Since the year 2000, we’ve had three presidential elections that we could easily question the final results. We know about the fiasco with George W. Bush against Al Gore and the hanging chads, not to mention the purging of African-American voters by his brother and then Governor of Florida, Jeb Bush. Oh, and of course, the Supreme Court weighing in by stopping the recount as well.
There was also the election of 2004 when John Kerry lost Ohio by roughly 118,000 votes. Still, there were questions at the time of voting irregularities and purges of Democratic voters by then Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell. It didn’t matter in the long run because Kerry conceded the election and never demanded a recount.
And in 2016, with a little help from the Russians and voter suppression, the future worst president of the United States was elected. Here we are on the cusp of another election in a little over five months, which may ultimately determine whether the United States of America remains a democracy.
I don’t know about you, but I’m worried. Very worried. Not so much that the incumbent might win, which is possible (heaven help us), but that the election will proceed safely and legally. I feel the time has come for a significant international observance of our national election on November 3, 2020.
I know, what the hell am I saying? We can’t allow such a thing. Americans are an independent bunch. We don’t like anyone telling us what to do, let alone a group of foreign bureaucrats. But what am I to think? We have an autocratic president with an Attorney General who only seems to care about protecting his boss instead of the American people and the Constitution.
This president is already planting the seed for what he’ll say if and when he’s defeated. Vote-by-mail, if enacted nationally, is nothing but fraud waiting to happen according to the con-man-in-chief. And that view is widely supported by the Republican Party’s large majorities and his radical base of support.
If he manages to win by a small margin, with an electoral victory as he did against Hillary Clinton, all will be well in Trump’s world. It was the will of the people; he’ll say—sorry Democrat Party, the king has been crowned, and you can all go to hell.
No matter what the outcome, the chance that he will leave office voluntarily, if he loses, or allows a recount if he wins, is highly unlikely. There needs to be a backup plan, in my view. Otherwise, do we not risk anarchy? Do we not risk the unraveling of democracy before our very eyes?
Ironically, there are already mechanisms in place for international observers of our elections, as well as partisan, non-partisan, and academic observers. Unfortunately, since our system of elections is so fragmented and decentralized, with basically 50 different states and thousands of counties having their own sets of rules, any election monitoring is an immense challenge.
Since 2002, at the State Department’s invitation, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe(OSCE) has observed six different U.S. elections. According to The Carter Center, the intergovernmental organization’s primary goal is to help foster genuine democratic elections and promote respect for international human rights.
After every election, the group issues a report, assessing the democratic quality of elections in the United States. In recent years, the findings have not been positive. In the 2018 midterms, OSCE issued an interim report: “The right to vote is subject to many limitations,” they warned, “with racial minorities disproportionately impacted.” It wasn’t much better in what they found after the 2016 presidential election: “Suffrage rights were not guaranteed for all citizens, leaving sections of the population without the right to vote.” Is it any wonder, considering the massive voter suppression and gerrymandering carried out by Republicans over the last decade?
None of the recommendations suggested by the OSCE’s final report on the 2016 presidential election ever came to fruition. Many were common-sense reforms aimed at transparency and fairness. However, since 2016, many states have enacted new voting requirements and restrictions, essentially doubling down on suppressing the vote, especially on people of color.
The bottom line is that the OSCE, while well-intentioned, has no teeth whatsoever. And with only a 13 member core team in D.C., and 36 observers deployed across the country, there’s not enough human power to make much of a difference.
Besides, several states have decided to impose severe restrictions on the observers themselves. With such distrust of foreigners in general by so many Americans, it’s not surprising.
This obstruction has to change folks. We need more, not fewer observers in this year’s election. But with time running out and a nation in the grips of a terrible pandemic, I’m not confident anything changes. Democrats are trying. Republicans are resisting. Isn’t that always the case these days?
It would be nice if we could get both parties to agree to a non-partisan commission to oversee the entire election this year, and give it enough resources and teeth actually to make a difference. Perhaps if it were a domestic only commission, we might be able to agree. But with the current president, who holds such overwhelming sway over his political party, it’s not going to happen.
Never in a million years did I think the United States of America would need such an intervention. At one time, we were a beacon of light to the rest of the world. Emerging democracies around the globe used to look at us as a model for how it’s supposed to work. Now we’re on our way to banana-republic status. Hell, we’re there already as far as I’m concerned.
We should welcome as much scrutiny as possible, whether from the international community or domestic groups. One of the more common refrains in years past from both political parties is that America stands alone on the world stage. “American exceptionalism,” they like to say.
If so, let’s show the world how a real democracy operates. Open the election up to as many international observers as possible. Or, let’s put together a bi-partisan team of observers that will leave no doubt as to the fairness of our election in 2020. We need them in every state. We need tech companies involved as well, to guard against the foreign meddling we saw in 2016. We know Russia tried to hack many of our state’s election systems. This year could be even worse if we do not act.
Absent these preventative and essential reforms for this year’s election, you can forget about so-called American exceptionalism. I fear the alternative.