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With its massive screw-up in counting and reporting preliminary results in New York City’s Democratic primary for mayor, the city’s Board of Elections has managed to vindicate the self-serving and politically corrosive mendacity of Donald Trump.
No, reporting hugely inaccurate preliminary results in the Ranked Choice Voting primary held last week doesn’t demonstrate that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Trump — or that, as the former president continues to claim, voter fraud was rampant in the swing states that delivered the election to Democrat Joe Biden. But there was always a more sweeping and more dangerous claim underlying those baseless assertions — namely, that American elections in general are corrupt and unreliable, producing untrustworthy results. That’s what Trump alleged during the summer and fall of 2020, before any ballots has been cast or counted. And that’s what the shambolic Democratic primary in New York City has now vindicated.
The primary involved only Democrats. It pioneered the use of RCV in order (supposedly) to deliver fairer, more representative outcomes. The Board of Elections is overseen by bipartisan commissioners. For all of these reasons, last week’s vote should have served as a demonstration of what a clean and corruption-free election looks like. Instead, it’s shown that NYC’s BOE is too incompetent to be trusted with counting the votes. And the shadow of its bungling will haunt whatever results it announces going forward, opening the door to fully justified challenges to the outcome.
And this has happened, once again, without hyper-polarized partisanship added to the volatile mix.
This is bad. The United States is undergoing a precipitous collapse in the authority of its institutions, public as well as private, that is driven, in part, by evidence of their incompetence and corruption. Self-government, meanwhile, depends on the existence of institutions that can be trusted to determine the outcome of election contests fairly and accurately. Put those two facts together and we’re left with the extremely dangerous possibility that the official results of elections will be routinely rejected by participants and their supporters.
That is a recipe for democratic breakdown far more severe than anything we’ve seen up to now.