The 2020 Election and the State’s Crisis of Legitimacy

For millions of Americans, perhaps as many as one-third of the population, the results of the popular vote contest in the 2020 election of the President remain in doubt.  Because the Electoral College, not the voters, elects the President, there is no question that Joe Biden now holds that office.  But his legitimacy depends on whether the popular vote count was accurate.  Was it?  No one knows, and no one can know. 

Until recent years, voting and vote counting in America had long followed certain rules.  Votes were cast on paper ballots.  Unless you could demonstrate you had to be out of town on election day, your only opportunity to vote was on that day in your local precinct.  Those who had to be out of town could get an absentee ballot, but the number of people who did so was small.  Votes were counted under observation of representatives of both major political parties, and the paper ballots were retained for a set time after the election so they could be recounted.  The system was not tamper-proof–ballot box stuffing in Cook County, Illinois, turned the 1960 election for Kennedy–but over the years fraud had become increasingly rare.  The vast majority of Americans had faith in the integrity of the electoral process, and they were right to do so.  The process was accepted as legitimate.

In the 2020 election, that legitimacy evaporated.  The reasons were several.  The most important was widespread adoption of electronic voting.  Anyone who knows anything about electronics knows nothing electronic is or can be secure.  Everything can be hacked.  We read constantly about one system or another being hacked, but far more are hacked than we read about because good hacking goes undetected.  Was the 2020 Presidential vote hacked in key states?  We do not know and we cannot know, and that is a problem because our inability to know destroys the electoral process’s legitimacy.

The legitimacy of the process was undermined further by massive use of early-voting, mail-in voting, legalized ballot harvesting in some states (an open invitation to vote buying), court rulings that signatures on ballots did not have to match those on voter registration cards (Pennsylvania), etc.  In some key cities, vote counting was ended for the evening, but when the Republican poll watchers had gone home it was restarted and suddenly produced big majorities for Biden.  Added to the uncertainty that must surround electronic voting, these measures have made the voting process of even more questionable legitimacy.

That, in turn, is a blow to the legitimacy of the state.  In my most recent column in The American Conservative magazine, titled “Legitimacy”, I make a distinction between the legitimacy of a government and the legitimacy of the state itself.  A crisis of the former is serious but manageable because time solves it; at some point, Biden will no longer be President.  A crisis of legitimacy of the state is far more serious, because time deepens it; the longer people see the processes on which the state’s legitimacy depends get undermined, the more they transfer their primary loyalty to other things, to ideologies, races, religions, etc.  That sets the stage for widespread Fourth Generation war, i.e., the scenario in Thomas Hobbes’ novel Victoria.

Both political parties have a common interest in preventing a crisis of legitimacy of the state.  That should mean both have an interest in restoring the credibility of the vote.  It is not hard to do; Retroculture supplies the answer.  We can and should return to the old ways we used to do elections, i.e., you vote in person on election day in your precinct on a paper ballot.  Electronic voting should be prohibited in federal elections, along with electronic vote counting.  That worked for many years, and what worked in the past can work in the future. 

The alternative, in which doubts about real election outcomes grow with each new electoral contest, means any republic becomes an illegitimate state.  Integrity of elections are as central to the legitimacy of a republic as are integrity of royal bloodlines to a monarchy.

Dare we hope for a bi-partisan approach to restore the legitimacy of our elections?  I doubt it, because the Democrats want to make it as easy as possible for their semi-literate and lazy hordes to vote, even if doing so brings the whole temple down on their own heads.

Interested in what Fourth Generation war in America might look like? Read Thomas Hobbes’ new future history, Victoria.