Impacts and Takeaways from the 2020 Election

How Does the Ongoing Battle Over Trump’s Claims Highlight Their Continued Relevance? 

Months after President Biden was declared the victor of the 2020 presidential election, Trump’s lies about the election continue to put public officials and political leaders at the local, state, and national levels in tough spots. 

For Republicans, rejecting Biden’s victory and showing loyalty to Trump has alarmingly become a litmus test for the party. State and local Republican officials who did their job by certifying the presidential election results find themselves facing backlash – if not outright estrangement, with some having been forced out of their positions. For example, in Michigan, Republicans decided to replace a state canvasser, Aaron Van Langevelde, after he voted to certify Biden’s win. The Washington Post has a good article covering this trend. 

Certain Republican state legislators are now also using election lies, with pressure from their supporters and Trump, as an excuse to approve or enact laws that could allow for “election subversion” in 2022 or 2024, or to claim fraud if they lose in those cycles. These efforts are being funded by secret money that comes from a handful of conservative nonprofits and foundations, which have poured millions into persuading Americans to doubt the integrity of our country’s elections over the last decade. 

Political interference in election administration is increasingly a concern. In Georgia, a law has been enacted that would enable the Republican-controlled state legislature to take over county election boards, in apparent retaliation for the honorable role those officials played in 2020. "Meanwhile, Georgia’s State Election Board has voted to appoint three people to conduct a performance review of Fulton County’s election system, causing election experts to worry that the Georgia Legislature could take this opportunity to put someone in charge of Fulton County elections who may refuse to certify results, casting doubt on the election process."

Additionally, due to false claims of widespread fraud, local officials are still facing harsh criticism, personal attacks, and even death threats. As a result, many worry that these officials will quit and there will be a lack of people who can do the job of counting votes and defending democracy in their communities. 

What Price Did Rep. Liz Cheney Pay for Demanding Leaders Tell the Truth About the 2020 Election? 

Republicans at the national level are facing pressure, and if they do stand up to defend the integrity of the 2020 elections, they can face professional consequences. This can be seen most clearly with Rep. Liz Cheney, the former number three Republican in the House of Representatives, who has publicly defended Biden’s win more adamantly than any other congressional Republican. 

Rep. Cheney, the former chair of the House Republican Conference, stated on February 23: "The president and many around him pushed this idea that the election had been stolen. And that is a dangerous claim. It wasn't true," she said. "There were over 60 court cases where judges, including judges appointed by President Trump and other Republican presidents, looked at the evidence in many cases and said there is not widespread fraud."  

According to a CNN article published on May 3, Rep. Cheney told an audience of donors, scholars and politicians, “We can’t embrace the notion the election is stolen. It’s a poison in the bloodstream of our democracy… We can’t whitewash what happened on January 6 or perpetuate Trump’s big lie. It is a threat to democracy.” 

Due to her refusal to back the stolen elections claims, Rep. Cheney lost her leadership position within the House Republican conference and is being forced to compete against primary challengers from her own party. 

An article from The Washington Post published on May 11 highlights how Rep. Cheney losing her leadership position is linked to the Republican party's efforts to define loyalty at the local, state, and federal levels as commitment to perpetuating Trump's election lies:  

“[s]tate and local Republican parties have stepped up efforts to revamp election rules on the basis of Trump’s claims 2020 was tainted by widespread fraud, for which Trump’s Justice Department found no evidence. 

In the following three paragraphs, the same article from The Washington Post went on to state that, "Echoing those charges isn’t just about salving Trump’s wounded feelings, much as Cheney’s comments have seemed to tick him off personally. 

It’s also become the credo for Republicans driving the changes to state election laws: Fraud determined the outcome of the 2020 vote, therefore we must take steps to reassure voters there will not be fraud in the future, here are steps to do so.  

It’s not true. But it’s so powerful, even GOP officials who say there was no fraud in their state are approving laws to fix a problem they have said doesn’t exist. Exhibit A: Florida.” 

Despite the consequences for her personally, Rep. Cheney has continued to stick up for the truth regarding the 2020 election. She wrote in an op-ed published by The Washington Post on May 5, "History is watching. Our children are watching. We must be brave enough to defend the basic principles that underpin and protect our freedom and our democratic process. I am committed to doing that, no matter what the short-term political consequences might be." 

Why Do Trump’s Lies About the Election Being Stolen Matter Over the Long Term for Our Democracy? 

Trump’s lies focus attention on nonexistent problems while distracting us from very real threats to our democracy, and they stand to continue to threaten safe and secure elections for all. For instance, election officials in states like Arizona, Colorado, and Pennsylvania jumped the chain of command, sharing information that should be restricted to election officials only with partisan groups under the pretext of reviewing the results of the 2020 presidential election. Additionally, election audits like the one in Maricopa County have also undermined election security by creating a new set of threats to, “…the integrity of the voting machines, software and other equipment that make up the nation’s election infrastructure,” according to an article from The New York Times published on September 1. 

Furthermore, many election bills responding to false allegations of fraud in the 2020 elections do not focus on using paper ballots or having voting machines that generate paper records for verification, like security experts have recommended; instead, they emphasize restricting Americans’ freedom to vote through legislation that deletes people from voter rolls and cuts access to vote-by-mail ballots, early voting, and drop boxes. 

By limiting how people can receive and submit ballots, state lawmakers could facilitate bad actors’ efforts to try to undermine the voting methods that remain. As a FiveThirtyEight piece published on April 20 explained, "If the majority of voters are forced to vote in one way, at one location and during a very limited window, then a malicious actor need only target that location to disrupt thousands of ballots." Thus, many election security experts believe that if implemented, these changes will make our election system easier to hack. 

These are just a few examples showing how when we divert our attention toward fake problems, we often ignore and even exacerbate the already-existing vulnerabilities in our democracy. Unless we come together to address the challenges we actually face, our country is more likely to see issues with fraud or election security going forward — the exact opposite of what any of us wants to have happen.

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