Goldberg: Lessones learned from the debate over election irregularities (column)
Now that all of the controversial elections, recounts and re-recounts are over, let us review some of our lessons learned.
Florida is the Jaguar of vote-counting, and I’m not referring to the animal or the Jacksonville NFL franchise. I mean the car. For decades, part of the “charm” of having a Jaguar was how often it broke down. (That’s no longer the case.) It was the kind of conspicuous consumption that economist Thorstein Veblen used to write about, with owners bragging about how much they paid for repairs.
The spectacle of sweaty election officials poring over provisional ballots — 18 years after the state became infamous for such things — has now cemented election incompetence into the montage of images we associate with the Sunshine State: beaches, rocket launches, Mickey Mouse and the human menagerie of freaks, weirdos, moperers, villains and perverts that fall under the omnibus internet meme “Florida Man.”
We learned (relearned, actually) that a lot of people are very, very tense about politics and quick to jump the gun. President Donald Trump, no doubt a bit insecure that his “red wave” failed to materialize, immediately claimed that voter fraud was rampant and that elections in Arizona and Florida were being “stolen.” Florida Gov. Rick Scott followed Trump’s lead and made similar allegations, as did a host of Republican pundits.
Meanwhile, in Georgia, Democrats led by Stacey Abrams and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, as well as a chorus of liberal pundits, insisted that the governor’s race there had been “stolen” by Georgia’s Republican secretary of state (and gubernatorial candidate), Brian Kemp.
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We also learned that the actual evidence for all of these allegations fell far short of the rhetoric.
There were indeed sketchy irregularities in Florida, but none that came close to robbing Scott of his 12,000-vote lead. Brenda Snipes, Broward County’s supervisor of elections, had a 15-year record of incompetence that at times seemed very difficult to distinguish from partisan skulduggery. She finally resigned from her post this week.
But in Arizona, there is no evidence of wrongdoing, and the state GOP’s refusal to go with Trump’s talking points was an admirable example of Republican leaders, particularly Gov. Doug Ducey, bucking the partisan tide.
Georgia is a more controversial case, but as the National Review’s Rich Lowry documents, the evidence of theft through voter suppression isn’t there either, no matter how many Twitter memes say otherwise. Kemp’s decision not to resign from his job overseeing elections may have been bad PR, but that’s the way the law works in Georgia.
Kemp had run for re-election twice before without stepping aside, without any improprieties — as had Democrats in that position in the past. Allegations that he closed polling sites in black neighborhoods leave out that those decisions were made locally. Likewise, claims that he purged black voters from the rolls hinge on a tendentious reading of a law — passed by a Democratic legislature and signed by a Democratic governor — requiring that the rolls be updated. Kemp enforced the law, he didn’t undermine it.
The final lesson: There is a massive double standard in the national conversation when it comes to election results and irregularities.
When Republicans suggest Democrats are up to no good, it is universally decried as a paranoid, craven or “openly authoritarian” attempt to delegitimize an election. When Democrats suggest an election was stolen, it’s a grave warning of a crisis that should require “international election monitors,” in the words of Dan Rather.
When Republicans graciously concede, as Rep. Martha McSally did in Arizona, it’s an example of decency and civility. “I give McSally credit for a graceful concession. But let’s be clear: It only stands out because of the moral sludge of Trumpism in which any show of grace or honorable conduct is shocking,” tweeted Josh Marshall, the editor of the Talking Points Memo. “When you lose, you don’t lie about it or attack the voting process. You concede and move on.”
But when Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, a three-term Democrat, refused to concede and move on, insisting that Scott was trying to steal victory, liberals didn’t call him a sore loser. And when Abrams refused to concede in Georgia and (still) refuses to say that Kemp is a legitimate governor, it’s hailed as heroic speaking truth to power.
Such double standards are poisonous and contagious. Which is why you can be sure you’ll hear even more of this in 2020 — and not just from Donald Trump.
Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior editor of National Review. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @JonahNRO.