Republicans and Democrats Squabble as Public Confidence in the US Election Erodes

16 December 2020 Lindsay Hughes, Senior Research Analyst, Indo-Pacific Research Programme

It is probable that President-elect Joseph Biden will take the oath of President of the US on 20 January; whether he will be recognised as such by half of that country’s voters remains to be seen.

Background

The result of the US presidential election is still contested by the two major parties. The Republicans claim that newly-instituted rules that relaxed the security under which voting took place allowed Democrats to skew the results in three battleground states – Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – and to win a southern state, Georgia, which Mr Trump had won handily in 2016. The Democrats deny those allegations and, in the absence of hard evidence of systemic electoral fraud, are justified in their denial. Republican supporters continue to claim, nevertheless, that the election was “stolen” from them and demand that their representatives act to correct a grave case of electoral fraud. Since around 47 per cent of those citizens who voted supported Mr Trump’s bid for re-election, the fact remains that whether or not there truly was systemic fraud in the electoral process, close to half the voting population will need to be reassured by a future Biden Administration that he is, in fact, the rightful and legitimate president. That will be no easy task.

Comment

The problem for the Biden Administration is that, as one poll of 1,000 likely US voters (as opposed to actual voters) found a fortnight before the election was conducted, 94 per cent said that they believed that their vote would be correctly recorded and counted; 73 per cent of them said that that outcome was very likely. Following the election, however, those figures fell to 71 per cent and 47 per cent, respectively. The poll found that 61 per cent of Republicans were of the opinion that it was very likely that the Democrats stole the election and 61 per cent of Democrats said that it was not at all likely that there was malfeasance in the conduct of the electoral process. Interestingly, of the remaining Democrat supporters, 20 per cent believed procedural malfeasance was very likely and 10 per cent somewhat likely that it was. Of those voters who were not affiliated with either political party, 29 per cent were of the opinion that the election was manipulated and 45 per cent were not. In other words, a significant proportion of the population believes that fraud was committed during the election. It must be noted, however, that in some instances, the Rasmussen polls favour Republicans statistically.

Another reason for the claims of fraud in the three northern states is their close results:

When the other battleground states are added to that list, the spread reduces further:

The spread of 0.03 per cent in Mr Biden’s favour may provide some explanation as to why Republican supporters demand recounts and examinations of the conduct of the election in some of those states.

Added to that are the claims of data scientists, statisticians and mathematicians, who allege that their examinations indicate that Mr Biden’s victories in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin (see here, here and here, for example), show definite signs of illegal intervention in the counting process. In the case of Michigan, for instance, it is alleged that in almost every county, Mr Biden had exactly 50-55 per cent higher absentee vote totals than Mr Trump (one example is depicted in the graph below). In nine Michigan counties, the number of absentee votes between Mr Trump and Mr Biden is so similar that one scientist alleges that they are clear indications of illegal manipulation, saying, ‘The odds here, of all of this, are like winning the Powerball 65 times in a row.’

Mr Biden’s votes in Michigan increased by 141,000, furthermore, in the space of five seconds, as the time stamps table below shows:

The same report notes that a similar spike of 143,000 votes that favoured Mr Biden occurred in Wisconsin, albeit in a little over five minutes on that occasion.

The sheer incongruity of the magnitude of the sudden increase in the number of votes for Mr Biden in both cases when compared to the preceding and subsequent figures, has led Republican supporters to voice their anger over, and doubt as to the validity of, the vote-counting process in several states.

To compound the issue of waning confidence in the election, at least in the eyes of Republican supporters, on 9 December, the Attorney-General of Texas, Mr Ken Paxton, filed a suit with the US Supreme Court challenging the outcome of the presidential elections as held (and as directed by government officials outside the legislature) in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Georgia, because those states allegedly violated their own election laws by materially weakening or doing away with security measures. The next day, 17 other states joined Mr Paxton in his bid to counter the results in those states. The state of Texas claimed that the violations of election law in those states created an environment in which ballot fraud was enabled and, subsequently, was likely to occur. The lawsuit listed various alleged violations of the law in each of the defendant states and provided alleged evidence of fraud (the number of “illegal” ballots counted) in each of those states in such numbers as to change the election results. The website of one conservative organisation lists some of the violations of election laws as they relate to each of the four states and the allegations of fraud against each of them. A study conducted by another conservative organisation found that 353 counties in 29 states had voter registration rates that exceeded 100 per cent of the eligible voting population. Also on 10 December, 106 Republican Representatives signed an amicus curiae (Friends of the Court) brief in support of Mr Paxton’s challenge. Adding to the general confusion, Georgia’s Secretary of State opened an investigation into one county’s ballot re-counting process, casting further doubt upon it.

Mr Paxton’s lawsuit asked the Supreme Court to block certification of election results, to direct swing-state legislatures to review the results and to direct the legislatures to award electors based on only those ballots that fully complied with the original election laws in each of the four states. As the table below shows, had the Supreme Court heard the case and ruled in favour of Mr Paxton, the election result could, at the very least, have been cast into doubt or, at worst (from the Democrats’ perspective), been overthrown.

A win in the Supreme Court would potentially have given Mr Trump an extra 62 Electoral College votes that, combined with his current total of 232, would have taken his tally to 294 and reduced Mr Biden’s from his current 306 to 244. That would effectively have kept Mr Trump in office for four more years.

And therein lies the danger for the US as a whole. Had the Supreme Court decided to hear Mr Paxton’s case and if its decision after hearing it had been in his favour, it would have caused the 53 per cent of voters who opted for Mr Biden to feel that they had been grievously wronged. It is more than likely that, in that case, the Democrats in the House, led by Nancy Pelosi, would have done everything in their power to once again block President Trump in his endeavours. More importantly, those voters who chose to support the Democrats and Mr Biden would have refused to acknowledge Mr Trump as the legitimate president of the US.

On the other hand, now that the Supreme Court has dismissed Mr Paxton’s suit because, as it noted, Texas has not demonstrated a judicially cognisable interest in the manner in which another state conducts its elections, 47 per cent of American voters will continue to believe that the election was manipulated so that Mr Trump and the Republicans could not win. They will likely refuse to accept President Biden as a legitimate president. It does not matter, at this stage, whether the Republicans can or cannot prove malfeasance in the electoral process; their supporters believe that there was and that the system is skewed against them, which could explain why 45 per cent of strong Trump supporters still believe that the election result will be overturned, according to a recent poll. Their frustration, when it is not and when President-elect Biden takes office in January, will expand and further deepen the political divisions with which Mr Biden will have to contend, as these recent events (also here and here) appear to portend.

This is a patently lose-lose situation for the credibility of the US electoral process. Mr Biden may occupy the White House but he will, in Nancy Pelosi’s words, always have an asterisk after his name insofar as half of the country’s voters are concerned. He has promised to be a president for all Americans and likely intends to be. The larger question remains, however, will all Americans accept him as their president? That is far from certain. Even less so is how either a second-term President Trump could have repaired, or President Biden will, the faith of American voters in the country’s electoral system.

Any opinions or views expressed in this paper are those of the individual author, unless stated to be those of Future Directions International.

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