President Donald Trump’s attempts to steal the election and win another term are exceedingly unlikely to work
. But he is already succeeding in undermining key democratic norms on which our society functions by questioning the results
without evidence, falsely alleging
voter fraud, and, according to the Washington Post, even reaching out
to a local election official charged with certifying results.
Trump, who clearly lost the presidential election by large electoral and popular vote margins, has filed lawsuits
in numerous battleground states that have largely gone nowhere. He has lied about massive voter fraud, which doesn’t exist
. His lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, even suggested
that his goal is to delay certification of the results, enabling Republican legislators to thwart the will of the people and simply award Trump the Electoral College votes he needs to win — an anti-democratic idea that is bound to fail given statements
from Republican legislators in key states and Democratic governors who won’t go along with attempts to undermine the electoral process.
And perhaps in the most egregious action to date, Trump personally called
Republican Monica Palmer, a local election official in Wayne County, Michigan, after which she sought to change her vote on whether to certify the results.
Post-election certification is typically a routine, ministerial process. The election officials check the vote totals and declare the winner. But nothing is routine when the President of the United States actively seeks to undermine our democracy.
This week, the certification process broke down in Wayne County, which includes Detroit. The four-member bipartisan Board of Canvassers initially deadlocked 2-2
on whether to certify the results of the election, with the Republican members claiming that precincts were “out of balance
” — in that the number of voters who checked in did not precisely match the number of votes cast, which Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said
is a common clerical issue when there is high turnout. Indeed, the same Board had certified
the August primary even though the same minor issue occurred then.
During the Board’s meeting on Tuesday, Palmer suggested she would vote to certify the results from Wayne County except in Detroit — in which almost 80%
of the residents are African-American individuals. Public commenters blasted her
, saying that her statement was racist and her actions purely motivated by politics.
After a few hours of protest and outrage, the Board unanimously agreed to certify
the results, while calling on Secretary Benson to audit the election.
But the next day, on Wednesday, Palmer and the other Republican member of the Board, William Hartmann, signed affidavits trying to rescind their votes — although a spokesperson for the Michigan Secretary of State said
that “There is no legal mechanism for them to rescind their vote.”
What happened in between? Trump personally called
Palmer. “He was checking in to make sure I was safe after hearing the threats and doxing that had occurred,” she claimed.
Of course, we do not know precisely what Trump said on the call. But it is curious that Palmer sought to change her vote only after hearing from the losing candidate. She says that Trump did not pressure her. Still, the optics do not look good.
Imagine if a litigant in court received an adverse ruling, called the judge that evening, and then the judge reversed course the next day. No one would think that is proper. Regardless of whether they spoke about the certification or not, Trump actively reached out to an election official responsible for overseeing the election after she vacillated but ultimately voted against his wishes. Then she tried to change her vote. That is not normal in a well-functioning democracy.
To make matters worse, on Thursday, Trump extended an invitation
to Republican Michigan lawmakers to visit the White House. While it’s not clear what exactly his message will be, given his baseless arguments of fraud until now, it’s not hard to imagine what he might say to them.
Meanwhile, some Republicans remain silent
, while others are actively enabling
Trump’s election falsehoods. There has been no meaningful evidence of problems with Michigan’s election, which President-elect Joe Biden won by over 157,000 votes
. In short, the election was not close. Calling a local election official or summoning state lawmakers to the White House before the Electoral College meets — if the goal is to persuade them into thwarting the will of the people — is plainly anti-democratic.
Come January 20, 2021, Biden will assume the presidency. But the damage to our democratic norms will outlast Trump’s time in office. Americans of all stripes must double down on our commitment to a democracy in which the losers graciously admit defeat and fight for another day. Lying about election fraud, as Trump and others
have done, and turning a blind eye when a losing candidate personally reaches out to an election official, when the candidate does not like the results, cannot become the new normal. Although Trump does not have the votes to overturn the election this year, our democracy is only as strong as the people willing to uphold it in the future.