Are “stolen” elections the new normal?

This is the third (or maybe even fourth) election out of the last six with claims of fraud, subterfuge, and even foreign vote tampering

I understand the urge for Democrats to insist Republicans accept the results of the 2020 election and move on.  If the roles were reversed, I’d surely be singing the same tune, but this particular protest song has been around a lot longer than Trump.

In fact, it’s been sung far more frequently by Democrats, especially in recent years.

The Democrats started the modern version of the refrain back in 2000 when Bush narrowly beat Gore in Florida to win the election.  That year, the aftermath of election night lasted until December 12 when the Supreme Court ruled that Florida had to submit its election results by the state mandated deadline.

The Supreme Court’s decision ended Gore’s efforts to continue recounts in select Florida counties and sealed the victory for Bush.  The very next day a chorus that the election was stolen started tuning up.

“It makes you want to call 911 and report a burglary,” noted Greg Simon, a longtime Gore adviser, who was working on the Florida recount itself. 

The election results were certified in Congress on January 7, 2001, but the objections to Bush’s victory continued, prompting Gore himself in his role as President of the Senate to wield his gavel, repeatedly.  For nearly 20 minutes, a dozen members of the Congressional Black Caucus, along with a few sympathizers, tried to block Florida’s electoral votes, claiming black voters had been disenfranchised.

The idea that Bush stole the election and wasn’t a legitimate President continued in reprise from time to time for years.  In 2007, Hillary Clinton remarked, “Well, I think it is a problem that Bush was elected in 2000. I actually thought somebody else was elected in that election, but…”  Less than a year later, she claimed “the Supreme Court handed the presidency to George Bush.”

In fact, the media was so enamoured of the idea that Bush would’ve lost Florida if the Supreme Court hadn’t interceded, they spent millions of their own money going through the votes.  The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and others hired the University of Chicago to examine 175,010 ballots.  Another group, led by the Miami Herald and USA Today even invented a new standard to count the votes, determining that Gore had in fact won the election.

Of course, most of these publications have sung from a completely different songbook for the past four years, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

Back in 2004, Bush ran for reelection and beat John Kerry by a more decisive margin, but there was still a brief reprise of the same stolen election song.  There were multiple articles in major publications, even books, about how Bush might have stolen Ohio by rigging the voting machines.

The central claim was that Diebold made the machines used in the decisive state, and that the Diebold CEO was a Trump supporter.

Sound familiar?

Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012 were decisive enough that the song fell out of favor for almost a decade, but the cover version after Trump won in 2016 became an instant media sensation.

Indeed, it’s been the hottest partisan hit for the past four years as the Resistance was formed and Not My President became a hashtag.  According to Reuters, more than half of Americans surveyed believed that President Trump conspired with Russia to steal the election.

Nor were these claims limited to regular citizens and the media.  James Clapper, the infamous former director of National Intelligence, said “it stretches credulity to think the Russians didn’t turn the election … I think the Russians had more to do with making Clinton lose than Trump did.”

Former president Jimmy Carter also believes “Trump didn’t actually win the election in 2016. He lost the election, and he was put into office because the Russians interfered on his behalf.”  He’s stated flatly that Trump is an “illegitimate president.”

The losing candidate herself, Hillary Clinton, has repeatedly claimed that Trump is illegitimate and the election was stolen from her, as recently as this year.

Nor was the stolen election meme limited to a song and a dance.

There were numerous attempts to influence the electors, boycotts of Trump’s inauguration, and, of course, who could forget the remix:  Emoluments, the 25th Amendment, the Special Council, the Southern District of New York, and Impeachment.

The media even gave a second rate performer like Michael Avenatti, who now faces forty years in jail, a solo performance when he was representing Stormy Daniels.

Nor are stolen election claims limited to the Presidential election.  Stacey Abrams still insists the 2018 Georgia Governor’s race was stolen from her via voter suppression, as was Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court seat via Senate vote suppression.

If we don’t win these days, we claim the result was rigged and we were robbed.  The 2020 election result is a mirror of 2016:  About half the country thinks it was stolen.  Rasmussen Reports even reported that 30% of Democrats believed their fellow Democrats stole votes or destroyed pro-Trump ballots in several states.

I don’t repeat the claims here to debate their validity or authenticity.  Whatever your personal opinion, it shouldn’t be surprising that the losing side has a hard time admitting defeat and believes the loss was the result of foul play.  That is human nature at work.

What is surprising is how rapidly our elections have devolved into constant claims of theft.  The country is already extremely polarized, and it remains unclear how many more times we can afford a reprise without serious repercussions.

After all, the Civil War began when Abraham Lincoln won the 1860 election.

The question becomes:  What can we do about it?

For starters, we can get a lot better at the process of conducting elections.  Here are a few pretty basic suggestions that should already have been implemented:

First, each state should publish clear, auditable standards for voter identification requirements, signature checks, curing ballots, etc.  It shouldn’t be a mystery how closely signatures have to match or how (or even what number of) ballots have to be cured.  If a dispute arises, we certainly have the technology to easily check it against the standards and determine a fair outcome.

Second, each state needs to implement an enforceable chain of custody for ballots.  We should know for sure how the ballot was requested and received, and who touched it between the voter and the counter.  We should also have confidence the ballot was secured the entire time.

Third, we should know very shortly after the polls close in each state exactly how many votes remain to be counted.  The number should be published immediately, and any ballots arriving after the fact should be segregated and reviewed later.

The question remains:  Will any of these common sense steps be implemented?

I’m not holding my breath.  The sad truth is:  Both sides like singing this song, like an actual famous singer, it makes them a lot of money.


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