Ensuring a free and fair election in the United States this year faces numerous challenges, and the potential for public skepticism looms large. Despite these concerns, there are reasons for cautious optimism, particularly in terms of the mechanisms in place to address threats that have become more apparent since the 2020 election.
In the lead-up to the 2020 election, concerns were raised about a potential “election meltdown” due to foreign interference, misinformation, and attempts at election subversion.
However, looking ahead to 2024, the outlook is somewhat different. While these threats persist, the awareness and preparedness to counter them have increased.
The primary worry now is not the integrity of the vote count but the potential rejection of results by the losing side. The aftermath of the 2020 election saw Trump refusing an orderly transition of power, culminating in the violent assault on the Capitol. In 2024, election denialism is prevalent even before voters have cast their ballots, posing a significant risk of further violence and instability.
The U.S. election process has always faced challenges, but recent years have witnessed an escalation in legislative changes, litigation over voting rules, and inflammatory rhetoric about voter fraud. Addressing these issues requires constitutional amendments to establish a genuine right to vote.
Donald Trump played a substantial role in exacerbating voting challenges, with his relentless claims of fraud and refusal to accept the 2020 results leading to the Capitol insurrection. Trump’s influence persists, with the possibility of him running for president again in 2024.
Despite concerns about the current political climate and attempts to undermine election integrity, efforts have been made to enhance the fairness of the 2024 election. Congressional amendments have been introduced to address irregularities in the counting of Electoral College votes. Courts have rejected extreme theories empowering legislatures to constrict voting rights.
However, the landscape is not entirely promising. Many individuals and organizations that played key roles in ensuring a fair election in 2020 have faced silencing, intimidation, or replacement.
Election officials have been subject to threats, and attrition rates are high. Disinformation researchers have been attacked, and some government agencies may be hesitant to report election interference.
Hope lies in the hyper-awareness of attempts to subvert election results and the collective vigilance against new forms of manipulation. The absence of Trump from the government provides fewer tools for manipulation, and the 2022 elections, without Trump on the ballot, proceeded smoothly.
The concern, however, shifts to voter confidence in the fairness of election results. Trump is already sowing seeds of doubt about the 2024 elections, and if he loses, claims of voter fraud are likely.
The challenge is not just to conduct a free and fair election but to ensure that losers accept the results as legitimate. Trump’s success in undermining this aspect poses a significant risk to the democratic process, potentially leading to further unrest and violence, even without him in office.
In conclusion, while efforts have been made to address vulnerabilities in the election system, the critical challenge lies in restoring public confidence in the democratic process. The twin pillars of democracy – a free and fair election and public confidence in its fairness – must both be reinforced to ensure the stability and legitimacy of the democratic system.