The U.S. election in 2016 was marred by accusations of foreign intervention by countries such as Russia and Iran. While foreign intervention continues to be a concern in the 2020 election, this time the questions of voter suppression and fraud are coming from elected officials at home. Both Democrats and Republicans have expressed concern about attempts to suppress the vote as well as concerns about voter fraud.
The election in 2020 could be the turning point in the perceived credibility and reliability of American elections from the international community and the United States electorate.
The election in 2020 was the first time that the Carter Center monitored the United States election. According to the Carter Center, the current polarization of American politics led to this decision and there are similarities between this year’s election and elections they have observed in other countries with fragile democracies. According to the Carter Center the similarities include, “Deep ideological polarization. Ethnic and racial divisions. Little confidence in election integrity. Results not accepted.”
The fight started prior to the election, as early voting got underway. In Harris County, Texas Republicans, including a Conservative activist, a Republican State Representative, and two GOP candidates were the plaintiffs in a case that sought to invalidate nearly 127,000 early ballots that were cast in a predominantly Democratic area. The argument was that drive-through voting was an illegal extension of curbside voting. Ultimately, the Texas Supreme Court rejected the effort, but the American electorate is on alert for similar tactics to play out in other states prior to announcing a winner.
In Pennsylvania, President Trump spent the majority of the last week of the campaign in the state that had the potential to swing the election. At one campaign stop in Reading, Pennsylvania Trump declared “If we win on Tuesday or – thank you very much, Supreme Court – shortly thereafter…” seems to signal that President Trump is counting on a Supreme Court decision to propel him to the presidency. In a later rally, he decried a ruling that allowed for votes in Pennsylvania to be counted after the election, as long as they are postmarked by November 3rd. Trump has filed lawsuits in Pennsylvania, Nevada and Michigan, all of which were thrown out and considered baseless.
In spite of this, Trump did declare victory prior to the final election results coming in. This unsubstantiated claim coming from the President of a Democratic country and where free and fair elections have been an example to developing nations around the world, is troubling not only to Americans, but the international community.
A team of international observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has long been invited to the United States to monitor and observe the elections. Urszula Gacek leads the 57-country group and commented on the difference between the 2020 election and others. “This election has become about an election. The very way you cast your vote has become a hot political discussion.”
In the OSCE’s initial report, Gacek and her team noted Trump’s refusal to commit to a peaceful transition of power and potential voter intimidation on Election Day. If the President of the United States, long thought of as the “policemen of the world” can refuse to accept the outcome of a presidential election, does this embolden other leaders in fragile democracies to take a similar stance? Previously, would repercussions from the United States including withholding of aid and/or sanctions have prevented fraud or the stealing of elections?
Taking a look at recent elections around the world, one has to wonder if we are already seeing the possible effects of a United States President that refuses to submit to election results. The 2020 Belarusian Election results led to a popular uprising to remove President Lukashenko. The opposition led by Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya believed that the election was fraudulent as did the majority of the international community. According to the NY Times, “[Lukashenko] controls vote counting, [and abused] a vast security apparatus and a noisy state media machine unwavering in its support for him and contempt for his rivals.” Many European leaders have spoken out in support of the protestors and the opposition party while denouncing the violent suppression of the protests.
The State Department released a statement that expressed concern about the election saying, “Severe restrictions on ballot access for candidates, prohibition of local independent observers at polling stations, intimidation tactics employed against opposition candidates, and the detentions of peaceful protesters and journalists marred the process.“ The European Union’s foreign ministers have all agreed to sanctions against Belarus in response to the violent crackdown on the pro-democracy protests, but the United States has yet to join the EU on this push for sanctions.
The reactions from the United States allies and adversaries to the election have been filled with trepidation. In the United Kingdom the Times of London stated, “It is hard to look at our closest ally this morning without concluding that it is a nation in trouble – with all that means for countries that, since the Second World War, have looked to the United States for leadership and protection. As Britain has.”
In Canada, the editorial board of Globe and Mail said the stalled results, “left open two possibilities, neither of them ideal. The first is that Mr. Trump is on the verge of re-election. The second is that the decision as to who has won could come down to mail-in ballots…which are likely to lean to the Democratic Party, and which in these are not legally counted until after election day. That gives Mr. Trump every incentive to try and delegitimize the entirely legitimate counting of those ballots. He began a campaign to do so months ago.”
China’s foreign ministry said, “The U.S. election is a domestic affair; China has no position.”
It seems clear that America’s closest allies are aware that our democracy is only as strong as our ability to hold free and fair elections. The confidence in our ability to do so is being eroded away by not only the narrative of this current administration but the continued polarization of the American people. An American election that is perceived to be illegitimate or stolen eliminates our standing in the eyes of the rest of the world as a stable and strong democracy. That signals to other failing or failed democracies that elections can be fraudulent with little repercussions. As we see this election unfold, it seems as though our democracy, although troubled, will hold and serve as an example to other countries around the world.