The former Congresswoman was angry. Not all of us Republicans think the same way, an upset Ileana Ros-Lehtinen told me on a TV program.
She was reacting to a report we had just watched about Republican candidates who still believe Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential elections. They, along with Trump, are the main threat to democracy in the United States.
In English, they are called election deniers. It’s difficult to find the right word in Spanish. They deny – reality and official results showing Trump lost by more than 7 million ballots in the popular vote and by 74 electoral votes. A top editor at Noticiero Univision, Daniel Morcate, decided to call them “negacionistas.” And we’ll call them that in Spanish until we find a more precise word.
In last week’s US elections, there were hundreds of Republican candidates who are deniers. They ran for spots as Senators, House members, governors, state attorneys general and secretaries of state. Many of them sought Trump’s endorsement before the elections, hoping that would help them win. It was not a “Red Wave.” Several of the candidates backed by Trump and his lies lost. But others managed to slip inside the system.
We still don’t have all the results. But what is clear is that some of the deniers won jobs inside the US electoral structures, and could obstruct the proper functioning of democracy at any time. The New York Times identified at least 220 Republican deniers and skeptics who won their races on Tuesday. At least 120 deniers lost. What would happen if one of the winners was in charge of certifying an election or declaring a political opponent as a winner?
The Big Denier is Donald Trump.
Even today he does not admit he lost the presidential elections on Nov. 3 2020. And that anti-democratic attitude incited the violent attackers at the US Capitol on January 6 2021, which left several dead. Despite the hard-hitting Congressional hearings on the role Trump played in the insurrection, there is still no legal impediment for him to seek a third nomination to the White House.
What happens to a democracy if one of the candidates – in this case Trump – only accepts the results if he wins. It weakens, and could disappear. The tradition in the United States until 2020 was that the losing candidate conceded and congratulated the winner. Al Gore did that with George W. Bush after the polemic elections in 2000. But Trump broke with tradition, and truth.
For more than two centuries, US democracy has been an example for other countries. Not any more. Its archaic electoral system forces each of the 50 states to adopt the way it holds elections and counts the votes. There are, therefore, 50 electoral referees and 50 different voting systems. That of course creates delays and suspicions. And trust on the results are weakened by the possibility that a candidate who loses the popular vote can win the presidency – as Trump did in 2016.
Now, US democracy can learn from other countries.
It is incredible that other countries can count their votes on the day of the balloting – even hours before the polls close – but the United States cannot do it even though it has the required technology. In the most recent elections in Brazil, 118 million votes were counted in the first three hours after the polls closed. It would also help if the United States has a federal and independent agency that can impose the same rules and procedures on all 50 states.
Mexico, for example, has a National Electoral Institute that functions very well. Presidents and their administrations no longer organize elections or count votes. That has averted the horrible electoral frauds that characterized Mexico from 1929 to 2000.
The United States could learn a lot from the National Electoral Institute.
The main vulnerability of the US electoral system is that the results must be certified by secretaries of state who may be deniers. And if those officials – for ideological or personal reasons, or because they are Trump allies – do not want to recognize a victory by a political opponent, the entire system could spiral into crisis.
After the 2020 elections, Trump made that famous phone call to the Georgia secretary of state urging him to “find” the 11,780 votes he wanted to overturn the official results. The secretary of state refused. But a denier in the same position might have acted differently.
For now, we can breathe.
Despite the tantrums, skulduggery and lies by Trump and his deniers, the US system of democracy worked in 2020 and now in 2022. But the most profound threat is that hundreds of people who don’t believe in the rules of democracy have already infiltrated the power structures.
The key danger for the future of the United States is inside, not outside.