It’s an export item that won’t be found on any shipping manifests, or in an international trade data report, yet it’s an export that has been one of this nation’s most profound and truly helped transform the world: democracy. Yes, yes, I know … when this is stated, failures instantly come to mind, both immediate and distant, in places from Iraq to Vietnam. But United States democracy’s successes are more numerous and significant than its failures.
Representative democracy, a form of democracy founded on the principle of elected individuals representing the people, with the people being the source or fount from which governmental authority and legitimacy is derived, is now seen as the almost accepted world standard.
Yet in the ashes and rubble of post World War II Europe and Asia, that this form of government would grow and flourish was far from certain. But flourish it did. Today’s established political and economic order owes its debt to the democratic foundations laid during that time and thereafter. Throughout our nation’s history we’ve shown the world a political system that is by no means perfect, but one worthy of replication.
A political system like ours, birthed on the hopes and possibilities inherent within every individual, has shown itself to be an infectious one, and one, compared to various others, that works quite well. However, is it still a system worth believing in?
One of the bedrock tenets of representative democracy is a belief in something called “genuine competition.” The election process is the heart of a representative democracy, and the concept of genuine competition is its lifeblood. Why? Because the electoral process must be seen as one in which candidates are able to win based on their ability and prowess as candidates, not because there is a predetermined outcome. Without widespread confidence in genuine competition between political opponents, the system itself is at risk of being undermined. A representative democracy without a credible election process is one that is ripe for upheaval.
We may not see the representative or politician we desire take office, but it’s critically important we believe or trust that he or she was involved in an honest and fair competition for that office.
The framers of our Constitution set in place a decentralized election process — one that is controlled, not at the federal level, but the state and local levels. Because of this, systemwide manipulation and exploitation of the election process is extremely difficult. That’s why Jon Husted — Republican secretary of state for the extremely important swing state of Ohio and a declared Trump supporter — could state with high confidence, regarding the election process he is responsible for overseeing in his state: “People have lost faith in various institutions … I don’t want them to lose faith in their democracy. Our system is not rigged, our system works very well, we make it easy to vote and hard to cheat in Ohio and across the country, and people should have confidence in that.”
Whether it be in Mobile County or Baldwin County, it must be remembered that each county in the state of Alabama, as with other states across the country, have local officials from the community that oversee and supervise the election process. To manipulate a process that’s so far removed from federal intrusion is extremely difficult.
Even cheating the system is not as easy as some would wantonly make it seem. As Husted further noted, “Voter fraud exists … but it’s rare … and definitely not systemic.” Contrary to bantered-about urban myths, casting ballots on behalf of dead people or having individuals vote multiple times are not common practices in our country. The system works.
This solid election framework has contributed to a continuity in transition of political power in the most hard-fought and contested of elections — whether that be the 1860 presidential election, where in a crowded field Abraham Lincoln received only 40 percent of the popular vote and 180 electoral votes, to the 1960 election in which John F. Kennedy bested outgoing Vice President Richard Nixon in a razor-thin finish, deemed by historians as “one of the closest elections in American history.” And in our times, who can forget the 2000 election, so close that the Supreme Court ended up having the final say in who occupied the White House.
In what has gone down as one of the country’s most profound political speeches, Al Gore stated in his Dec. 13, 2000, concession speech: “Almost a century and a half ago, Sen. Stephen A. Douglas told Abraham Lincoln, who had just defeated him for the presidency, ‘Partisan feeling must yield to patriotism. I’m with you, Mr. President, and God bless you.’ Well, in that same spirit, I say to President-Elect Bush that what remains of partisan rancor must now be put aside … This has been an extraordinary election. But in one of God’s unforeseen paths, this belatedly broken impasse can point us all to a new common ground, for its very closeness can serve to remind us that we are one people with a shared history and a shared destiny.”
Yes, the contest itself may get heated, the debate it stirs may rouse passions — and that’s okay — but the outcome should be met with acceptance. It’s the way the system was designed to work. The system can be trusted, because the system itself works.