U.S. model? I honestly do not think so. There is a fundamental difference between our systems. It is the difference between a nonfederalist country, with an unelected, hereditary constitutional monarch as its head of state, and a federalist nation, with an elected president who is both head of state and head of government. At intervals of not more than five years, the British go to the polls, but they do not vote for a president or even a prime minister. They vote for members of the House of Commons (MPs), who sit in the British equivalent of the House of Representatives. Like the United States, we have a second house, the House of Lords, but that is completely unelected and has far fewer powers than either the House or the Senate. The vote is party-based, and the leader of the winning party inevitably becomes the next prime minister. There is no vote for the prime minister, as such. In this regard, both countries share a potential problem: Both a president and a prime minister can come to power without winning a majority or plurality of the popular votes in the nation. It has happened twice in the United States: Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876 and Benjamin Harrison in 1888. But it happens in Britain too — and more frequently. The most recent occasion was in 1974, when incumbent Prime Minister Edward Heath’s Conservative Party polled more votes than Harold Wilson’s Labor Party — and yet Mr. Wilson became prime minister, and his party formed the new government. That was because Labor had won 319 seats in the House of Commons to the Conservatives’ 276. In its way, it is as much an indirect way of voting as being filtered through the electoral college. HARDER TO FIGHT In Britain, a recount is never automatic, nor can a losing candidate legally demand one. That is left to the discretion of the local “returning officer” in charge of the voting. No one can go to court and ask a judge to order a recount. Nor could the agonizing wait for absentee ballots happen here. In Britain, people expecting to be away on election day, or otherwise unable to vote in person, have two choices. They can either vote by mail, and their envelope must arrive — at the latest — on election day, or they can nominate a proxy who must vote, along with everyone else, on election day itself. The whole intent of our law is to have finality as quickly as possible. Undoubtedly, voting irregularities happen on both sides of the Atlantic. In Britain, if they amount to “corrupt or illegal practices,” the Representation of the People Act says that the loser can appeal to the High Court in London. If the charges are proved, the elected MP can be disqualified and the candidate who came in second is declared elected. Alternatively, the election is ruled void and a new one held — something that the U.S. Constitution prohibits. After all the above has been considered, it may be that timing is the truly fundamental difference between the two systems. The Founding Fathers had good practical reasons to write into the Constitution a delay of more than two months between the election and the inauguration. Space and the difficulty of travel played a role, as did the hope that time would allow for a smooth transition. In Britain, we do not need that interval, so a defeated prime minister moves out of the official 10 Downing Street residence the very night the election result is announced. Just imagine the logistics in Washington: Isn’t it mind-boggling? Fenton Bresler is a British journalist and barrister.

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