In the last twenty years, as our elections have become more secure and accessible, partisans on both sides of the aisle have assaulted their legitimacy with increasing severity. Small instances of — and even perceptions of — voter fraud and suppression, which do not typically come close to changing an election’s outcome, are cynically used to fuel rhetoric and conspiracies that denounce the results of free and fair elections as illegitimate and stolen.
The most egregious example of this trend is what some pundits have named the “Big Lie.” For months prior to the 2020 election, former president Donald Trump primed his supporters to believe that mail-in ballots would be fraudulent and illegitimately counted on Election Day in the case that he lost; lies that culminated in Trump supporters storming the U.S. Capitol Building in an attempt to prevent the peaceful transfer of power on January 6th, 2021. Frightening images of rioters breaching legislative chambers and videos of supporters chanting phrases like “hang [Vice President] Mike Pence” were ubiquitous across airwaves and on social media. But worst of all were the opportunistic Republican members of Congress that sought to appease their supporters and gain celebrity by contesting the electoral count of delegates from swing states during the actual counting and certifying of delegates. While Republicans in Congress were at first quick to condemn the riot, most have since fallen in line behind Donald Trump’s lies about that day. A year later, many Republicans still believe that the 2020 election was stolen as a result of fraudulent mail-in ballots and nefarious deep state actors, despite all such claims being struck down in court and rejected by all available evidence. Elected Republicans have also made worrying changes to state election laws that determine who controls how delegates are slated for future elections, and there are legitimate worries that the GOP could successfully steal an election in the future as a result if those efforts continue.
But while the events of January 6th and the Big Lie are perhaps the most appalling and worrying examples of this trend, election conspiracy and subversion are by no means a phenomenon purely constrained to Republicans or to Donald Trump. In 2004, following the reelection of George W. Bush, many prominent Democrats made baseless claims of voter fraud and suppression, especially about the vote counts in the state of Ohio. They then used those claims to contest the legitimate election results during the certification process — just as Republicans did in 2020. Many Democrats to this day also still think that Russia was responsible for Donald Trump’s success in 2016, consuming the rampant lies spread by mainstream media over a dossier funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign (contributors to which have since been indicted by the Department of Justice for lying to the FBI). Even in 2020, while Donald Trump was priming his base for claims about the election being stolen as a result of fraud, Democrats and their media activist counterparts were priming their base to believe that the election could be rigged through the post office delivering of ballots and drop boxes — a lie that was propagated widely and one in which many Democrats believed prior to the 2020 election.
And even the Big Lie has a counterpart in the Democratic party. Only two years prior to the 2020 election, another election lie was propagated at the state level and would later contribute to Trump’s strategy of overturning the 2020 election, using the same political playbook of calling an election into question and challenging it in court — even making the same claims that election machines were hacked and votes changed as well as suppressed. That election was the 2018 gubernatorial contest in Georgia between Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams. After then Secretary of State Brian Kemp put thousands of voter registrations on hold in accordance with Georgia state law, the Abrams campaign and Democratic media allies claimed — without evidence — that Kemp “purged” voter registrations in order to suppress the minority vote for Election Day. They made these claims even though every single one of those “purged” voters could still vote if they showed up to a precinct on Election Day. And in fact, on Election Day, Georgia saw a record number of votes cast. Most disturbing of all is that Abrams had planned on using claims of voter suppression since 2014. Litigation with the state of Georgia has since revealed that in 2014, Abram’s PAC (the Voter Access Institute) tested “themes of voter suppression” as a get-out-the-vote strategy. Since 2018, she has continued to push the voter suppression narrative and has used it to get Democrats to the polls and to fundraise millions of dollars. Today, just like Donald Trump, Stacey Abrams enjoys a tremendous amount of celebrity for her lies, vaulting herself to the shortlist of vice presidential candidates that Joe Biden considered before taking office. Many in the Democratic establishment have claimed her lies, just as Republicans have claimed Trump’s, insisting that Republicans stole the election from her.
In 2022, Democrats, led by President Joe Biden, have continued this bipartisan trend, remarking that upcoming elections may not be legitimate if Congress doesn't immediately pass partisan election bills that seek to federalize elections, branding any objectors — even in their own party — as being in league with the likes of Bull Connor and Jefferson Davis. Using claims of new voter restrictions as an impetus for their proposals, despite the fact that most voting rights being scaled back were just recently emergency implemented as a result of the pandemic. Arguably the most infamous of these misguided voter suppression claims is about the Georgia election law that Biden has derided as “Jim Crow 2.0”, but even the liberally-inclined Washington Post has given that claim four Pinocchios (it’s worst rating), asserting that that new law would actually increase voter access, and other sources have found that Georgia actually has less strict voting laws than the steadfastly blue states of Delaware, New Jersey, and New York to name a few.
Neither party in America seems to be capable, at the present moment, of upholding the central most principles of a functioning democracy or of being the adult in the room, and there are few signs that this trend will subside anytime soon. The inevitable end of this steep bipartisan dissension leads to unstable democracy and authoritarianism, a fate which no American should relish. To preserve the very institutions that sustain our great nation, something has to change, and change soon. It’s not about left or right, Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, it’s about those who will stand up for the truth and against the forces that seek, intentionally or not, to undermine the very foundation of our democracy. It’s about those who will not defend our democracy or will only cast blame on politicians of a different ideological coat or party than their own. It will not end until our toxic political culture is arrested and resisted; it will not end until we stop bestowing celebrity and authority upon demagogic politicians instead of relegating them to the trash heap of history where they belong; and it will not end until we as a republic rededicate ourselves to the values of a free liberal democratic society. In the last twenty years, as our elections have become more secure and accessible, partisans on both sides of the aisle have assaulted their legitimacy with increasing severity. Small instances of — and even perceptions of — voter fraud and suppression, which do not typically come close to changing an election’s outcome, are cynically used to fuel rhetoric and conspiracies that denounce the results of free and fair elections as illegitimate and stolen.
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