Highlights from the U.S. 2020 Reporting Tour

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Among many Journalists across the globe, Hannah N. Geterminah of the Daily Observer newspaper and Massa Kanneh of OK FM were selected from Liberia to join other media workers virtually to cover the US elections through the guidance of experts.

As part of the United States of America government exchange program, every elections year, the State Department Foreign Press Center (FPC), through local Embassies, select media workers from various countries to participate in the Foreign Press International Reporting Tour to enable them have a deeper understanding of the US electoral system and provide local coverage that will also provide education, among other reasons.

This year’s tour was different due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic that could not allow in-person and on-site tours, thus resulting to the event being held virtually through a platform called “The Canvas,” for the very first time.

Among many Journalists across the globe, Hannah N. Geterminah of the Daily Observer newspaper and Massa Kanneh of OK FM were selected from Liberia to join other media workers virtually to listen to US elections experts who provided historical, political and demographical insights about past elections and also provide detailed information about political parties, how voter populations cast ballots, the role of both the presidential and vice presidential debates, campaign financing, women participation, the role of the electoral college in every election, the demographic of the electorates and the African-American vote, among many important matters in the system.

The “Elections 2020: Virtual Reporting Tour (VRT),” lasted for eight weeks, beginning from 21st of September to the 13th of November, with not more than three experts in each week presenting their views on elections matters for not more than an hour of the briefing days.

The staffs at the FPC were able to make available videos and photos from the various battleground and swings states, the Electoral College, among others, and upload both videos and written transcriptions of every briefing on The Canvas for participating journalists.

Jeffery Stonecash, an expert on political parties in the USA during the tour disclosed that the USA has interestingly undergone a pretty thorough gender gap development in the last 30 years, which is also a serious challenge in Liberia toady.

Among the 25 presidents Liberia has had, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2005 broke the record of becoming the first female president while Jewel Howard-Taylor in 2017 became the first female vice president of the country. As of the 2017 elections, the Legislature of 103 lawmakers had only eleven women. Sine then, two have died (Sen. Geraldine Doe-Sherif, 2019 and Rep. Munah P. Youngblood, 2020), reducing the number to nine women across both chambers of the Legislature. In subsequent by-elections held to replace these astute female politicians, the likelihood of them being succeeded by women, is extremely narrow. The late Sen. Doe-Sherif was succeeded by Abe Darius Dillon, who beat Paulita Wie, a female candidate from the ruling party by landslide vote. In the by-election to choose a successor for the late Rep. Youngblood, even the strongest female candidates are tested by a crowd of male contestants.

Needless to say, the existing gender gap in political leadership in Liberia is widening.

The  Center for American Women Politics (CAWP) said only Hillary Clinton, among the women that sought the presidential office, successfully contested as a major-party nominee, which is the Democratic Party in 2016, following Liberia’s lead in an attempt to produce the United States’ first female president. 

Like women did in the elections that saw Kamala Harris emerging as the first female Vice President of the US, Liberian women in future elections need to fully support other women that are participating for political leadership to be able to narrow the gender gap.

How the Electoral College Works

Dr. Mark J. Rozell, an expert on the U.S. federal system of government, presidency, politics, and elections, in a separate session said the founders of the American Republic decentralized authority significantly in creating the constitutional system, which means that they gave an enormous amount of independent power and authority to State and local governments.

Dr. Rozell said of the 538 electors at the Electoral College, 270 is the magic number, meaning that the candidate who gets 270 or more Electoral College votes becomes the president-elect of the United States.

“Now, if there were, for example, a candidate race, and this happens extremely rarely, and a third candidate got some electors to the Electoral College denying the two major party candidates, either one getting a majority, nobody gets 270 or more, then the election goes to the House of Representatives and the House of Representatives actually votes among the top three vote getters as to who should be the next president. You will have to go back to the early 19th century to have such a scenario, and that’s not going to happen this year unless there is a statistical oddity, which would be a perfect statistical tie of 269 to 269, which could happen but you can just imagine how incredibly unlikely that is,” he said.

Dr. Rozell said the winner-take-all system, State by State, is really important to understand as it relates to the presidential election.

U.S. Data Manipulation

Dr. Hall Jamieson, Professor of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, Director of the University’s Annenberg Public Policy Center and Co-Founder of FactCheck, has disclosed that malware can be used for data manipulation in elections. 

 Dr. Jamieson has said it is important that the U.S anticipates the possibility that breaches in the US electoral infrastructure, highlighting the Russian penetration within the election infrastructure, and should be finding ways to ensure that they monitor all the possible ways in which those breaches could occur.

She cited the 2016 elections, which she believes there may have been attempts to plant malware, which they cannot know with certainty; but they are aware of Russian individuals asked to be able to monitor balloting sites in the United States.

Elections Security, Campaign Financing

Speaking on elections security, David Levine, an Election Integrity Fellow at Alliance for Securing Democracy, disclosed that foreign adversaries are trying to interfere in the United States’ 2020 presidential election between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.

Levine, in a PowerPoint presentation informed participating media institutions that on September 10, 2020, Microsoft reported that it was seeing increasing cyber-attacks originating in Russia, China and Iran, targeting its customers, including attacks against political groups and the presidential campaigns of President Donald J. Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.

Sheila Krumholz, Executive Director, Center for Responsive Politics, has attributed the rapid increase of money flowing into the United States politics to the Supreme Court’s landmark decision on Citizens United versus Federal Commission in 2010, which allowed organizations that are normally independent from candidates to raise and spend unlimited sums from any source.

Krumholz said “while the Supreme Court’s decision was based on the notion that the public can see where the money is coming from to deter from the possibility of corruption, this was not and is not true. In each cycle since then, tens or hundreds of millions of dollars flow in from secret sources to outside groups, including highly political non-disclosing nonprofits and Super Political Action Committee (PAC). This is what is known as dark money, because if we cannot see it, we are left in the dark.”

In Liberia, campaign financing is restricted to an individual who is a Liberian. An organization/institution cannot sponsor a campaign of a political candidate and monies that are used for said purposes are restricted.     

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