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Expert: Casting Doubt on Vote Leads to Slow Erosion of Democracy

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President Donald Trump's refusal to concede the presidential race has led to concerns about people losing faith in democracy in the United States. (Adobe Stock)
President Donald Trump's refusal to concede the presidential race has led to concerns about people losing faith in democracy in the United States. (Adobe Stock)
November 12, 2020

VERMILLION, S.D. -- Election officials across the U.S. say there's no evidence of illegal votes helping Joe Biden win the 2020 presidential race.

But President Donald Trump and some of his allies are still claiming fraud. GOP Gov. Kristi Noem is a staunch Trump supporter and among those echoing sentiments from his camp.

A South Dakota political expert said the rhetoric carries a lot of weight.

Julia Hellwege, assistant professor of political science at the University of South Dakota, said on the surface, people might view what's happening as typical behavior from the past four years and think it will go away with Biden assuming the office.

But she said there could be a lasting effect.

"Democracy doesn't just disappear; like we don't just turn off a switch," Hellwege explained. "But we know from our studies of democracies that it's this sort of slow chipping away of, first, the normative behaviors, and then the institutional procedures."

Hellwege said democracy is more than casting your ballot. She noted the bar should be much higher, including a peaceful transfer of power, which doesn't appear likely in the presidential race.

According to polling from The Economist and YouGov, 86% of Trump supporters don't think Biden won the race legitimately.

In viewing such poll results, Hellwege observed the president's messaging does stick with some of his base supporters.

She added if enough people feel that way, it can lead to more discord throughout the country, while influencing how U.S. democracy is viewed on the global stage.

"We need to be a legitimate democracy that other countries can look up to and that our allies can feel good about," Hellwege asserted. "And so the implications are extraordinarily widespread. "

She contended the country can pull itself out of this situation by providing more education to voters about the process while encouraging healthy debate among candidates and the electorate.

Meanwhile, other political scientists note there are examples of voter fraud, but nowhere near the level of what's being suggested by the president and his supporters.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - SD