From freedom of the press to separation of powers, the years-long erosion of America’s democratic institutions has many voicing their concerns. As the country gears up for elections in 2018 and 2020, it’s time to restore faith in a bedrock principle of American politics that is under serious threat: reliable election results and the peaceful transference of power. Controversies surrounding the 2016 election gave people across the political spectrum reason to distrust the integrity of America’s democratic process. President Trump undermined our elections during his final days as a candidate, when he claimed that if he lost to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, it could be the result of a widespread conspiracy. Mounting evidence of Russian interference, disinformation campaigns, and collusion with the Trump campaign has given many who oppose the president reason to doubt the election results as well.
Should a future election result be contested, the powers of the president imparted by the Constitution, combined with a near all-time low level of public trust in government and the hyper-partisan media climate, would make any government attempt to resolve the dispute in a credible way difficult. On a local or state level, this scenario could produce disruptions that harm communities and rob them of fair representation. In a presidential election, this could pit the will of the American electorate against an executive who could potentially overrule its results.
The most disturbing prospect is that the president can use legitimate powers of his office to thwart the will of the people. Given the state of the institutions we rely on to ensure the integrity of our democracy, it’s plausible that he could succeed. A large portion of the electorate already believes Trump’s claims that rampant voter fraud cost him the popular vote. By 2020, Trump will have packed the federal courts system with as many judicial nominees who adhere to his worldview as he possibly can. While the integrity of most of the judiciary is unimpeachable, we learned in the 2000 presidential election and subsequent litigation of Bush v. Gore that the will of judges can be in direct opposition to the will of the people.