By: Eric Buchanan
Shortly after the 2020 election, a meme made its way around social media asking, “So, are we Republicans supposed to riot? I am new at this.” It went on, “Who’s bringing the rocks and bricks? Where are we looting? (I like Bed, Bath, and Beyond, and anyplace that sells wine).”
“Are we burning cars or just busting windows?” Then, “I think we need lists. And an organizer. What about snacks? I can bring a cheese tray.” It finished, “What is the dress code? Business casual or dressy western? I have so many questions!!”
I am not suggesting Republicans and conservatives riot. I am suggesting that Republicans and conservatives should be asking lots of questions about this election and what we should do in the future.
One question to start with: How did Donald Trump get more votes than any previous president, increasing his vote total by over 11 million votes (from just under 63 million to over 74 million) yet still lose?1
And how did Joe Biden, campaigning from his basement, with virtually no message other than that he is “Not Trump,” get 81,275,0152 votes?
Both Trump and Biden eclipsed the previous highest popular vote total for any president, beating Barack Obama’s total in 2008 of 69,498,516,3 by huge margins. During a pandemic.
Leaving aside, for now, allegations of voter fraud, these numbers are nearly miraculous.
The answer to these questions is the dramatic increase in mail-in and absentee ballots and changes to the rules that allowed a smaller percentage of mail-in and absentee ballots to be rejected.
In 2020, over 155 million American citizens cast a vote for either Trump or Biden, beating the highest previous turnout by 25 million. The previous high-water marks were about 130 million in 2008 when Barack Obama beat John McCain by over 9 million votes and just under 130 million in 2016 when Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by just under 3 million, but lost the electoral college. For comparison, in the 2000 Bush v. Gore race, Americans cast less than 102 million votes for the two main candidates.
1 Trump increased his vote count from to 62,985,106 in 2016 to 74,215,999, so far in 2020. See https://www.nytimes.com/elections/2016/results/president and https://uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS/national.php.
Voters turned out in huge numbers, voting in person early and on election day. Reportedly, in-person votes leaned heavily toward Trump. In past years, such a huge turn-out would have resulted in a landslide for Trump. Maybe not quite the landslide of Reagan’s second election in 1984 (in which Reagan won every state except Minnesota and Washington DC),4 but it would have been significant.
However, the world changed in many ways in 2020, including the vast use of mail-in ballots. According to some reports, around 80 million votes were cast by mail in 2020, compared to only 33 million in 2016.5 Biden’s large number of votes, larger than any previous candidate in US history by far, (more than 11 million more than Barack Obama’s high-water mark in 2008,) came from a huge number of absentee and mail-in ballots.
The extreme shift to mail-in ballots was no accident. The house Democrats proposed widespread changes to voting laws in HR1, their first bill in 2020, before the coronavirus hit.6 Among other things, the bill expands voter registration, voting access, and limits removing voters from voter rolls.
HR1 never passed. But while America was distracted by the Chinese coronavirus, selective lockdowns that hurt small businesses and the middle class, protests and civil unrest after George Floyd was killed, Antifa violence, the election campaign, and all the rest, the Democrats went around the country changing our election rules. The Democrats petitioned, argued, and sometimes sued to have state election laws changed to allow vastly more mail-in balloting. In many states, arguing an “emergency” due to the coronavirus, rules were changed that arguably violated state law and even state constitutions. This is what Texas, and now several other states, are arguing about before the Supreme Court.
The rules changes not only resulted in many total ballots being cast than is usual in a presidential election, mail-in ballots have fewer layers of security.7 No one is there to check ID or match the voter against the roles. No one can verify the registered voter filled it out, or whether someone else did. Once a mail-in ballot is separated from the envelope, the ballot is put in with all the other ballots; there is no way to go back and audit to ensure the ballot was sent by a registered voter properly.
The changes worked, especially in key states. In Georgia, 6.42% of absentee/mail-in ballots were rejected in 2016; in 2020 only .6% were rejected. In Pennsylvania, .95% were rejected in 2016, 4.45% in 2018, but only .28% in 2020.8
7 Absentee ballots are the largest source of potential voter fraud, BUILDING CONFIDENCE IN U.S.ELECTIONS:REPORT OF THE COMMISSION ON FEDERAL ELECTION REFORM, at 46 (Sept. 2005) (hereinafter, CARTER-BAKER),
Whether or not courts decide to address these concerns for the election in 2020, Republicans must be more involved in the process of election rules and vote counting going forward. Republicans and conservative candidates must ensure that state election laws are followed going forward, and that those rules are not liberalized in a way that violates state law, otherwise, these new procedures will continue to make elections results less reliable, and will favor the side that controls the ballot verification and counting process in key places. Otherwise, the U.S. could go the way of a third-world dictatorship; as Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza famously said, “Indeed, you won the elections, but I won the count.”