An election consists of several phases. First comes the voting. Next comes the vote-counting. And finally there are the results.
The integrity of every step must be maintained, and they must proceed in that order, for the outcome to earn legitimacy. But that’s not what has occurred in 2020.
One of the candidates for president, the incumbent Donald Trump, has already jumped straight to the results phase by asserting that he will not concede a loss, as if the results are settled before the voting’s complete. “The only way they can take this election away from us is if this is a rigged election,” Trump said at the Republican National Convention.
For Trump the election is over.
What about for America?
That depends on how Trump supporters respond to the president’s effort to delegitimize the election, and this is especially true for other elected Republicans, who have the power either to counter Trump and neutralize his destabilizing activities or join him in dismantling constitutional democracy in favor of autocratic rule.
Republicans in Colorado have made their choice. They’ve joined the autocrat.
Top Republicans in the state have said very little to defend democracy and assure Colorado voters that America will experience a peaceful transfer of power if Trump loses the election to Democratic challenger Joe Biden. Mostly they’ve done the opposite.
During a press conference on Sept. 23, in response to a reporter’s question about whether he could commit to a peaceful transfer of power, Trump said, “You’ll have a very peaceful — there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There’ll be a continuation.” This explicit rejection of the election’s legitimacy, since it constituted a dire threat to the foundation of American government, warranted demands for a response from every elected Republican throughout the country, and any message short of an unambiguous check on Trump could be interpreted as tolerance.
Sen. Cory Gardner chose to indulge the president. When asked to comment he spoke vaguely, without ever mentioning Trump, about peaceful transfers of power being “a hallmark of our democracy.” Yet he was very specific when indicating he’ll vote to confirm Trump Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett, whom Trump wants on the bench by the time ballots are being counted. The president has claimed, without evidence, that mail ballots are susceptible to widespread fraud, and Barrett’s vote could be crucial in handing a win to Trump in the likely event he challenges the validity of mail ballots. Gardner will be complicit if the GOP puts into action such a circumvention of the people’s will.
The most serious betrayal of public trust was committed by Rep. Ken Buck, who doubles as the chairman of the Colorado GOP. Buck has called on Attorney General William Barr and Federal Election Commission Chairman Trey Trainor to investigate the Colorado secretary of state over what Buck said were her “efforts to register individuals who are ineligible to vote.” This is a lie. The secretary undertook no such thing, and Buck knows it.
At issue were postcards that Democratic Secretary Jena Griswold sent to people who might be eligible to vote but weren’t registered. Several cards were addressed to people who are dead or are otherwise ineligible to register. But the list of people who received the cards is not the same as the voter roll the state uses to send out ballots. Two Griswold predecessors, both Republicans, sent out similar cards, to no complaints, and the purpose of the cards is merely to enfranchise eligible Coloradans.
In this moment of partisan warfare, Griswold’s card campaign became the subject of a CBS4 story that masqueraded as an expose, but the story was so misleading that the Denver station retracted it. Buck, however, showed no shame in leveraging the story as pretext in making his complaint to Barr, because his true intent was not to uncover wrongdoing but rather, like Trump, to preempt adverse election results.
The Colorado GOP has sent emails that warn of Democrats trying to “steal” the election, according to The Denver Post. The Post also reported that the Republican House Minority Leader, Patrick Neville, sent an email to supporters that said, “Colorado Democrats are willing to go to any length to keep Colorado blue … even if it means encouraging illegal aliens (and the deceased) to vote.” This, too, is a lie. But here’s the truth: Republicans like Gardner, Neville and Buck are so dishonest and self-interested they would rather toss 223 years of peaceful presidential succession than uphold the right of Americans to a true vote.
The United States from its earliest days has known deep political divisions and furious partisan conflict. Through every clash, the country has managed to conduct legitimate elections, in which the candidates, no matter the mutual enmity they might exhibit, honored the outcome for the greater good of the nation. Not this time. Everyone understands, supporters and opponents alike, that for Donald Trump there is no greater good than Donald Trump. But he will succeed in upending the election only with the help of allies like those in the Colorado GOP.
Ballots in Colorado are now being mailed to voters. Buck and the Republicans he leads in the state have this last opportunity to affirm for Colorado voters that mail ballots are secure, that Democrats are not trying to steal the election, and that the presidential candidate who earns fewer votes, even if it’s Trump, must concede the loss.
Failure to do so will be remembered, and history will judge them accordingly.