Where’s the uproar against stunts that drive non-stop, divisive electioneering?
Aside from shredding confidence that elections work, rightwing “Stop the Steal” schemes have another perfidious end: to turn campaigning into perpetual electioneering where nothing is final and anything goes. Trivializing the integrity of clear winners, whom losers simply impugn as illegitimate thieves, will not only distort historic voting patterns but create general aversion towards elections, thus politics. Why bother to vote if even certified outcomes simply kick off months of ugly, war-like disputations?
Can elections work when deceitful losers yell fraud, then scoff at diverse judicial assessments that deny all evidence of improprieties? That’s not just arguing balls and strikes but adamantly refusing to leave the field after getting ejected. If cheating by alleging cheating succeeds, then elections will not serve their democratic goal: to legitimatize leadership so that representative government may then serve public interests. Either the majority rules or chaos reigns, as today’s calculated, rightwing, state voting suppression mania makes all too clear.
Further, if the rebuffed majority doesn’t rule, won’t then an opportunistic minority seize power and commit mayhem to stay on top? So much for everyone’s voting rights laws, let alone stopping state legislatures (or the House) from quashing certified elections. Majority rule is already diluted by the Senate make-up and the filibuster, the Electoral College, and noxious House gerrymandering. Turning election into extended free-for-alls makes that worse, prompting more alienation, disrespect for law and violent protests.
Beyond political penalties: the law
If Trumpers escape midterm punishment after lawlessly battering the last election, they will have transformed politics into legally-irreconcilable hostility. That defeats the entire justification for elections, marvelously switching from “talk, talk, talk” to firm decisions, then actions that foster democratic empowerment. Legitimacy depends on shifting from the mayhem of picking winners to the hard work of change – or all bets are off.
Thus, while Salon’s estimable Amanda Marcotte last week stressed how the media must hold liars to account, “There’s only one way to stop Republicans from stealing the 2024 election,” her “only way” language falls short. Why not insist on an even more targeted, obvious solution – legislation? As with any other anti-social behavior, election sabotage is well within the authority of Congress – the first line against disruption to determine winners. When an election is confirmed, having survived legal challenges, that must stand as incontrovertible. Otherwise, brace for endless litigation and propaganda demanding inane re-dos, themselves then open to repeated perfidy. That’s why prompt candidate concessions, while not legally-bounding, work to unify, transforming hot electioneering into a cooler compromise phase. Politics as constant war immobilizes the entire system.
Legal punishments against the subversion of election results are not hard to imagine. First off, why not require that qualifying candidates must agree they will honor fully-tested results? Eligibility requirements now abound, and this threshold seems like a bottom-line minimum. Other binding, legal documents demand signatures to affirm commitments, whether signing a mortgage or making disclosures when selling a house – with clear liability for misrepresentation. Ditto, when getting a driver’s license or a passport, applying for a job or a credit card – again, with penalty for lying and betrayals. Any losing politician who denies the legitimacy of election outcomes should be summarily disqualified. Losing does not somehow grant whiners special, extra-legal leverage to disrupt.
Feet to the fire
Further, why not require approved candidates to post bonds to assure respect for rules? Serious or repeat offenders will face civil and criminal penalties, especially when abusing certified elections as “rigged,” “stolen” or “fraudulent.” Unrepentant offenders should be forever barred from federal office – thus eliminating the blatant contradiction of losers only honoring elections that award them victory. As judges hold wayward defendants in contempt for prejudicial disclosures during a trial, so laws should stop candidates from holding an election in contempt – simply because they got fewer votes.
Today, though respectable journalists are calling out the Big Trump election lie, media pressure is insufficient. Ending election sabotage requires stringent laws and an independent commission to identify and punish miscreants. Since only the two national parties have tens of millions to spend on nefarious litigation, their liability bonds should by far surpass what minor parties need cough up. A $100+ million fine would discourage more sabotage by Republicans, with unlimited personal liability for the worst offenders.
Whatever any final disposition of the Anti-Election Sabotage Law, putting an end to today’s democracy-killing Trump sedition is now a red, flashing light, putting the very credibility of the Constitution at stake. Laws can’t stop political slander or corrosive lying, but forcing candidates to accept losing is now an emergency necessity. As with the Constitutional flaws exposed in last year’s impeachment (when president and Senate share parties), letting losers get away with crimes against the majority exposes a huge systemic vulnerability. What stops the next rogue from finding new ways to belittle election results as no more than jokes or phony gestures?
No waiver for co-conspirators
Plus, relentless co-conspirators who join in the assault against certified elections should share liabilities, with fines, indictments, even risk of losing office. Those who scorn elections should not benefit from outcomes. As officials declare oaths to the Constitution, all candidates must fully commit to election outcomes. Either firm, legal distinctions establish when elections are finale and election legitimacy begins, or there will no end to rightwing election nonsense. There is nothing radical here, simply respect for fair, fraud-free elections, like 2020. In this light, alternatives to the suspect, undemocratic Electoral College – whether its elimination or ideas coming from FairVote’s “National Votes” – are parallel tracks to insure the majority rules. Now, a theoretical 27% minority can determine a president and impose its will. Can any majority worth its salt tolerate such unrelenting, foundational blows to voting? That the Trump crusade against legitimate elections may fail politically, confirming its lust to sustain minority status, hardly removes the incentive to reform a gaping hole in voting/election justice system. If a “loser” can offset his loss with lying bluster, then campaigning and elections are mere puppet shows – and democracy withers.