By Haley Barbour
A common topic that has been brought up every day of this seminar is the idea that the world is about to witness one of the most fundamental tenets of democracy: the peaceful transfer of power. As the topic continues to surface, I have been considering other fundamental tenets of democracy, most importantly in my opinion the people’s faith that the results of the election are legitimate. I do not mean to suggest that they are not. Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States, the purpose of raising these questions is not to suggest that that will change. Given a few key events surrounding the election, questions of legitimacy will need to be addressed by the new administration.
The topic of a peaceful transition of power was brought up by Dr. Julia Azari of Marquette University, Ruy Texiera of The Century Foundation, John Hudak of the Center for Effective Management, and David Lauter of the LA Times as well as others we have heard from in these few days. The key aspects of this election that bring up legitimacy are the difference in popular vote compared to the Electoral College, the influence of Russia, and the role of the FBI.
What makes the 2016 election stand out among these five, is the fact that the losing candidate in the Electoral College won nearly 3 million more votes than her opponent
2016 was not the first time in my life that the candidate that won the popular vote lost in the Electoral College. In addition since 1824 five candidates have won the popular vote while ultimately losing to their opponent in the Electoral College. What makes the 2016 election stand out among these five, is the fact that the losing candidate in the Electoral College won nearly 3 million more votes than her opponent. The next closest election among these five examples was in 2000 with a margin of just over five hundred thousand votes. There are of course explanations as to why the Electoral College supersedes the popular vote, but for many voters the huge margin between candidates in the popular vote makes the ultimate results curious.
The influence of Russia on this election is particularly alarming. In early December the public learned that American intelligence agencies found that Russia “acted covertly” during the election with the intent of aiding Donald Trump’s campaign. More recently the public has learned that the Russians in fact hacked both the democrats and republicans, but only released information regarding democrats.
The question of Russian interference in our election process is much bigger than the 2016 results, and in my opinion should cause alarm with all Americans. Barbara Slavin, the director for the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council noted that the incoming Trump administration is acting more friendly towards Russia compared to the presidential administrations since the end of WWII. Some may draw the conclusion that Russia interfered with the election because Putin believed Trump to be more sympathetic towards Russia. Again, this alone may not be enough for the election to be considered illegitimate, but it serves to create doubt among Americans.
Finally, the role of the FBI in this election only serves to further people’s doubts as they review the results. For many Hillary Clinton supporters and key staff members, the FBI Director James Comey’s choices in the final days of the election played a significant role in pushing voters towards Trump. Director Comey sent a letter to Congress eleven days before the election saying that the FBI would be launching another investigation into the former secretary’s use of a private email server, after finding no evidence of illegal action in past investigations.
Just today the Department of Justice’s internal watchdog announced that there will be an internal investigation into the FBI’s behavior during their investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails.
Certainly none of these factors of the 2016 should be used to change the results of the election. But rather, all of them should be carefully considered by the incoming administration. I agree with all of the speakers that we have heard thus far, barring any sort of fist fight in the background, the world is about to witness another peaceful transition of power in one of history’s most influential democracies. But as a democracy, any citizens questioning the legitimacy of our fair and free elections should encourage the incoming Trump administration to take additional steps to ensure the American people that the results are indeed legitimate.