For the first time, we have heard with our own ears a president attempting to procure false election results.
On Jan. 2, 2021, President Trump engaged in an hourlong phone call badgering Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to use his position as the state’s chief election official to “find” 11,780 votes in order to sway the election to Trump, and publicly announce that the results had been “recalculated.”
The secretary recorded the conversation; the audio of which reveals a stunning abuse of power unbecoming even the weakest of democracies, let alone American democracy.
It is a criminal violation of federal law to attempt to deprive voters of a fair and impartial election by procuring fictitious or false ballots. It is a criminal violation of Georgia law to solicit another person to engage in election fraud. Trump’s call seems to fit squarely within the conduct described by these laws. Federal and state prosecutors will decide whether to bring those charges.
Regardless of whether charges are ultimately brought, the ramifications of this call are far greater than whether Trump will be prosecuted for committing a crime. In our democracy, our leaders exercise the power to govern through the consent of the governed. Elections—and perhaps just as importantly public confidence in our elections—are the lifeblood of our country.
Joe Biden won the Nov. 3, 2020 election by over 7 million popular votes and with a 306 electoral vote majority. Since then, Trump has engaged in a baseless attack on the election results, falsely alleging that his loss was the result of fraud. He has offered no evidence, and scores of state and federal courts have rejected these baseless attacks.
Before his Jan. 2 phone call, Trump had already done considerable damage to our democracy. Public opinion polls reflect that the president’s singular focus on trumpeting false and nebulous voter fraud claims has resulted in a substantial number of Americans believing that President-elect Joe Biden’s win was achieved by fraud.
This belief—however baseless—is poisonous in a system where the people consent to be governed by those they elect.
That is bad enough. But with his phone call, the president sought to use his official and political power to obtain a fraudulent declaration that he had won Georgia’s election. One the one hand, his phone call inflicted far greater harm on our democracy than his prior efforts to undermine the election results.
While false allegations of fraud are bad enough, hearing the president attempt to procure fraudulent results is far worse.
The functioning of our democracy requires citizens to trust the veracity of the results. The president’s call has the potential to sow distrust in future elections, with supporters of the losing candidate wondering whether the incumbent used his or her power to falsify the results.
On the other hand, the president’s effort failed. As shocking as it was to hear an American president use his power to intimidate an election official into falsifying election results, the recording of this attempt has the potential to undo some of the damage the president’s disinformation campaign has wrought on confidence in our democracy.
We hear with our own ears what the president really wants—a falsely manufactured win. Perhaps hearing evidence of efforts by Trump to falsify election results will help people see that the president’s disinformation campaign is itself fraudulent, thereby reducing its ability to sow doubts in peoples’ minds.