The third presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump has oozed its way into history. Probably the best thing about that debate is that it’s probably the last time we’ll ever have to endure the sight of these worst of presidential candidates appearing on the same stage as they hurl their imprecations against each other. Thank goodness for small favors.
But the most noteworthy part of the debate—at least the part most discussed by the media—is where Donald Trump refused to say whether he would accept the outcome of the presidential election, leaving open the possibility that he may challenge the results should they show a victory for Clinton. That, says the mainstream media, constitutes a threat to democracy in America.
But how so? How is a threat to challenge election results such a threat? Following two of the presidential elections in which the Democratic presidential nominee won the popular vote but the Republican won the electoral vote—Hayes vs. Tilden in 1876 and Bush vs. Gore in 2000—the Democrats vigorously if unsuccessfully challenged the results, as they had every right to do. They lost their challenges, the Republican presidents were inaugurated, and democracy in America survived. So why can’t Trump reserve for himself the right to challenge election results should circumstances indicate voter fraud? Why can’t Hillary as well?
Of course, whether circumstances will justify a challenge from either candidate remains to be seen. But consider:
- Just before FBI Director James Comey held his press conference claiming Hillary had been “extremely careless” in her handling of classified materials but should not be prosecuted, his boss, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, met with Hillary’s husband. So what went on between the two of them? Are Trump and his supporters being too suspicious in wondering what was discussed and how, if at all, it affected Comey’s decision not to prosecute?
- Wikileaks and Project Veritas, the projects of Julian Assange and conservative videographer James O’Keefe respectively, have released documents and videotapes indicating a conspiracy to commit widespread voter fraud to help Hillary win the race. Again, is Trump being too suspicious?
- But how trustworthy are the documents and videos that have been released? Shouldn’t they be verified and checked for editing and content to see what, if anything, has been omitted which might otherwise put Hillary in a more favorable light? In the meantime, don’t Hillary and her supporters have the right to be suspicious of not only the content, but the sources and timing of release of these materials?
In this most wretched and revolting of all presidential elections, there are more than enough reasons for everyone to be suspicious of everyone’s motives, at least until progress is made toward answering the questions above. And while we wade through the slime and filth of this election seeking some degree of enlightenment, let’s contemplate some of the facts presented in one of the texts I’m using in my Elections and Political Parties class this term: Party Politics in America, 16th edition, by Marjorie Random Hershey, who writes:
“The first cyberattack against an online election system was uncovered in 2012, in which a Miami-Dade County election web site got 2,500 ‘phantom requests’ for absentee ballots from a computer program. If it had gone undetected, those votes could have been cast by the hacker.”
“A Florida newspaper found that voters in counties using touch-screen machines were six times more likely to have their vote go unrecorded as were voters in counties using optical-scan devices, like those often used to grade multiple-choice exams.”
“According to one study in 2008, 3 million registered voters were prevented from voting in that election due to a variety of administrative failures: Their names were accidentally purged from or not recorded properly on the registration rolls or they didn’t bring the proper identification to the polls.”
Of course, it’s possible that whoever wins the election next month will do so with a margin great enough to allay any belief—in the rational mind at least—that the election was rigged or stolen and that a more honest vote count would have yielded a different result. John McCain in 2008, and Mitt Romney in 2012, were quite right to not challenge Barack Obama’s election triumphs.
But should the election results be closer—especially if they’re so close that they produce one winner of the popular vote and a different winner of the electoral vote, then the loser of the electoral vote (and therefore the presidency), whether Trump or Clinton, will have every right, and every incentive, to pursue challenges as vigorously as Al Gore did in 2000. Indeed, it may be better for challenges to be made, and election results changed or upheld according to the outcome of the challenges, then to let suspicions remain unanswered, only to fester like infected wounds in the body politic.
And of course America will survive. It’s too great not to.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.