Be Patient, Democracy Takes Time

Today, November 3, 2020, is Election Day in America. Though this day feels more fraught than many past ones thanks to disturbing remarks from President Trump trying to cast doubt on the election results and the looming threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s no reason to be alarmed if the result of the election isn’t immediately clear tonight. We may not know the results of the Presidential race tonight, but that’s perfectly normal – and we must reject anything that threatens the integrity of that outcome.

Despite Trump’s insistence that historically all ballots are counted and tallied by midnight on November 3rd, with a declared victor is simply false. This has never been the case at any point in our history, certainly not in 1820 and not in 2020. On election night, news agencies are typically able to project winners based on the ratio of partial vote counts and historical voting trends, but these declared victors are far from official. 

Over the next couple weeks (and months in California’s case), states and counties diligently count every vote to ensure that the initial projections match the final results. As a record number of Americans have opted for mail in and absentee ballot options this election, it’s likely that the initial projections will be delayed, but rest assured all ballots will be counted. 

Though voter suppression has had a long and storied history in our country, this year, blatant attempts to stop votes from being counted have drawn particular scrutiny. This is in no small part due to outlandish statements by President Trump, including calling on the federal courts to reject any ballot received after the polls close on Election Day (which is illegal) and claiming rampant voter fraud across swing states where the vote is expected to be close (there is no evidence for this). But it’s important to remember that President Trump isn’t acting alone in his efforts to destabilize the results of this election. 

An army of top Republican officials, lawyers, and pundits is hard at work trying to throw out 127,000 ballots in Texas, suing election officials in key states to challenge mail-in ballots, and arguing to audiences of millions that there is no way to guarantee a fair result without settling it in the courts. All of these efforts are dangerous and unfounded.

Since voter fraud – the claim upon which many GOP efforts to legally challenge ballots rest – is widely known to be negligible in US elections, most of the lawsuits trying to eliminate ballots have fallen apart thus far. Of course, President Trump’s well-documented effort to stack the federal appeals courts and the Supreme Court could endanger this principle, but rendering hundreds of thousands – or even millions – of votes simply because of some unfounded claims would necessarily undermine the legitimacy of these courts. 

The simple truth is that counting every single vote is the most basic tenet of democracy. That principle is enshrined in our nation’s Constitution and has been upheld for centuries. As much as President Trump and his allies may like to believe otherwise, he cannot just flout centuries of rules simply because he wants to remain in office. 

Democracy can be a slow process, but if we stop counting votes just because of one man’s whims, then we are no longer a democracy. If we want our government to maintain any level of legitimacy, every single vote in this election must be counted, no matter how long it takes.


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