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Fraught US election reveals promise and perils of its democracy

Trump takes page from authoritarian playbook by undermining votes

President Donald Trump has claimed that states counting mail-in ballots they received in accordance with their respective rules constituted fraud, encouraging his supporters to take to the streets.   © Reuters

WASHINGTON -- The 2020 U.S. presidential election has shaped up to be one of the closest races in history, exposing both the vibrancy of its democracy as well as signs of deep trouble for the institution. 

In what many nationwide saw as the most important election of their lives, voters rushed to cast a judgement on the four years under President Donald Trump's unconventional leadership.

Roughly 100 million took advantage of early voting, which was expanded in many areas to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, waiting as long as 10 hours in some polling places.

Overall turnout surpassed 66%, topping the 1960 election won by John F. Kennedy and reaching its highest in 120 years. The keen interest in the election process, which is the cornerstone of any democracy, is a positive sign for the U.S.

At the same time, Trump, who as U.S. president should be leading the country and the world's democracies as a whole, is publicly attempting to bend the rules to undermine the election. His aggressive actions have brought the dark side of democracy to sharp relief.

In the early hours of Wednesday, Trump appeared to his supporters at the White House to the sound of a brass band -- a scene that could easily have come out of a victory rally of some authoritarian regime.

"Frankly, we did win this election," he said, without waiting for ballots to be counted. He claimed that states counting mail-in ballots they received in accordance with their respective rules constituted fraud, and hinted at taking the election fight to the Supreme Court.

Disregarding the voice of the voters and attacking opponents is not so different from what the authoritarian leaders of Russia, China and North Korea have done. Vice President Mike Pence struck a more cautious tone when speaking after Trump, saying: "the right to vote has been at the center of our democracy since the founding of this nation, and we're gonna protect the integrity of the vote."

The Trump camp's claims of voter fraud and numerous legal challenges reveal its concerns over former Vice President Joe Biden inching toward a victory in the Electoral College. Though voting may be over, the U.S. has shown worrying signs regarding the future of its democracy.

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