When Joe Biden was announced the President-elect of the United States, sitting President Donald Trump promptly filed multiple lawsuits in states regarding how elections were held and how ballots were counted… all of which have come up unsuccessful for him. Moreover, investigations into instances of voter fraud and ballot-count manipulation have yielded no evidence of electoral wrongdoings that favor the Democratic Party. However, despite the election being, by all observable means, fair and legal, Trump is still insisting that the election was illegitimate. Given that the likelihood of mass voter fraud is low and that there is no evidence that any remarkable voter fraud has occurred in favor of Biden, do Trump’s accusations become democratically corrosive?
A largely agreed upon mainstay of strong democracies is free and fair elections, meaning elections that are not tainted by illegal activities like voter fraud or political intimidation and violence at the polls. This indicates that Trump’s accusations of voter fraud mean more than just a bad election. His accusations imply that US democracy itself is fracturing and fracturing quickly. However, since there is no evidence that voter fraud has actually occurred, it seems that Trump’s warning of a fracturing democracy is not a serious assertion. I argue that this is not the case and that Trump’s continued accusations of voter fraud, while not a sign of irreparable democratic damage, may still result in difficult hurdles that the United States must get over if it wants to maintain its democracy.
Voter fraud on a large and public scale would be devastating to not only democracy itself but also democratic culture. Thus, it is important to call it out when it happens, and equally important to refrain from falsely calling it out when it does not happen. One of the many reasons free and fair elections are a mainstay of democracy is that free and fair elections help the people trust the democratic process. The people must believe in democracy for democracy to remain stable. If the people do not believe in democracy, free and fair elections no longer have value, and if free and fair elections no longer have value, then there is no democracy. Trump’s accusations of voter fraud when there is no evidence of voter fraud will cause his supporters to lose faith in free and fair elections, which has damaging implications for the quality of US democracy. Once the quality of US democracy becomes questionable, then the US has ostensibly fallen into the trap of democratic erosion. Thus, Trump’s flippant accusations of voter fraud are and will continue to be damaging to democracy in the United States.
One could argue that Trump’s behavior is not unheard of in a losing candidate. For instance, the 2000 US Presidential Election was so close that Al Gore demanded a recount in Florida. The US Supreme Court ended up deciding that the recount was unconstitutional, and George W. Bush was subsequently elected president.
While the Bush v. Gore election is a good example of a close and hard-fought election, it is not the same as what has unfolded in the 2020 election. For one, Gore conceded the election at first, but once he realized the election was going to be decided by Florida, and that the lead in Florida was a difference of a mere few hundred votes, he rescinded his concession. No state has had as close of a count in the 2020 election, and Trump still refuses to concede. Furthermore, Gore only filed a lawsuit for a Florida recount. Trump, however, has filed lawsuits in six states: Pennsylvania, Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, and Wisconsin. Thus, Gore’s accusation of voter fraud did not allege widespread voter fraud across multiple states. Trump cannot say the same about his accusations. Trump’s widespread cry of voter fraud has much larger and much more serious implications for the quality of democracy in the United States, and these implications are what make Trump’s behavior unprecedented. Trump’s flippant accusations undermine the legitimacy of US elections and peg him as an autocratic personality. For this reason, his behavior should not be seen as normal because it is not normal for a healthy democracy. His behavior is directly corrosive to US democracy.
The consequences of Trump’s autocratic tendencies are likely to continue to affect US democracy long after he leaves office. He has established a culture of distrust for the democratic process by crying voter fraud when there is none, and this distrust will take time to disintegrate. In order to heal US democracy, President-elect Joe Biden will have to rekindle trust in free and fair elections. If he or his future successors fail, US democracy will continue to fracture until it eventually falls apart. Dahl, Robert Alan. Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2007.  Lipset, Seymour Martin. “Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy.” The American Political Science Review 53, no. 1 (1959): 69-105. Accessed November 18, 2020. doi:10.2307/1951731.  Lust, Ellen, and David Waldner. “Unwelcome Change: Understanding, Evaluating, and Extending Theories of Democratic Backsliding.” Annual Review of Political Science, 113, 21, no. 93 (May 2018).  Levitsky, Steven, and Daniel Ziblatt. How Democracies Die. New York, New York: Broadway Books, 2019.
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I enjoyed reading this post and thought that your argument was very clear and the evidence provides strong support. I think your point, “…it is important to call it out when it happens, and equally important to refrain from falsely calling it out when it does not happen” is extremely meaningful, and I whole-heartedly agree. Questioning a piece of democracy that is as substantial as an election should not be taken lightly, and President Trump is demeaning the process. I think it would not constitute as harmful to democracy to request a recount in a state where the votes are incredibly close, but Trump’s claims that the election is completely wrong and would have favored him had it not been for widespread voter fraud is entirely more severe and detrimental to citizens’ confidence in a fundamental democratic process. I believe that Trump desperately needs to accept the outcome and spend his last two months in office at least attempting to participate in the transition to Biden’s presidency and encourage his supporters to acknowledge the result as well. While this is obviously very wishful thinking, beginning to repair the democracy and sow peace in the country right now would start with Trump’s concession.
Trump’s claims of voter fraud have proved to be a huge issue for his supporters and I completely agree that his actions and claims pose an extreme threat to our democracy. It is hard to control misinformation when it is not coming from a news outlet, but the President himself. Do you think that it is the media’s job to make sure masses of people understand that the claims are not verified?
I also think that it is important to look into how this will affect the future as well, like you said it could have lasting affects on our democracy, but the presidency as well. Do you think this will have a lasting affect on the norms of presidential behavior as well? I agree that it will be the responsibility of Joe Biden to attempt to rebuild faith in the fair elections granted by the Unites States, however, I believe that many of Trump’s supporters will continue to believe these claims of fraud even after an unlikely succession or inauguration of Joe Biden. It is crucial for Trump to come out and say that his claims were false, regardless of the thrown out court cases because he will still be believed. Do you think he is capable of doing this?
The democratic repercussions of this behavior are unprecedented and i don’t think many understand the extent, which is why I thought this blog was well done because it tied in the historic instances where we have had a close election, but what ultimately happened was a normal and respectful concession which we do not see at this time. You did a great job of also explaining that voter fraud is not an irrelevant issue, but must be dealt with carefully and truthfully because it is a pillar of our democracy.