The concept of free and fair elections, one of the hallmarks of a functioning democracy, seems to be slipping away in the United States. While Donald Trump’s claims of election fraud in the 2020 presidential election are influential, Republicans are doing more than simply maintaining a conspiratorial discourse. In Georgia, recent evidence has emerged that suggests that the chair of the Coffee County Republican Party was involved in fraudulent activities. Following the 2020 election, a breach of the election office was reported in the county. Cathy Latham, an influential figure in Coffee County, Georgia is seen on new video footage allowing two men to enter the county election office. Latham perjured earlier this year, claiming she was not at the office during the time of the breach.
This illegal tampering is not confined to Georgia. Similar claims have come out regarding the Pennsylvania and Michigan election offices. This begs the question: how can a country have a functioning democracy without fair and competitive elections? The answer, according to Lust and multiple other experts, is that you can’t. Elections are a quintessential part of freedom and democratic participation. Without electoral accountability, anyone could rig an election in their favor. Lust claims that three democratic principles are necessary to constitute a true democracy: uncertainty, impermanence, and constraint. Electoral officials in Georgia have broken all three principles.
In their tampering of the ballots, the officials in Georgia have completely pushed aside the concept of executive constraint and accountability. This does not bode well for the country: what’s stopping other office-holders from engaging in the same illegal activities? There can be no vertical accountability when information is being purposefully withheld from the public. The principle of uncertainty is also broken; the officials in Georgia and other states were trying to tilt the scales in their favor by attempting to know the outcomes of elections. This is dangerous for every single person in the country. When election results are known, parties can use this to their advantage to keep their candidate in office. Finally, impermanence, as Lust calls it, is a scary thing; having someone stay in office longer than they should is an obvious breach of our Constitution. This seems to be what Latham and her accomplices were attempting to do for Donald Trump.
In our polarized political climate, fixing elections is a major threat. The population is politically separating in a way we have not seen since the Civil War. Levitsky and Ziblatt credit the weakening of our democracy to this extreme polarization. When Joe Biden was elected, the Republican party was so upset that they attempted to undermine the legitimacy of the election. This is exactly what happened in Georgia and other states across the country. If each party can’t see the other as a legitimate opponent, democracy erodes. If elections are rigged, the people are not free. In this situation, and if Latham and colleagues had succeeded in their plot, votes don’t mean much. Free and fair voting rights are a major component of a democracy and it seems as if this freedom is being taken away from the people. Rigged elections are not the only electoral threats, though.Soon after the breach incident involving Latham and others, Georgia implemented new restrictive voting laws. The provisions include limiting the deadlines for absentee ballots to be requested and submitted. Another new law gives excessive power to the state elections board, taking away counties’ abilities to implement their own voting rights laws. Both of these measures are limiting freedom, similar to the Coffee County tampering.
In our current political climate, elections are more important than ever. The Republican party is desperately fighting for control, even going as far as to use illegal measures to win. In light of the enormity of the situation, Democrats are not doing enough to provide electoral safety and security for the people of the United States. Instead of pointing fingers and verbally disparaging the Republican party, the Democrats need to step up in a major way. If the Democratic leaders cannot get a handle on the deterioration of free and fair elections, the country will lose the entire basis of its freedom.