Avoiding a Constitutional Crisis: America Could Learn from Bolivia

We’re currently on the heels of an incredible close presidential election as the final votes from a historic turnout get counted and trickle in. Meanwhile, both President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden remain engaged in an abnormally personal race ridden with petty insults on both Twitter and the debate stage. Protests will likely escalate into violent riots regardless of who wins, especially given people’s reported willingness to defend their candidates and values with whatever force possible. If such public violence and chaos do occur, though, both sides will undoubtedly blame one another for the outcome, intensifying the political divide. This, in all likelihood, may lead to civil unrest, constitutional crisis, and a nation in gridlock.

The United States, however, cannot afford to add casualties to their ever-rising coronavirus-related deaths across the nation; instead, they must turn to mainly short-term solutions to prevent the nation from erupting into chaos, which they can do by examining Bolivia’s recent electoral success in October 2020. Formerly wracked with accusations of voter fraud, the reformed nation prevented the mistrust of its citizens from culminating into widespread riots. By adopting some elements, Americans can do the same.

The aforementioned hostilities, especially when coupled with the Covid-19 pandemic and flaring racial and class tensions, only exacerbate the fractures within an already divided nation. Most concerning, President Trump’s false accusations of mail-in ballots inducing voter fraud and his refusal to commit to a “peaceful transfer of power” have rallied his most fanatic followers to threaten a violent contest of an allegedly fraudulent Biden victory, should he win. Similarly, Democrat progressives are already planning nationwide protests against a possible Trump victory to defend vote counting. An unclear outcome could also incite unrest. The Florida recount during the 2000 presidential election between Al Gore and George W. Bush caused a number of partisan spats. The same is likely to occur again on an even larger, more volatile level as legal battles in courts—such as a modern Bush v. Gore—spill over into physical protests.

Bolivia quelled its unrest due to their candidates’ willingness to publicly concede a defeat. When Evo Morales, the former Bolivian president, attempted to overstay his term limits in the most recent Bolivian election, protests broke out due to claims of voter fraud, with ballots literally found discarded in nefarious ways. In response, Morales, who won the election, was abandoned by his security and pressured to resign by the military; subsequent resignations of high-profile political figures led to a power vacuum, and temporary president Jeanine Anez took office. The Bolivian Congress then approved a new election after official investigations determined that efforts were made to rig the election against Morales, but excluded the former president from running. Thus, the two conflicting parties co-created a brand-new race in 2020 and de-escalating the entire situation. While it currently seems unlikely that either American candidates will gracefully concede a defeat, much less create a new election, at least their political peers, such as members of Congress, should in their stead by refusing to endorse the candidates’ claims. What we can learn from Bolivia is not its initiation of a new election but, rather, its parties’ abilities to work together instead of ignorantly butting heads. In America, even just a joint effort to denounce an unwilling concession as Un-American may be enough to resolve the political stand-off and quell any potential violence. For example, the Republican Party refused to support Roy Moore’s demand for a recount with his Alabama senatorial loss in 2017, and more recently, the most conservative Supreme Court in years defied Trump’s wishes to prevent vote counting after election day in Pennsylvania, so it’s entirely within reason for the political establishment to take action and maintain stability. If we give the situation attention, then we are only fueling the flame.

Bolivian leaders also utilized their platforms to ensure citizens that the election was valid, which made many feel more at ease; America could do the same. Right now, this country lacks leadership. Our senators and representatives are supposed to calm the public, not further provoke our distrust for the government. American state and local governments must continue to ensure their citizens that their votes matter by enabling vote counting after election day of absentee ballots or accelerating their final counts. Simultaneously, they should increase public awareness on voter fraud and truthfully keep their citizens informed, which they can possibly do by considering Bolivian non-partisan voter education campaigns: a series of advertisements, articles, and television programs that inform the public of any changes or developments. In this case, the American focus should remain on communicating the validity of mail-in ballots and current lack of evidence of tampering from either side.

Post-election, the United States must make an effort to alleviate the political polarization and destructive partisanship that have defined American politics for the past few years. Nevertheless, just like in Bolivia, the implementation of comprehensive solutions relies on their citizens’ ability to cooperate, consider other perspectives, and establish a common sense of identity that this nation seems to have lost. If, however, we do not begin to heal the massive divide between party lines, the United States will inevitably come closer to erupting in violence, whether it’s during this election or the next one. Despite the U.S.’s current polarization and unrest, mitigation and rehabilitation are possible—the responsibility rests in the capable hands of all Americans, regardless of whether they bleed red or blue.

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