Is a disputed presidential election the end of democracy as we know it?
That’s what many pundits and members of the legacy media are claiming as President Donald Trump has challenged election results in a number of states—both legally and rhetorically.
It seems that much of the media hivemind now insists that voter fraud never happens, that it’s equally impossible for an election to be stolen or tainted in any way, and that going a few weeks with two rival candidates both declaring victory (including one they really don’t like) means we are witnessing the end of America as a free country.
It’s amazing that this is the case after countless Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, insisted that Trump colluded with Russians to steal the 2016 election, a story that most major media outlets ran with for years without providing any hard evidence.
It’s also amusing to see so many in the media praising former Georgia state Rep. Stacey Abrams for her work to flip the Peach State into the Democrat column in 2020.
Abrams lost the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election to Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, in a race Kemp won by almost 55,000 votes.
Abrams insists that voter suppression is the only reason Republicans came out ahead and never conceded defeat. Yet she has received, literally, glowing profiles in The Washington Post and countless other media outlets.
Whatever the results of Trump’s legal challenges, the situation hardly portends a slip into dictatorship.
Truth be told, these sorts of electoral disputes aren’t even uncommon in our history.
Americans have been blessed with a marvelous political system that has stood the test of time. And it has been tested. Not every election has been entirely free and fair, and they certainly haven’t all gone smoothly.
As my colleague, Fred Lucas, the author of “Tainted by Suspicion: The Secret Deals and Electoral Chaos of Disputed Presidential Elections,” wrote for The Daily Signal, there have been at least five highly contested presidential elections.
The 1876 election between Democrat Samuel Tilden and Republican Rutherford B. Hayes was perhaps the most dramatic example.
Much like 2020, turnout for the election was incredibly high, a U.S. record of 82% of eligible voters. But there was widespread, often violent, suppression of black voters—who then were largely Republicans—in the South, and ballot stuffing was common throughout the country.
Tilden’s supporters literally called for blood if their candidate was not installed in the White House.
Neither candidate conceded defeat until just before Inauguration Day, which at the time was in early March. So, the country spent over four months without knowing who the president would be.
The mess was only “resolved” by a last-minute, so-called corrupt bargain between Democrats and Republicans that handed Hayes the presidency in exchange for ending Reconstruction in the South.
That may seem like ancient news from a far-off and alien time, but one doesn’t really have to dig that deep into political history to find examples of contested elections and candidates refusing to concede.
The 1960 election was a narrow race between Sen. John F. Kennedy, D-Mass., and Vice President Richard Nixon, and it was rife with accusations that Democratic political machines—in Chicago, in particular—manufactured votes for Kennedy.
Hundreds of election officials in Illinois were indicted, but only a handful were convicted in 1962, after admitting to witness tampering in Chicago’s 28th Ward.
Nixon did in fact organize to challenge the election results in Illinois and a number of other states, but ultimately decided to concede for the sake of the country and his political career. Nixon was a young man and had every intention of running for president again—which he did in 1968, winning a three-way race.
It took then-Vice President Al Gore more than five weeks to acknowledge defeat in the 2000 election to then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush, decided by just 537 votes in Florida. That was after more than a month of legal battles, recounts, and the famed Bush v. Gore Supreme Court case that ultimately delivered the election to Bush.
Gore hardly went away without a fight, calling for selective recounts in heavily Democratic Florida counties while attempting to block the inclusion of military absentee ballots.
When all avenues for victory had been closed, Gore finally called it quits on Dec. 13, 2000—over a month after the Nov. 7 election.
Many Democrats around the country refused to accept that Bush had been legitimately elected—or reelected in 2004.
What we are seeing here in 2020 is hardly unique, nor does it signal the end of democracy. To the contrary, this is democracy in action, in all its messiness.
The way to quell electoral disputes is not to simply expect politicians to immediately concede close and hotly contested races, but to ensure that our voting system is safe and secure, and that it’s designed to minimize impropriety, fraud, and unintentional errors that could throw elections into dispute.
Maybe elected officials should take that more seriously in 2022 and beyond.