The 2020 Presidential Election of the United States of America will undoubtedly go down as one of the most controversial elections in the history of the country. It is not the first election to proceed in this manner, and the final outcome will likely be like no other. In order to fully ascertain what the final outcome of the election may be, it is important to review two of the most controversial elections in US history, those of 1960 and 1876.
That the election of 2020 has become controversial is not much of a surprise, as the last election never really ended. In 2016, Donald Trump won a surprise victory and was elected the 45th President of the United States. The Democratic party claimed that Russia hacked the election and waged a multi-year campaign litigating these claims against the President. Once that failed, they impeached the president with claims that President Trump called the Ukrainian president and asked them to investigate Joe Biden over questionable dealings of his son, Hunter Biden.
Heading into the 2020 election, it was obvious that many of the traditional levers of media power had begun to wane. Polling had largely been viewed as either obsolete or deliberately false. The Real Clear Politics average of polls had Joe Biden winning Ohio by 1 point, yet no one really thought for a second that Trump was going to lose the state, which he ended up winning by more than 8 points. The average person (at least those with right-leaning beliefs) now view the media as establishment propaganda and even Fox News is fully entrenched in that category.
On Election night 2020, no one was initially surprised with the results of the early evening. Trump was significantly outperforming the polls and was doing well in all of the states he needed to do well in to achieve victory. The media was playing their usual games and calling victories for Biden immediately while not calling clear victories for Trump, even if it were statistically impossible for him to lose the state. Despite the media shenanigans it seemed, if even for a short amount of time, that the election was going to be unmemorable and an easy win for President Trump.
At around 10:30 P.M. EST, things began to get weird regarding the election. Fox News called Arizona for Joe Biden with a million votes left to count. Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia all announced that they were going to stop counting ballots (in what seemed to be an organized effort), which is odd for any election and is generally not considered a normal practice. In the early hours of the morning of the next day, all of these states dropped hundreds of thousands of votes, nearly 100% for Joe Biden (in again what seemed like a joint effort).
The reaction of most right-leaning people to the news of the Joe Biden “victory” was stark and a prime example of the media’s loss of power. Despite Fox News and CNN blaring nonstop that Biden was the winner, no one who genuinely supported the President believes that Joe Biden won anything without the use of widespread fraud. This is a major shift from the past, as people for the most part accepted the media directive on issues such as these. Up until the past 10 years, no one believed that widespread fraud affected the elections in the United States.
The 1960 election between Senator John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Vice President Richard Nixon was a similar contest to 2020 in that widespread fraud is believed to have changed the course of the election. On election night, Kennedy appeared to have won the state of California, only for “absentee” ballots to award the state to Nixon days later. Nixon seemed to have won Hawaii, only to lose by 115 votes in a recount (Kalina, 113). In a similar fashion to 2020, ten states were decided by fewer than ten thousand votes and Kennedy was declared the winner. Such a narrow margin and reports of improprieties fed the notion that fraud had tipped the election. Chicago was the epicenter of the fraud allegations, with Mayor Richard Daley’s political machine being the culprit. Earl Mazo of the New York Herald Tribune would investigate the fraud and find that “There was a cemetery where the names on the tombstones were registered and voted. I remember a house. It was completely gutted. There was nobody there. But there were 56 votes for Kennedy in that house”. Accusations were also swirling that Daley held back his votes until the end of the night, a classic tactic used by political machines to ensure the desired outcome. Despite this information, Nixon told Mazo to stand down and conceded the election a few days later. Despite the concession, this election would go down as one of the most controversial, perhaps behind only 1876.
The Presidential Election of 1876 was contested between the Republican Governor of Ohio Rutherford B. Hayes and the Democrat Governor of New York Samuel Tilden. The election took place against the backdrop of Reconstruction in the former Confederacy and carried much tension as a result. As the election came to a close, Samuel Tilden had seemed to clinch victory with 184 electoral votes to 165 for Hayes, with 185 being the number that would secure a victory. There were an additional three states that also seemed to go in favor of Tilden on election night, which were Florida, South Carolina, and Louisiana. In each of these three states, there were widespread accusations of fraud as well as the intimidation of Republican voters and poll watchers (sound familiar). Some of the instances of fraud were quite blatant: South Carolina had over 100% turnout and after dismissing the fraudulent ballots the state was won by Hayes. Due to the close outcome of these three states and the allegations of fraud, both parties claimed to have won the state and each sent their own slate of electors, thereby creating a constitutional crisis and establishing the precedent going forward. Upon hearing the news of the contested election, there was much consternation in Democrat circles. Joseph Pulitzer, the newspaper tycoon, called for 100,000 men “fully armed and ready for business” in order to ensure that the former Governor of New York was inaugurated.
In order to deal with this crisis, the United States Congress established the Electoral Commission of 1877. The Commission was able to broker an agreement between Democrats and Republicans, stipulating that Hayes would “win” the election contingent upon removing Union troops from the south and appointing a southern Democrat to his cabinet. Due to the opinion that both sides got what they wanted, Hayes was able to be inaugurated peacefully and the compromise was a success.
Unfortunately, the outcome of the 2020 election is unlikely to have a similar outcome. In both 1876 and 1960, there was a desire for the election to be viewed as legitimate and neither party wanted to take down the country with their campaign. Nixon conceded against the wishes of the party apparatus because he said that during the height of the Cold War, he didn’t want the United States to be affected by suggestions that “the presidency itself could be stolen by thievery at the ballot box.” Hayes was said to have worried in 1876 that a failed election would taint the US irreparably after being only 11 years removed from the Civil War. The path to victory utilized by the Republicans in 1876 does give Trump a real way to hang on to power, but this time around there will be no compromise.
The difference between the previously mentioned elections and 2020 is stark. In those two elections the US still was a nation in all facets, which is not the case in 2020. It is much easier to resolve a dispute with your brother than with a stranger from the bad side of town who has no concerns for your well-being. Many of the improprieties of those two elections are indeed present in 2020 with regards to voter fraud, absurd turnout levels, and intimidation of Republicans. However, there is no unifying factor in 2020, and the two parties might as well be factions of two separate nations attempting to claim supremacy over the carcass of a dead nation. Unlike 1876, this nation is more pre-civil war than post, and the final outcome will likely be achieved by brute force rather than compromise. Regardless of the outcome, the coming years are sure to be a wild ride for anyone caught in the crosshairs of American politics.