Democracy is the MVP in 2020

Democracy is the MVP in 2020
© Getty Images

Emily Murphy, head of the General Services Administration (GSA), has finally signed the letter giving President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenDobbs: Republicans lost in 2020 because they 'forgot who was the true leader' Should deficits matter any more? Biden's Cabinet gradually confirmed by Senate MORE access to the resources his transition team needs.

In a tweet, President TrumpDonald TrumpBlinken holds first calls as Biden's secretary of State Senators discussing Trump censure resolution Dobbs: Republicans lost in 2020 because they 'forgot who was the true leader' MORE vowed to fight on, but also declared that “in the best interest of our Country, I am recommending that Emily and her team do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols, and have told my team to do the same.” On Nov. 26, he added that he would leave the White House if the electoral college chooses Biden.

These statements may be the nearest thing to a concession we can expect from a man who lives in his own alternative reality. The real winner of this contest is democracy itself. The election of 2020 demonstrated the durability of the American political system but also revealed the need for reform.


After four years of divisive politics and one of the nastiest campaigns in recent memory, Americans voted in record numbers. Approximately 160 million people, nearly 67 percent of the electorate, cast a ballot. In some battleground states more than 70 percent voted. The highest voter turnout in more than a century would have been noteworthy under any circumstances. That it occurred in the midst of a pandemic that has killed a quarter of a million people is truly extraordinary. 

Countless ordinary Americans made this successful election possible. Thousands of volunteer election judges and poll watchers, Republican and Democrat, in every state made sure voting was free, fair and as safe as possible. County and state election officials worked continuously for days, and in some cases weeks, to make sure that every vote was counted. Because of the pandemic, approximately 66 million people, nearly one third of all voters, cast their ballot by mail. Faced with budget cuts imposed by Trump-appointed Postmaster General Louis DeJoyLouis DeJoyDemocrat calls on Biden to fire postal board for 'complicity' in attempts to overturn election Judge approves deal to expedite Georgia runoff ballots DeJoy's calendar released by Postal Service is almost entirely redacted MORE, the U.S. Post Office still delivered and collected mail-in ballots on time. State’s that had never dealt with mail-in voting on such a scale, scrambled to make sure it occurred without a hitch. Contrary to repeated claims by Trump and his supporters to the contrary, voting by mail did not lead to widespread fraud. Despite the risk of exposure to COVID-19, some people stood in line for as much as 11 hours to vote early.

Prior to the election, the head of the National Counterintelligence Security Center warned that China, Russia and Iran could meddle in the election by tampering with the voting process and election data, which could have damaged the election’s validity. Despite this serious threat, the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency declared the election the “most secure in American history.” 

While every American can take pride in the effort to make it happen, the election of 2020 revealed serious problems with our system that need to be addressed. Voter suppression, particularly in minority communities, began long before the election. A complex of state and federal laws, and established precedents made tabulating votes more difficult than it should have been. What had previously been perfunctory steps in the process of certifying votes and choosing electors became opportunities for pernicious meddling. 

Voter suppression has a long and ugly history in the United States, which the Voting Rights Act of 1965 sought to remedy. In 2013, however, the Supreme Court struck down a vital provision of the law, which had required states with a history of discrimination to get federal approval for any changes to their voting laws. In the aftermath of the court’s decision several of the states that had been subject to oversight implemented new restrictive measures. Voter suppression tactics included purging rolls, adding burdensome identification laws and reducing the number of polling places in poor and minority neighborhoods.


When voter suppression failed to affect the outcome of the election, Trump turned to the courts. Because he was ahead in several key states on election night, his campaign asked judges to order a halt to counting mail-in ballots in some battleground states. More than two weeks after the election was called for Biden, Trump has still not conceded. His campaign and allied Republican groups have mounted 30 legal challenges in state and federal courts based on unsubstantiated claims of procedural irregularities or voter fraud. None have succeeded. A federal judge in Pennsylvania delivered a stinging rebuttal of a suit, in which he said not a single vote in the U.S. can be disenfranchised.

Not content to file frivolous lawsuits, Trump has called on state legislatures to overturn the election results. The Georgia secretary of state claimed that Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenators spar over validity of Trump impeachment trial Trump selects South Carolina lawyer for impeachment trial Democrats formally elect Harrison as new DNC chair MORE (R-S.C.) and other Republicans pressured him to disallow legally cast ballots. The president invited Republican leaders of the Michigan legislature to the White House in what appeared to be an effort to get them to set aside the popular vote and appoint pro-Trump electors. After the meeting, the representatives issued a statement saying they would follow the law and certify the vote.

The fact that every one of these efforts to overturn the results of a free and fair election failed miserably testifies to the strength of our political system with its impartial judiciary. However, that such ploys could even be attempted is profoundly troubling. Reform is clearly needed. Some standardization of voting procedures among the 50 states should be implemented, especially in regard to processing mail-in ballots. Waiting to count those votes on Election Day creates needless delay that invites meddling. Certification of results should be in the hands of nonpartisan bodies. 

The oversight mechanism in the Voting Rights Act needs to be restored. Fair voter qualification rules must be applied to all citizens and equal access to polling places guaranteed. Above all, the decision as to when the peaceful transition of power begins should not be left to the person who lost the election.

Tom Mockaitis is professor of history at DePaul University and author of “Violent Extremism: Understanding the Domestic and International Terrorist Threat.