America is facing a crisis of confidence.
2020 has been the year of losing faith in our elections.
60 million, nearly 20% of all Americans, deny President-Elect Joe Biden’s victory in the General Election. A poll from two weeks ago found that 79% of Trump voters believed Trump should not concede. A recent poll found nearly 77% of surveyed Republicans believe there was “widespread voter fraud” in the 2020 November Election. Of course, 2016 and 2020 taught us that polls are largely inaccurate. However, ANY number of Americans doubting the integrity of American elections is dangerous. The belief of voters that their vote counts, that our elections are free and fair, and that voter fraud is not widespread is what keeps our electoral system in place and (arguably) effective.
There is a smog of doubt hanging over us, brought on by a series of intentional moves. Donald Trump and a multitude of Republican representatives around the country planted seeds of mistrust prior to November. As early as November of 2018, Trump attacked absentee ballots, claiming they “[showed] up out of nowhere”, with many ballots “forged”. Beginning in January of 2020, the concerted wave of assaulting absentee votes began. States trying to account for the public health risk of crowds voting in-person during a global pandemic by mailing eligible voters absentee ballot applications or allowing COVID-19 as a viable excuse to vote by mail were attacked by the President and state Supreme Courts. The President claimed there would be “fraud like you’ve never seen in it” that November in the first Presidential Debate. His affronts against absentee voting are transparently partisan. With the pandemic raging, more Democrats than Republicans applied to vote by mail. By attacking and discrediting absentee votes, he discredits largely blue votes. The threat of the integrity of these ballots being taken to the Supreme Court in a post-election world loomed large.
Not only that, but he refused from September on to commit to a peaceful transition of power should he lose. Instead, he committed to a “very peaceful… continuation” of power, citing mail-in ballots as a “whole big scam”. Earlier in July, he suggested the election should be postponed, pointing to an increase in absentee ballots as evidence that this would be the most “INACCURATE & FRADULENT Election in history”. This combined with attacks on the USPS, comparing COVID-19 to the flu (and in turn, weakening claims of absentee voting being a necessity), and continued voter suppression planted instability in the 2020 election and our elections in the future.
Donald Trump has opened the floodgates for future attacks on American elections. Doubt in the minds of Americans over the legality of absentee voting and the prevalence slogans like “Count Every Legal Vote” poses a powerful threat to the future of this country. Yes, the results of the 2020 Presidential Election are largely safe and confirmed now. However, the full ripples of these attacks on our electoral institutions are unseen as of now. Local, state, and federal elections in the future could feature candidates using these same attack strategies to undermine their opponents’ votes as illegitimate. The concern over absentee votes will likely prevent voters of all parties from participating via the safe, secure, legal, and (in most states) convenient process of voting by mail in the future. Voter turnout in America is already low. We know that when voters believe there are additional obstacles to voting, they are less likely to vote. Existing voter suppression coupled with the current lack of faith in absentee voting could lower voter turnout in upcoming elections nationwide. The result of these attacks is a less stable, less representative democracy.
There is no easy solution to this crisis. The first stage of healing is acknowledgement. We need concerted and continued efforts across the aisle to reconcile rhetoric with reality. We need to push our representatives to accept the truth: The results of this election are sound. Absentee voting is a safe and legal way to vote, one that allows the disabled, elderly, and military voters to participate. Voter suppression is an extremely rare occurrence in America.
Ideally, Trump would soon make a public statement that his attacks were undemocratic attempts to remain in power. Unlikely. The probable solution that we can all participate in is to have open and honest conversations about the election with those we disagree with. Coming from a place of compassion and evidence, we can slowly begin to restore trust in our electoral system.