One of the aspects of American political history that has separated us from that of most nations that have sought to establish and maintain republics is the way that bullets have been superseded by ballots. In the election of 1800, for the first time in the United States, a peaceful transfer of power occurred between a defeated incumbent party and a victorious challenger, after a difficult campaign that had been marked by a high degree of bitterness. For the next sixty years, elections were conducted with a certain degree of bitterness and accusations of corrupt bargains (in 1824) besides the usual libelous accusations directed at candidates, until an election was not accepted by the losing party in 1860.
When we think of the question of the legitimacy of republican regimes, it is worthwhile for us to ask not only how this has been affected in the past but also what sort of things gain or lose legitimacy in the present day. How is it that trust is eroded between government and the governed? How can such trust be restored? There are many answers to this question that can be explored, but I would like to look at one of them, a fairly obvious one, and that is that one must trust the process of voting/selection. To the extent that one can trust that the vote counting is just and that the actual verdict of the people who are voting/balloting is being accepted and heard, one can trust on ballots to trump bullets, because there is faith that if the people make a choice about who to select, that choice will be selected.
There are some obvious ways in which the trust in the process is eroded, and what we have seen over the past couple of years in Maricopa County, Arizona, is a clear demonstration of how this occurs. One of the ways that you can trust a ballot to be reasonably fair is if one can count the votes in a timely fashion because it is easy to know what the choices are and to tally them up. When votes stop because of mysterious counting issues and election night becomes election week or election fortnight because of the problems in counting ballots to figure out who wins, then trust evaporates in the suspicion that some of the parties involved are trying to manufacture enough ballots to ensure the right outcome. Naturally, this suspicion erodes the trust that is necessary for people to accept electoral results as being accurate reflections of the choice of the electorate.
Unfortunately, this world is full of people who want power and enjoy lording it over others but who have no interest in serving for the well-being of those they wish to boss around and command. Jotham, the only survivor of the tyrant Abimelech’s wrath against his half-brothers, had it right when he said that those who seek after power are like the bramble, who have nothing useful to provide people in their normal work, so they seek political power to give some sort of dignity to themselves through offices that they do not deserve from their character. And when politics takes on an outsized importance in society this only becomes a more serious problem.