Upholding Integrity Means Applying Standards To Both Sides
A few weeks ago, on Nov. 5, it was Election Day. Don't worry — you didn’t miss your chance to vote for or against President Trump. These were local elections, held in several states such as Kentucky, Mississippi, Virginia and New Jersey. The first two states held elections for the governor’s mansion, while the latter two held elections for their respective state houses. Other states like Washington, Colorado and Texas, among others, held elections on various state-wide propositions. Since most of the election results were not particularly surprising, they didn’t receive any major media attention.
However, Kentucky was a different story. Incumbent Governor Matt Bevin faced a tough reelection campaign, thanks to his extreme unpopularity. From the beginning of the race, Bevin trailed Andy Beshear, the state’s attorney general, in the polls — often by double-digits. Considering that President Trump won the state by 30 points in the 2016 election, reelection should have been a walk in the park. However, as the polls closed and the results were tallied, Beshear eked out a victory of about 5,000 votes, out of more than a million cast. At first, Bevin refused to concede the race to his opponent, saying that there were “a number of irregularities,” and pointing to Kentucky’s past history with voter fraud. Bevin explained that his campaign would seek an official recanvass of the votes. He also claimed that “thousands of absentee ballots were illegally counted,” and cited unconfirmed reports of voters being “incorrectly turned away.” Bevin would finally concede the race nine days later, on November 14.
For all of his claims about voter fraud, Bevin did not provide any conclusive evidence. Robert Stivers, the Republican leader in the Kentucky Senate, called on Bevin to concede the race, saying, “It’s time to call it quits.” NPR sent out a tweet promoting an article about Bevin’s and other claims about voter fraud. The tweet read, “Without providing any evidence, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin questioned the election’s legitimacy. And he isn’t the first politician to do so. Election specialists worry that unsubstantiated claims about voter fraud erode confidence in democracy.” The article then goes on to talk about other instances of politicians claiming voter fraud, such as then-Florida Governor Rick Scott and then-candidate Donald Trump. Regarding the aforementioned candidates, NPR noted, “After the 2018 midterms, then-Florida Gov. Rick Scott alluded to "rampant voter fraud" that was never borne out in his Senate race,” and President Trump alleged that “millions and millions of people" voted illegally in the 2016 election, in order to explain why he lost the national popular vote to Hillary Clinton. Trump has never presented any evidence for that claim, and “a group his administration assembled to investigate voter fraud disbanded less than a year after it was formed, with no major result.”
At first glance, NPR seems to be rightly pointing out that evidence-free claims about voter fraud are bound to have deleterious effects on the legitimacy of our institutions. Everyone, regardless of their political affiliation, should condemn politicians that blame voter fraud for their election losses without providing any evidence.
However, the article did not give the same treatment to former gubernatorial candidate, Stacy Abrams. Abrams lost a close election for governor of Georgia in the 2018 midterm elections. She has constantly blamed voter suppression for her defeat. That same NPR article prefaced all the Republican claims of voter fraud with the qualifier “without evidence,” but when it came to Abrams’ claim, the article said, “Democrats also have continued to blame the results of the Georgia gubernatorial election on election administration issues that they say suppressed turnout.” The same Washington Post article that NPR cited concludes that it isn’t clear if there was any voter suppression, or if there was, whether it affected the outcome. NPR even promoted an article last year on social media about the Georgia gubernatorial race saying, “In a fiery speech, Stacey Abrams insisted this was no normal concession, decrying what she called "deliberate and intentional" voter suppression by Brian Kemp that she believes led to this result in Georgia's governor race.” Interestingly, this claim was not prefaced with the words, “without evidence.”
When Matt Bevin claimed, without evidence, that there was voter fraud in his election, NPR rightly pointed out that there was no evidence to back this claim. However, when Abrams, a Democrat, blamed voter suppression on her election loss, not only did NPR not point out that there was no evidence to this claim, but she was actually lauded by other Democrats, and declared to be the “real” governor of Georgia. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said in a talk to the National Urban League Conference, “But for voter disenfranchisement, Stacey Abrams would be the governor of Georgia,'' Senator Bernie Sanders said, “Without the outrageous voter suppression that took place, it’s likely that Stacey would have been elected governor of Georgia,” while Senator Elizabeth Warren and Mayor Pete Buttigieg went as far as calling Abrams the rightful governor of Georgia. Again, no conclusive evidence has been provided to substantiate such claims.
In the 2016 presidential race, then-candidate Donald Trump said he would not accept the election results. For this claim, he was met with rebuke even from his own party. One particular individual that criticized Trump for his unwillingness to accept the results was Hilary Clinton. She sent out a tweet decrying, “Donald Trump refused to say that he’d respect the results of this election. That’s a direct threat to our democracy.” However, at an event hosted by the Albert Shanker Institute, Clinton said, “We saw what happened in Georgia where Stacey Abrams should be governor of that state.” Despite no conclusive evidence that there was any voter suppression, Clinton denied that Abrams lost the race in a fair manner. What happened to the moral indignation about direct threats to our democracy?
The present situation echos an idea similar to the one I spoke about in the second issue of The Commentator. In that piece, I talked about how the political divide has caused us to easily dismiss our opponents without examining the details more in depth. The present issue is just as severe. There is a fine line between upholding the integrity of our institutions and meaningless virtue signaling. All politicians, regardless of their political affiliation, should be held to a clear standard of accepting the fair and honest process of our elections. If they wish to contest the election results for any illegitimacy, they must provide conclusive evidence for the claim. If the only time you get outraged by a politician impugning the integrity of our elections is when that politician is a member of the opposing party, are you honestly concerned about upholding the integrity of our institutions, or is your umbrage dictated by political allegiance? We all must set a clear standard for how we judge politicians and apply that standard to all sides. This is the next step in the return to normalcy that America must take in order to be a bastion of liberty and justice for all.
Photo caption: Former Governor of Kentucky Matt Bevin — the latest politician to allege
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons