Don't imagine that America's creaking electoral machinery will facilitate an orderly transfer of powerby Dahlia Lithwick / August 30, 2020 / Leave a comment
Americans have had a bumpy summer. Donald Trump continued to make incoherent pronouncements about a Covid-19 crisis that has not been controlled. There appeared to be no relief in sight for a cratering economy. The big racial justice protests, triggered by the killing of George Floyd, were met with unlawful arrests in Portland, Oregon; and parents were gripped by anxiety about whether to send their children back to school, amid alarming infection numbers in Texas and Florida and through the Midwest.
Some Americans tell themselves that the answer to these worries lies in the presidential election on 3rd November. That was the message of the (virtual) Democratic National Convention in August: Vote. Vote. Vote. The hope is that an overwhelming victory for the Democratic candidate Joe Biden will magically resolve the uptick in racial and economic tensions, help regain control of the virus and restore normalcy.
But that hope assumes that “voting” and “elections” and “turnout” and “polling” mean in 2020 what they used to mean. And in the Trump age, we have learned that old ideas, presumptions and legal norms can no longer be relied on. In reality, the notion that one casts a ballot and that this ballot is automatically processed, counted and registered such that all votes count equally, was always magical thinking. If you are African American, it was probably never true; come November, it may also prove to be untrue if you are elderly, or a student, or high risk for Covid-19, or live in a Democratic stronghold. It’s tempting to wade into psephology: could the new barriers facing older voters, who may be more conservative, offset the obstacles put in the way of racial minorities casting a ballot? But this is a distraction from the gravest danger for the system (and greatest opportunity for a president languishing in the polls). Namely, that everybody will feel cheated.
Because if the system doesn’t treat your vote fairly, will you know about it? And what—if anything—can you hope to do if it doesn’t? How will we collectively ever know if voters were treated so unequally that the 2020 election was invalid? What could be done to remedy it then? And just how bad…