Anne Tindall is Special Counsel at Protect Democracy where she works to ensure that elections are free and fair, to prevent political violence, and to secure accountability for abuses of power at the federal and state level.
The Big Lie is the false claim that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump and that the Republicans who affirmed Biden’s victory were part of a conspiracy to defeat their own party’s presidential candidate.
From a historical perspective, the 2020 presidential election was not particularly close. President Biden beat former President Trump by over 7 million votes and secured a decisive 302 – 236 Electoral College victory. Biden received more total votes than any previous candidate for President in U.S. history.
The outcome of the election — both overall and in individual states — was confirmed repeatedly by state and federal courts, often by judges whom President Trump put on the bench. Republican officials in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, and Wisconsin — many of whom endorsed former President Trump — refused to toss out election results, finding no outcome-determinative fraud or irregularities in any of their states. State and federal audits and investigations initiated and sometimes conducted by entities associated with the former president’s campaign unearthed no evidence of a stolen election — to the contrary, some showed final tallies for Biden even higher than the official results certified by state officials in 2020. At least three members of former President Trump’s post-election legal team have since admitted that the arguments they put forward calling election results into question were at best misleading and in several instances actually false.
Nevertheless, Trump continues to claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him and that the Republicans who affirmed Biden’s victory were complicit in a conspiracy to defeat their own party’s presidential candidate. That is the Big Lie.
Over halfway through President Biden’s term in office and days away from the first debates of the 2024 presidential campaign, the Big Lie is still threatening our ability to ensure that citizens can exercise their right to vote free from intimidation and even violence, that election workers can count those votes correctly and efficiently, and that the American people can have confidence in the results.
These threats aren’t rhetorical; the Big Lie has devastating real-world consequences:
- Violence and threats of violence. The January 6, 2021 assault on the U.S. Capitol is the most salient example of violence spurred by the Big Lie. In case after case, those charged with violent acts that day have cited their belief that the 2020 election was stolen as the motivation for their crimes. The Big Lie also inspired a wave of threats and actual violence against election officials across the country. The threats have been so persistent that election workers are leaving their jobs and remaining officials worry about having sufficient staff to carry out future elections.
- Disinformation and distrust. Trust in institutions is at an all-time low in the U.S. Not all of that decline is attributable to the Big Lie, to be sure, but the impact of this deliberate spread of disinformation about our elections is hard to miss. Nearly three years after the Big Lie was thoroughly debunked, over two-thirds of Republicans and one-third of all Americans still believe that Biden secured the presidency through unproven “fraud” and Americans’ faith in our elections is eroding. Democracy depends on the citizenry’s participation in elections and our belief that our elected leaders exercise their power legitimately, and the Big Lie takes direct aim at both of these essential features of republican government.
- Legislative changes that make elections less secure. Influenced by this disinformation, and by the persistent pressure campaign of Big Lie champions, state legislatures across the country have introduced hundreds and passed dozens of bills that make voting harder and less secure, and make it easier for partisan officials to manipulate results to undermine the will of the voters.
Defeating a Big Lie requires building a big democracy movement. This moment calls for a cross-ideological coalition of organizations and individuals committed to protecting our freedom to vote and to see those votes accurately counted. When it comes to deflating the Big Lie, it’s clear what we must do: counter disinformation; secure accountability for those who spread lies and spark violence; protect voters and election officials from intimidation; and uplift legislative efforts to prevent election-related violence and protect election workers.
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