The issue of voter fraud and voting rights have become a centre-stage issue in American politics, ever since Donald Trump’s 2016 election victory was quickly followed by the claim that the election was stolen from Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton due to Russian cyber influence. An exhaustive litigation process -- at the highly expensive cost of the taxpayer -- and the accompanying media frenzy culminated in the Mueller Report, which fell far short of living up to the hype generated by the megaphones of the country’s political and media institutions. The issue would resurface again in the 2020 Presidential election, when one could not follow American politics without an excess of news headlines on the subject of voter fraud projecting from one’s laptop screen. When Trump did not concede the election, a prolonged vote-count followed with the question of voter fraud reverberating across American society, in the courtroom, the Senate floor and House Chamber, the online public square, local pubs, everywhere. With electoral votes finally certified on January 24, a world weary of the subject of voting could have been forgiven for hoping a new administration might set their sights on addressing a plethora of seemingly more pertinent issues both domestically and abroad.
But six months later, the voting issue remains just as central as before. A recent Rasmussen report found that 41 percent of voters still believe the 2020 election to have been fraudulent, with 70 percent of Republicans and 10 percent of Democrats believing that President Joe Biden won the election unfairly. Of those surveyed, 53 percent support full forensic audits of election results. One such audit is ongoing in Arizona’s Maricopa county, whose overseers have just completed counting and photographing a staggering 2.1 million ballots. Arizona has consistently been a Republican state but swung blue in 2020. However, many local voters asserted that fraud occurred leading to a number of Congressmen objecting to Arizona's electoral votes on January 6, beginning a constitutional process of review that was ultimately curtailed due to the fateful storming of the Capitol building later that day.
The current audit will not change the outcome of the election, but as Dan Zak of the Washington Post notes in his essay The Mess in Maricopa, “it might change America.” This is because it does not matter whether widespread irregularities are found or not. If evidence of voter fraud is uncovered it may lead to a domino effect as voters in other closely contested swing states will be encouraged to conduct similar audits. If not, many Republican voters are simply too convinced by the narrative of widespread voter fraud and will therefore likely continue the archeological process of evidence-extraction of fraud in other places with no end in sight.
But voter fraud is just the tip of the iceberg. More recently, the COVID-19 crisis opened the floodgates to massive changes in the legal framework that has governed how voting has been conducted in liberal democracies worldwide for centuries. In Time Magazine’s bizarrely titled article The Secret History of the Shadow Campaign That Saved the 2020 Election, the authors explain that there was in fact a coordinated, country-wide effort backed by “an informal alliance between left-wing activists and business titans, [...] a well-funded cabal of powerful people working together behind the scenes to influence perceptions, change rules and laws, steer media coverage and control the flow of information.” Curiously, these widespread changes to state voting laws in 2020 are viewed as a positive force that helped safeguard American democracy. However, the concept of a coordinated effort by powerful and wealthy elites and activists has, unsurprisingly, outraged the more conservative and Trumpian factions of the Republican Party. Over the last few months, Republican state legislatures all over the country have responded by passing state laws to reverse these sweeping changes to voting laws, such as the facilitation of mail-in-voting, made before the 2020 election.
Voter integrity dominates the political arena at the federal level also. On June 23, the Senate voted on the Biden Administration’s proposed For the People Act. The Act aims to make voting more accessible by expanding voting registration and vote-by-mail, among other things. Additional areas of the bill increase federal involvement in regulating elections by increasing transparency in political campaign donations, as well as a number of other issues concerned with election integrity and security. The Senate vote fell on party lines in a 50-50 vote, emphasising again the deep partisan divide on the issue of voting.
So why are the two parties so at odds with each other on policy concerned with voting rights? The bottom line is that the Democratic Party favours policies that make voting easier and more accessible because it needs to continue ensuring high turnouts of disenfranchised minority voters that make up large sections of the Democratic voter base today. The Party favours granting amnesty to the 11 million illegal immigrats currently residing in the country, partly because of the huge number of future voters this would ensure. The Republican Party favours a tougher stance on immigration and receives far fewer votes from disenfranchised minority groups and therefore has nothing to gain from laxer voting laws. For example, African-Americans make up roughly 12 percent of the population and have voted around 90 percent Democatric since the 1960s. With white, blue-collar voters having defected from Obama’s Democratic Party to Trump’s Republican Party in 2016, the Democrats need minority votes now more than ever. As economist Thomas Sowell explains: “If Republicans could get 20 percent of black votes, the Democrats would be ruined.”
The voter fraud fiasco that characterized the 2020 election as well as the current partisan divide on the issue are emblematic of the ongoing decline of societal cohesion in the country, which has resulted in part from a zero-sum political culture that leaves little space for compromise. An America unable to resolve internal divisions will only serve to increase the power vacuum generated by a hegemon unable to exert the full potential of its influence on the global stage. The 2022 midterm elections will therefore be an important test for the American political apparatus which must seek to re-establish the legitimacy it lost from the public in 2020. Other geopolitical heavyweights seeking to fill this power vacuum will be watching on with keen interest.