OP-ED: WHY TRUMP’S CLAIMS WEAKEN DEMOCRACY, TRUMP’S ACCUSATIONS OF FRAUD UNDERMINES ELECTORAL LEGITAMACY

By Erin Maxwell || Layout Assistant

“Rigged”: Trump makes inflammatory claims Thursday night. Photo courtesy of the Associated Press.

On January 20, 2021, President-Elect Joe Biden will be sworn into the highest office, following what may be the most divisive and aggressive election season in modern American history. As celebration parties across the country are in full swing, a team of elite Republican lawyers is continuing to push a succession of politically-fueled lawsuits in swing states, an offensive that launched only hours after the polls closed this Tuesday.

For months, President Donald Trump has made false accusations of potential mail-in ballot fraud as part of a fabricated and completely baseless conspiracy of Democratic electoral manipulation. Still, nothing could prepare a stunned international audience for the reckless and meandering speech Trump made on Thursday, stating that “if you count the legal votes, I easily win…they can try to steal the election from us.” (whitehouse.gov) In less than twenty minutes, Donald Trump unraveled the threads of a democratically free and fair election, forcibly threatening a “tremendous amount of litigation” against key battleground states, many of which are controlled by Republican leadership. (whitehouse.gov) Trump’s refusal to concede reveals a pattern of wildly dangerous behavior, which has the potential to undermine the perceived legitimacy of the election and threaten the peaceful transition of power, both of which are fundamental pillars of a democratic society.

Both cries of “stop the count” and “count that vote” continued through the week outside polling stations as ballots were processed, while Trump and his legal team were attempting to stop ballots in the states where his lead was dwindling—Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Michigan—and to continue counting in Arizona and Nevada where his margin was increasing. Political analysts warned voters for months of the inevitable “red mirage,” an illusion of a higher Trump turnout because Republican voters were much more likely to vote in person and the Democrat-dominated mail-in ballots would be received afterward. Still, the Trump campaign almost immediately wove the delayed counting due to social-distance guidelines and the overwhelming amount of absentee ballots into an intentionally divisive narrative alongside a bevy of lawsuits against “rigged” polling stations.

No matter the state, counting ballots is a bipartisan process. Counting is done by local election officials, under the watchful eye of representative officials from both parties, allowing for maximum transparency. Trump’s legal team attacked ballot-counting locations in key states for social distancing regulations that allegedly impaired the view of partisan watchers, but only one of the multitude of filings was approved, allowing watchers to inch an almost laughable three feet closer to the action. Litigation attempting to halt or recount mail-in ballots has been incredibly weak and largely thrown out by Republican and Democratic federal judges alike, with Justin Levitt of Loyola Law School commenting, “if this is a legal war, he’s arming up with water balloons.” (NBC) Although Trump continually reinforces the legitimacy of his efforts and the potential for these cases to reach the Supreme Court, any movement is highly unlikely. Recounts are currently underway in Georgia and Wisconsin, but the possibility of a resulting Trump victory is statistically unheard of, as the average recount yields a difference of a couple of hundred ballots. Yes, these races are close, relatively speaking, but the narrowness of these battleground margins isn’t likely to shift.

Here are the current official margins in the battleground states, as of November 7th, as reported by 270towin.com. 

Georgia:

Biden: 49.6%

Trump: 49.1%

Vote Margin: 28,000

Michigan:

Biden: 47.7%

Trump: 45.2%

Vote Margin: 145,935

Wisconsin:

Biden: 49.6%

Trump: 48.9%

Vote Margin: 20,558

Arizona:

Biden: 49.6%

Trump: 48.9%

Vote Margin: 20,573

Pennsylvania:

Biden: 49.7%

Trump: 49.2%

Vote Margin: 34,417

Nevada:

Biden: 49.9%

Trump: 47.9%

Vote Margin: 25,699

Victory is not in President Trump’s near future, whether he decides to concede or not. Still, the intentional discord he has sown in the foundation of American democracy has not gone unnoticed. Republican officials have split in their support of his remarks, with Mitch McConnell being a vocal cheerleader of counting “the legal votes,” (New York Times). More moderate GOP members such as Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio have called his statements “wrong” and “damaging,” with still more remaining willfully silent—most notably, Vice President Pence. Across the ocean, Samir Kiango of Tanzania recognized the hypocrisy of the American election administration, asking “why is the US democratic process appearing so fragile when it is meant to be held up to us in the rest of the world as a beacon of perfect democracy?” (AP). The appearance of the administration’s international omnicompetence has visibly eroded during the past four years, but the deliberate attack on the same democratic structure America intervenes to preserve is shocking. 

At a combustible moment in American history, President Trump fans the flame of misinformation and effectively widens the partisan gap in an already dangerously polarized nation. Two months stand between President Trump and President Biden; how the administration proceeds may be the difference between a healed and broken democracy.

Sophomore Erin Maxwell is a Layout Assistant. Her email is emaxwell@fandm.edu.

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