- Catherine Devlin
Stopping the Count Stops Democracy
Updated: Dec 10, 2020
On November 3, 2020 (or very early the next morning), Americans went to bed with a predominately red electoral map. When they awoke the next morning, a Republican win looked less likely. Just four days later, on November 7, 2020, Democratic candidate Joe Biden was declared the President-elect of the United States of America.
For many, this seemed like a dramatically abrupt switch. At 12:45 a.m. on November 4, Trump took to Twitter to declare himself victorious. As votes continued to be tallied, and the outcome of the election seemed less favorable for Republicans, Trump and his supporters began levy accusations that the election was rigged, suggesting that invalid ballots were being counted. In response to this perceived fraud, Trump and his supporters called for an end to the tallying process. In Detroit, protestors outside the convention center took up a cheer of “Stop the Count,” which soon became a rallying cry for those contesting the election results.
This blatant attack on the democratic process continues weeks after Biden’s win. On November 21, Trump showed his continued anger at the election results and process by tweeting, “can’t accept the results of an election with hundreds of thousands of fraudulent votes cast.” The Trump campaign has filed lawsuits in Pennsylvania, Nevada, Michigan, and Georgia, and many more states that have all been certified for Biden as of December 8. On November 21, U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann, a Republican, dismissed Trump’s suit against Pennsylvania, calling Trump’s accusations “unsupported by evidence.” A federal judge in Georgia also dismissed a Trump campaign lawsuit. Even Fox News host Neil Cavuto pointed to a lack of evidence of fraud by the Democrat Party. On November 9, the conservative news station cut away from a press conference in which White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany accused Democrats of rigging the election, with Cavuto saying “unless she has more details to back that up, I can’t in good countenance continuing showing you this.”
Despite a lack of legal support for Trump’s criticism of the election, a poll from Politico.com shows that many of Trump’s supporters agree with the current president calling the election into question, reporting that 70% of Republicans do not believe the election was fair. Of those surveyed, 78% believe that mail-in voting led to fraud, and 72% think that the ballots were consciously tampered with. Other candidates from the November 3 election have mirrored Trump’s dismissal of the process, with Martha McSally (R - AZ), John James (R – MI) refusing to concede their Senate races despite indisputably losing.
This is one of the first times in modern history that a defeated president has hinted at a refusal to turn over the office. The precedent of a gracious transition of power was begun in 1800 when Republican Thomas Jefferson defeated incumbent Federalist John Adams. Adams put up no fight to keep the office once he had failed to be reelected, and Jefferson extended a hand across the aisle in his inaugural address in which he said, “we are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.” Since then, candidates from both parties have followed suit and accepted defeat, barring the contentious 1876 election. In 1980, Democrat Jimmy Carter praised the American voting system for allowing “people to make a free choice” after his 1980 defeat, and in 1992 Republican George HW Bush left a note in the Oval Office for Bill Clinton which read, “I am rooting hard for you.”
These gracious concessions are not only touching stories, but they are instances of democracy working. Abandoning the tradition of an uneventful transfer of power sets a worrying precedent in which Americans could lose faith in our democratic process. If political leaders do not set the tone for accepting the next elected administration, Americans might not accept their new leaders either. In an article for The Boston Globe, Yale University history professor Timothy Snyder outlined the dangers of casting doubt on the election results writing, “if people believe an election has been stolen, that makes the new president a usurper.” Snyder goes on to explain that such a mentality primes the nation to work against the newly elected leader, thus inhibiting the nation’s safety and progress.
Furthermore, there is typically a transition period between presidents where current White House advisors prepare the new administration to address current issues facing the nation. The longer that Trump stalls in admitting Biden’s win, the longer he is preventing his advisors from meeting with the Biden team to talk about important issues. Many Americans, including some of Trump’s fellow Republicans, worry that this inhibition of Biden’s access to classified documents is a threat to national security. Roy Blunt (R – MO) and Susan Collins (R – ME) both advocated for Biden having access to national security and intelligence briefings so that he will be able to immediately start addressing concerns when he is sworn into office. Biden’s team has also been denied access to the cybersecurity measures typically afforded a president-elect’s transition team, including secure phone lines and email domains. In order to begin working despite lacking the appropriate security equipment, Biden’s team has been using a Google Workspace network that requires an enhanced security login procedure and has conducted foreign policy discussions via encrypted apps or the less technology dependent method of hosting meetings outside. As United States presidential campaigns have been the targets of hackers in the past (with both parties’ 2008 campaigns being hacked by China and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign being hacked by Russia), the Biden team’s lack of cybersecurity makes it a likely target for similar cyberattacks.
One of the biggest problems the Biden administration will face is the COVID-19 pandemic, and one of its first tasks will be distributing the vaccine to millions of Americans. Currently, Biden’s advisors have received no information on Operation Warp Speed and the plan for distributing the vaccine. Biden’s team cannot begin to plan the large-scale distribution of the vaccine until they understand the current plan, so they are reliant on Trump’s compliance in order to start this process. Should the Trump administration continue to withhold such information, the health of the nation could suffer as the Biden administration will not be able to hit the ground running on curtailing the COVID-19 pandemic.
Losing an election is disappointing, but undermining the nation’s faith in the democratic process is dangerous. A core tenet of democracy is the peaceful transition of power. Without this principle in place, the people's voice is not truly heard, and leaders who are no longer representative of the nation’s wishes can continue to cling to power. As the nation moves forward, the American public's ability and willingness to accept the new president will determine whether our democracy will continue to work.