I voted today…I think,” William Clifford

December 2, 2020; CBS News, Business Insider, and The Guardian

2020 has been an election year for the record books. We had more eligible voters (approximately 66.7 percent of them) participate in the November presidential election than any election since 1900. We have also witnessed, since November 3rd, the filing of multiple lawsuits, claims of voter fraud and corruption, false voter return numbers, and outcries that results must be overturned by state legislatures and courts. Most of those claims have come from the President of the United States and have not been disputed by members of his staff or Republican members of Congress. Those who have bravely and strongly stood up against this tirade of accusations of fraud and mismanagement have been the (mostly) Republican and Democratic state officials in charge of elections in key swing states. They have defended the integrity of their election processes and their results in courts of law, and in the court of public opinion.

These charges have resulted in threats, including death threats, toward many of these election officials. It did not take long for this to happen and it seemed to be most prevalent in those states that were the “swing” states and most in dispute in finalizing the election results. A quick review by Business Insider demonstrates this pattern. In Georgia, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has voiced concerns about death threats directed at him and his wife, including the following text: “The Raffenspergers should be put on trial for treason and face execution.” In Pennsylvania, Republican City Commissioner of Philadelphia Al Schmidt shared in November that his office got death threats for counting votes, while the Trump campaign was trying to halt the count. Michigan’s local board of canvassers dealt with threats during a Zoom meeting that threatened them with rape and violence. A threat to the Nevada Secretary of State Election Division sounded like this: “You all are lucky there that I am an elderly man that is too old to fight and don’t own any guns, but I’ll tell you what, you’re about to get bum-rushed by a bunch of young, 20-year-old boys. You’re worthless.” And Arizona’s Secretary of State Katie Hobbs has faced “ongoing and escalating” threats, including a social media post that said, “Let’s burn her house down and kill her family and teach these fraudsters a lesson,” according to the Associated Press.

But now, as most of the president’s legal fights have failed and attention is now focusing on the two runoffs in Georgia that will determine control of the US Senate, death threats are surfacing. These threats are a bit different, as their focus is not on elected officials or those who count the votes. Instead, a young computer technician, a contractor with Dominion Voting Systems in Gwinnett County, has received death threats and was targeted with a noose. Dominion is a voting software company used in 28 states and has been targeted in the unsubstantiated election fraud claims. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency says, “There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”

With all of this, the questions that need to be raised go beyond voter fraud and overturning elections. What is the real purpose of this tirade? Trump will not remain in office. Why do not more elected officials stand up to him? The answer is, perhaps, that their goal is not to overturn the election, but rather to undermine our faith in our election system and in our democracy. Writing in the Guardian, Sam Levine states:

By fanning the specter of voter fraud, Republicans are laying the foundation for questioning the legitimacy of a Biden presidency and any election in which an opposing candidate wins. They are sowing doubt not just about the 2020 election, but whether America’s voting system—the foundation of American democracy—is sound. Beyond this election, these efforts to sow doubt about election results will also augment a long-term Republican effort to justify making it harder to vote for swaths of the electorate. In a democracy, where governing power is rooted in the consent of the governed, this is deeply dangerous.

This strategy is not simply about shaking Americans’ confidence in the elections. It is also about making it harder to vote in the future. And none of this is new. For years, Republicans have used misleading information to make the public fearful about illegal voting and the “huge” problem of voter fraud. (It is not huge at all.) All of this justifies making it harder to vote and implementing things like voter ID and proof of citizenship laws. So, when you have a “messy” election with the results being questioned (even when the vote count shows a huge win for one candidate), the integrity of the process is what is at stake and will continue to be questioned. If the voters do not believe the president was legitimately elected, there is reason to oppose everything he does. As Levine writes, “In a year in which there was record turnout and many states expanded early voting and voting by mail, these questions will provide an avenue for Republicans to justify scaling back those expansions. It’s an approach that aims at the preservation of power above all else. And holding on to the loyal Trump supporters who believe the lies Trump is spreading about the electoral system is a critical part of that single-minded effort to hold on to that power.”

A hero has emerged in all of this. In Georgia, Gabriel Sterling, one of Georgia’s top Republican election officials, stood up to President Trump and Georgia’s senators for their lack of response to the death threats and intimidation that is targeting the state’s election workers. He appealed to the president to “stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence.” Sterling went further to plead with the president to do what is truly presidential. He directly told the president what to do: “Mr. President, as the secretary said yesterday, people aren’t giving you the best advice on what’s actually going on the ground. It’s time to look forward if you want to run for reelection in four years. Fine, do it. But everything we’re seeing right now, there’s not a path. Be the bigger man here and stop. Step in, tell your supporters: Don’t be violent, don’t intimidate. All that’s wrong. It’s un-American.” Unfortunately, this is not a president who is a good listener, and this is about more than just an election.—Carole Levine