Now, however, we have a president who specifically questions whether or not he will accept the result of the election and step down peacefully. He talks—jokes, he says—about serving beyond his constitutionally allotted time, raising the specter of an American authoritarianism that once seemed inconceivable. And if the election does not go the way he wants it to, he may do what he’s done for much of his adult life: litigate and insist on its illegitimacy. All of these are extraordinary statements, out of line with everything we’ve come to accept about our elections.

There is no question that these will be difficult elections to administer. If nothing else, the pandemic ensures that. We’re accustomed to knowing election results by the end of the night, but this year a lot of votes will come in later, and it’s expected that days or even weeks could go by before we know the winner. This will not be because voter fraud is taking place; as FBI director Christopher Wray just told Congress, there’s very little evidence that it exists. Instead, it will be because the hard-working women and men who administer our elections at the local level will be doing their level best to ensure that every eligible voter’s ballot gets counted.

Already, President Trump seems to have much of his base convinced that the only way he could possibly lose is by fraud. This is a president who insisted there was fraud even after winning the 2016 election. So, the challenge is, how do we uphold this core feature of our democracy? How do we ensure the results are accepted as legitimate? These are tough questions for our democracy, but I do know one thing: Every state and local election official has to do their best to ensure that everyone who is entitled to vote can cast a ballot, and that those ballots are counted as transparently as possible, without vote-suppression shenanigans.

Lee Hamilton is a Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar at the IU Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice at the IU O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

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