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I don’t get to say this often, so I would be remiss at the end of election week if I missed the opportunity: good job, America! You didn’t screw this up.
Ahead of Tuesday’s election day, many pro-democracy activists, strategists and observers were openly creak their teeth on what was going to happen. Almost three-quarters of voters said the pollsters that democracy itself was in danger, although less than 1 in 10 saw the threat as urgent. Rules contraction access to ballots was seen by some as intended to deprive large sections of the electorate. Threats of violence against poll workers and election officials were so common that tons of them leave. The candidates embraced former President Donald Trump big lie around 2020 and prepare their own variations for 2022. It was no longer a I got you’ question to ask candidates if they would accept I accept their loss; many had prepare claim victory no matter what.
Well, Tuesday has come. For the most part, things seemed to be going well. When the hiccups come– as they do with every election – the hyper-vigilance kicked in and solved problems that could have been avoided the following year. Lines were manageable, expectations consistent with past cycles. The hyperbolic fears of assassination proved to be exaggerated. Election deniers are running for positions that could be crucial in the next election lost (even if a couple remains too close to call). Even the most explosive characters running on the fumes of the Big Lie have conceded, something unthinkable even on Tuesday morning.
It turns out that this democratic experiment might actually turn out to be more sustainable than expected.
Even before the polls closed, some 45 million Americans had voted early – a midterm record surpassing the 39 million who voted in early 2018. A valued 112 million Americans voted in total this year, and that number could climb further as the count continues.
In other words, Americans saw the elections mattered and lent their voice to the process. This membership breeds legitimacy, even if your side loses. And although the United States still has some of the the lowest voter turnouts around the Democratic world — only a third of eligible voters in Mississippi, Tennessee and West Virginia cast their ballots this year, for example — the numbers are improving. States like Arizona, Pennsylvania and Michigan outmoded their participation from 2018 this year thanks to competitive races that could not be avoided.
This does not mean that the champions of American democracy can rest on their laurels. Far from there. The Maryland Republican who sought the Annapolis attorney general job has refuse concede despite a crushing defeat. In Arizona, negationist candidates for the posts of governor and secretary of state can pull a win. MAGA Twitter remains a place where conspiracy theories to bloom. A string of bizarre statements continues to come from Trump’s distribution channels and his expected statement of a third the presidential race next week will only fuel these fevered circles.
Yet the fact that we discuss the broad success of the US election and treat the irresponsible fringes as prominent exceptions says a lot about how this week has gone. Rather than re-boarding buildings for protests, we only refresh a handful of runbacks to see the margins of a majority. Instead of creating phantom branches of government, losing candidates post campaign office materials on Craigslist and talk about lessons learned ahead of possible rematches. All of this, in a weird way, should be celebrated.
Certainly, American democracy has had a few difficult years. The contested 2000 the election was a low point in modern history – not necessarily for its outcome but for its process which took a small portion of the results all the way to the Supreme Court to determine if the count could even continue. Waves of elections in 2006, 2010 and 2018 remade Congress in major ways, forcing even the winning parties to rethink governance. The 2016 competition and its Russian harmonics still haunted Washington – and possibly Mar-a-Lago as well. 2020’s pandemic-tinged presidential races and its dumpster fires codas didn’t exactly sell the world on American exceptionalism.
But this year, the relative calm and copacetic acceptance of the results by the electorate are setting the stage for what could be a surprisingly drama-free coast to the end of the year. Lots of work remains to do in Washington during the looming lame duck session. But at least the players who will return in the coming weeks – either to prepare for their next term or to pack their offices to return home – understand the results and accept them. It shows what a divided Washington might be able to accomplish in the last two years of Joe Biden’s term. And, for that, Americans should be proud of not trying to burn the system down just because they could.
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