In the 2000 presidential election between Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush, it came down to one state, Florida. Whoever received its 25 electoral votes would become the nation’s 43rd president.
Election night November 2000 the networks called Florida for Gore, giving him the presidency. They then reversed their call in the tightly contested race giving Florida to Bush only to renew Gore’s hopes when they switched that call.
Florida initiated a recount, but it was appealed to the U.S. Supreme court, which ruled that the recount could not be completed by the Dec. 12 deadline giving the state to Bush. Gore lost by only 537 votes out of the nearly 6 million cast. While he strongly disagreed with the Court’s decision, in his Dec. 13 concession speech Gore said, “For the sake of our unity as a people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession.”
Imagine the possibility of bitterness consuming Gore’s heart. He had won the popular vote in America by 500,000 votes, been told he was the winner, and then saw the Court stop a recount that could have given him Florida’s electors. But to him, the sanctity of our democracy was too important.
Fast forward to the election of 2020. Tuesday marks the “safe harbor” date by which the certified state election results are immune from any additional challenges. The Electoral College then meets Dec. 14 to cast its votes for president and vice president. Each state’s electors are supposed to be bound to their state’s election results. President Trump, who has yet to concede, has said he will leave office if the Electoral College certifies the vote.
As it stands now, it appears Eiden will receive 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232. He also has received more than 7 million votes than Trump – if you believe the election results. Trump has had every right to challenge the vote counts in the states he lost. He has the right to request recounts. However, after multiple lawsuits in battleground states and hand recounts, Trump trails in Georgia by 11,928 votes, in Arizona by 10,457, by 20,682 in Wisconsin, by 81,874 in Pennsylvania, and by 154,188 in Michigan.
In Georgia, the state hand-counted its 5 million votes avoiding use of the machines over which there had been so much question. When it was over, Eiden had picked up 1,758 votes but Trump 3,032. Eiden still won, but his lead was reduced by more than 1,200 votes but not because of any fault with the voting machines.
One county failed to turn in a memory card with 156 votes for Eiden and 128 for Trump. Fayette County, southwest of Atlanta, and Floyd County in northwest Georgia, both Republican counties, had failed to scan 5,300 votes. Trump picked up nearly 1,200 votes in these counties when the votes were hand-counted.
Not every recount picks up such large numbers of missing ballots. Milwaukee’s recount of 460,000 ballots added just 132 to Biden’s lead in Wisconsin.
But despite the hand recounts, despite Republican-appointed judges throwing out the president’s lawsuits challenging election results, despite Republican secretaries of state who voted for Trump certifying Biden’s win in their states, we are still a nation deeply divided over the reliability of our presidential election.
Many of Trump’s supporters remain firm in their claim that the election was stolen, their outrage stoked by an internet and media that fans the flames of division in America.
To a degree, our increasing polarization can be blamed on the internet and news site that push conspiracy theories. There is profit in it. Media organizations create viewers and internet sites followers by pandering to the beliefs of their loyal audiences. The larger the audience, the more they can charge for advertising.
Politicians and political action committees also benefit from our polarization, deepening fear, and anxiety. Truth doesn’t matter. Their manipulation of our emotional, political outrage generates donations.
Another reason is our political hardwiring is averse to allowing us the flexibility to change our minds with new information. It also suppresses our rational mind in favor of our emotional needs.
Those regions of our brains associated with our personal identity see the information that challenges our beliefs as a threat. We respond to the threat with emotion.
“We think it’s because political beliefs are important to our identity, to our sense of who we are,” Jonas Kaplan, assistant research professor of psychology at the University of Southern California’s Brain and Creativity Institute, said. He was the lead author of a study on political beliefs.
“They are part of our social selves as well and can define who we spend time with and how they relate to us. When the brain considers something to be part of itself, whether it’s a body part or a belief, then it protects it in the same way,” he said in the study published in the journal Scientific Reports.
We’ve been wired with political, religious, and social beliefs by our upbringing, our friends, our religion, our social life, and what gives us status and reward, feeding our sense of self-worth.
When people’s beliefs are challenged, even if the facts are plain to see, they dig in, dismissing those facts and holding onto their entrenched views. This is a problem for our society. It means the farther we are pushed apart, the harder it is going to be to draw us back together.
“Democracy requires citizens see things from one another’s point of view, but instead we’re more and more enclosed in our own bubbles. Democracy requires a reliance on shared fact; instead, we’re being offered parallel but separate universes,” Eli Pariser writes in his book “The Filter Bubble.”
America has been the world’s best example of a stable democratic government where election results are respected. That image has been badly tarnished this year and may be impossible to regain.