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Electing democracy: To undermine elections is not normal



For the first time since the end of apartheid in South Africa, the African National Congress party has lost its majority of the nation’s parliament. Yet instead of trying to cast doubt on the results themselves or take aim at the country’s electoral system, its leaders are now discussing a unity government.

In India, the world’s largest country and biggest democracy, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held onto his majority but was dealt a major setback by voters. Modi has grown increasingly authoritarian, going after political opponents and even allegedly directing an assassination on Canadian soil and an attempted one in New York. Yet the results are the results, and Modi has not contested them.

For the U.K.’s Conservative Party, the polls and public opinion portend a crushing coming defeat. Much like the U.S. GOP, the Tories have miscalculated in going all in on right-wing culture war issues and ignoring economic woes. Even as the losses loom, though, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is not talking about stolen elections.

Not so here. The United States, the world’s oldest democracy and the template for that system of government — as imperfect as it’s been, and as occasionally hostile to other democracies that threatened its interests — now seems to teeter on the edge. Donald Trump might appear to many like a singular aberration whose eventual exit from the political scene could suddenly fix this, but the sad reality is this has not been true for years.

He’s been a catalyst, but at this stage, the idea that elections lost are inherently illegitimate has become practically standard Republican dogma. You hear it from not only Trump’s surrogates but party officials, federal and state elected officials, even candidates for local offices down to formerly unremarkable races like school board elections.

Former Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, to use just one example, launched a crusade to call into question the validity of her 2022 loss to Katie Hobbs, pointing to bogus studies and attempting legal challenges. None of that seems to be hampering her ongoing bid for Senate, where Lake has weaponized election “integrity” even against her GOP primary rival.

Unhappy even with the additional advantage offered by the structure of the Senate and the Electoral College, growing contingents of Republicans are simply unwilling to accept the results of any elections where they’re not the victors, either out of genuine belief in conspiracy theories about avalanches of noncitizen voters or rigged machines, or simple opportunism.

We’re still at the stage now where this cynical undermining of our electoral system can be rebuked, and its proponents treated with the due ridicule and dismissal that they deserve. These are not claims that should be honored with serious responses, but treated as ridiculous by other political leaders and voters themselves, who must so roundly repudiate these candidates that their claims seem even more like the last resort of political losers.

To allow this to become normalized, to have these candidates not suffer consequences for this contempt for our democratic system, is to begin to cede that system. If and when that happens, then they’ll be right that our electoral system has been subverted, but it’ll have been done by their hand. We cannot allow that to happen.

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