U.S. Flunks Its Own Election Standards

The same week that an Illinois judge issued an order denying ballot access to President Joe Biden’s main political opponent, the election integrity organization, Freedom House, issued a report containing this passage:

One of the most widespread methods for manipulating competition in an election is controlling the field of candidates that appear on the ballot. This approach allows authoritarian leaders to maintain a thin façade of competitiveness for elections in which voters have in fact lost the freedom to choose who governs them. The most brazen example of ballot exclusion last year occurred in Cambodia … Before the contest, Cambodian authorities barred the most prominent opposition party…

Freedom House is a Washington, D.C.-based nongovernmental organization that got its start in 1941, when First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt served as its first honorary chairperson. It publishes an annual report offering critiques of democracies from around the world and commentary on the quality of their elections. Funded as it is by the U.S. government, Freedom House unsurprisingly gives the United States its highest marks for free and fair elections.

In reality, Freedom House is just another institution that has been corrupted by the D.C. swamp. It’s useful to read past its politically motivated propaganda, however, to recognize how far we have fallen.

Freedom House’s report noted that in other countries (not the United States, of course), “the rejection of pluralism—the peaceful coexistence of people with different political ideas … by authoritarian leaders … produced repression … and a steep decline in overall freedom in 2023.” The report made no mention of Joe Biden’s characterization of his political opposition as “semi fascists.” It did not mention the detention of hundreds of election protestors using novel legal theories that have only been applied to this administration’s political targets.

The report further objected to incumbents taking steps “to prevent the political opposition from competing on an even playing field.” It noted three main tricks an incumbent party might use to “lock in unfair advantages before the day of voting.” These include, “controlling who appears on the ballot, changing election rules, and using state resources to tilt the playing field in favor of the governing party.” In one example offered by the report, Venezuelan authoritarians used criminal prosecution to interfere in the primary process of their political opponents.

The Freedom House report did not, however, mention the revelations that the Biden White House has been coordinating with the Fulton County, Georgia lawfare project against Biden’s political opponent Donald Trump Nor did it mention the Biden White House directly coordinating with the supposedly independent special counsel Jack Smith.

In Turkey, “elections have long featured harassment, arrests, and criminal prosecutions of opposition leaders and journalists,” as well as “media dominance” by the controlling party, and “abuse of state resources” to help the incumbent win the election. Nevertheless, the report did not mention the harassment of U.S.-based journalists such as Matt Taibbi, Mark Steyn, James O’Keefe, James Rosen, and Tucker Carlson, to name just a few who stood up to the controlling political authority in the United States. Freedom House was also very worried that Turkey suffered from “systematic abuses like restrictions on freedom of expression and the criminal prosecution of political opponents.” Interestingly, there was silence about those suffering similar fates closer to home.

According to Freedom House, lack of transparency has undermined confidence in elections—in other countries. In Nigeria, for example, “The independent National Electoral Commission failed to transmit results from polling stations in a timely and transparent manner, which election observers said damaged public trust.” This lack of transparency, “fueled rumors of electoral fraud on social media.” If, when reading this, you are put in mind of our 2020 presidential election, remember: Freedom House gives the U.S. the best possible rating. Because of course it does.

The report also warns against Russia where, “Since 2022, the Kremlin has pursued a vigorous effort to stamp out antiwar dissent, silence critical media coverage.” Ukraine, which canceled its March election, “is unique among other countries at critical junctures, both in the extent to which the fate of its democracy could affect the security of other democracies around the world … Democratic governments should not delay or hesitate in providing Ukraine with the resources it needs to defend and reclaim its territory from Russian forces, and to proceed further down the democratic path.”

True, Russia will hold elections next month (roughly at the same time Ukraine was supposed to have elections). But things in Russia are obviously repressive because, as noted by the report: 

Vladimir Putin, who has been in power for two and a half decades, will undoubtedly win Russia’s next presidential election in March 2024. The government has used legal tools to keep opposition political parties and candidates off the ballot, imprisoned activists and politicians, closed or forced out all independent media, and subjugated the judiciary.

Fair enough. But again, that’s hardly distinguishing. Further, while I don’t support Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, it’s also hard to see Russia as the most immediate threat to our democracy. Yes, we should stop external threats to our democracy and freedoms. But is the Russian bear really the one that’s closest to our tent? Perhaps I would feel more enthusiastic about supporting Ukrainian democracy if there were, in fact, such a thing and if our own democracy were not so poorly maintained.

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