The national anthem has seldom resonated as much as it did when Lady Gaga emphasized the words “our flag was still there” and pointed to the flag on the capitol which had been attacked just a fortnight earlier.
It was all balm for America’s wounded soul. https://t.co/cEORjnt81p
— Max Boot (@MaxBoot) January 20, 2021
More than 159 million Americans cast a ballot in the November election – 23 million more than had voted in any previous election. The turnout rate of 66.7% of eligible voters was the highest in 120 years. The dramatic expansion in voting is even more remarkable, considering it occurred during a global pandemic that had killed 230,599 Americans by election day. Election administrators across the country managed to safely accommodate and enable the surge in participation via alternatives to in-person, election day voting. MIT’s Election Data and Science Lab reports the proportion of ballots cast by mail more than doubled, spiking from 21% in 2016 to 46% in 2020. Early in-person voting also increased from 19% in 2016 to 26% in 2020. In the spring, as the pandemic began, election experts worried whether administrators could ramp up socially distanced voting by November. Nor was it obvious the decentralized U.S. election system could steel itself against the growing number of cyber threats from foreign and domestic actors. But the steady progress in bolstering our systems led to what Trump Administration officials described as “the most secure election in American history.” That all of this worked out is a tribute to our election administrators’ dedication and professionalism and the civil society organizations that helped them rise to the occasion.
Then there was the most significant stressor confronting our election system in 2020: the sustained and incendiary but ultimately baseless charges of widespread fraud from President Trump and his allies. Their lawsuits went nowhere and grew more risible as the weeks progressed. Even Attorney General William Barr, pressed by Trump to find and prosecute instances of widespread fraud, came back after looking into it and told the President that his allegations were “just bullshit.” In perhaps his most egregious assault on our democracy, President Trump repeatedly sought to pressure local and state election officials as well as the governors and legislators overseeing their work to overturn the results in contested states. These leaders, including notably several prominent Republicans, rebuffed the intruding weight of Trump’s presidency and the death threats of his supporters that followed its application.
None of this is to say we don’t have plenty of work to do in continuing to buttress our system of free and fair elections. Indeed, the past few months have highlighted several vulnerabilities that need fixing, beginning with the Electoral Count Act of 1887. But the integrity and independence of our election system and those responsible for administering it, bulwarks of democracy and pluralism alike, held up in the face of a massive set of challenges, which bodes well for the future.