The elections that are now close upon us are going to be a pivotal moment in our country’s history, and many Americans are still making their decisions about whom to vote into office for the President, the Senate, the House, and the many state and local races. Emotions regarding the choices ahead are running white hot, and not a few have characterized this election as one of the most important in our nation’s recent history.
Given the extraordinary circumstances of this election, the extreme partisanship that poisons our desperate attempts at discussion, and the distrust that now washes over every aspect of how and when we vote, it is likely we will spend Election Day evening, the overnight, and many, many days afterward glued to the results.
No matter who ultimately wins their particular electoral contest and what they claim to want to accomplish when in office, I have just one hope: Let their victories be monumental landslides. I wish for this because no outcome would be worse for our nation than a string of 50.1% victories for whichever of our two major parties ultimately comes out on top.
Most importantly, whoever wins the presidency must, if we are to avoid a repeat of the chaotic 2000 election, win beyond what, for lack of a better term, I can only describe as being “beyond the margin of lawyer”. A razor-thin victory will result in a wild stampede to the courthouses of our nation to demand any conceivable advantage in order to change the outcome. This will only further delegitimize and debase our electoral processes and—perhaps worst of all—provide the jet fuel for more of the same baseless speculation, wild rumor, and conspiracy theories that have done immeasurable harm already.
Unfortunately, the provocateurs that masquerade as non-partisan political analysts are ready and waiting to drive a national discourse designed to agitate rather than illuminate. Controversy and conflict builds viewership and readership, and the more absurd and insulting the allegation, the more likely it is to move front and center. We used to laugh at the insane headlines blasting across the mastheads of the supermarket tabloids; today the supposedly sober analyses of experts and pundits are often but a shade removed from Elvis having a baby with a space alien.
There are, of course, real issues that arise from holding an election in our troubled age of Covid-19. Adequate provisions must be made for those who cannot easily or safely travel to a polling place while ensuring the integrity of their ballots. Attempts to take advantage of vulnerable voters with techniques that hint at either ballot harvesting or voter suppression must be resisted.
However, this should not translate into dragging the federal judiciary—already struggling to stay above the political fray—into whatever contested elections lie ahead. Trying to turn appointed judges into the arbiters of our every political dispute overlooks the legitimate roles of state officials in supervising elections and often results in unseemly “judge shopping” that discredits all involved while effectively erasing the mandate a winning candidate might otherwise be able to claim. Electoral chicanery is as old as our nation—just think of all those who have miraculously risen from the dead over the years to cast their votes—but the solution to this problem is not to be found in an attorney’s briefcase.
Any repeat of the drawn-out and dissatisfying 2000 Presidential contest, which was ultimately decided by a non-decision of the Supreme Court, will be made even worse today by social media mavens determined to “blow up” the process if it does not come out as they wish. The sad symbiosis that now exists between the angry armies of hashtag warriors and the tattered remnants of what used to be called journalism has been the disgrace of both. Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite (do many Americans today even know who they are?) would cry if they were alive to see the disastrous depths of so many news reports today—and the terrible consequences that result for both our nation and its people.
The presidency of George Bush the Second managed to survive the ill will generated by his judicial coronation. I doubt whoever moves into the Oval Office in January could expect the same outcome if they end up squeaking through thanks to a lawyerly subterfuge and a suspiciously compliant judge. A contested election might cause the fissures dividing America to finally split wide open.