The Riggs Report: Hot air about rigged elections

October, 21, 2016

Look back at hotly contested races amid Trump’s rigged election complaints

One of the great beauties of our democracy is the peaceful transition of leadership. No matter how bitter or divisive the campaign, once the ballots are counted, we accept the results and move on.

Two great examples of that come to mind, which I had direct experience with covering.

In 2000, there was the hotly contested presidential contest between Al Gore and President George W. Bush, which came down to a question of ballot counting in Florida and the state’s 25 electoral votes.

I spent 10 days in West Palm Beach on NBC duty, and saw the anger and distress among voters carrying picket signs as the election outcome seesawed back and forth—all the while, election officials closely examined the “hanging chads” on disputed ballots.

After a 36-day recount fight, and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that stopped a hand recount of ballots, Gore conceded the contest to Bush in mid-December.

It was the first time in more than a century that the winner of the popular vote lost the electoral vote. Gore narrowly edged Bush in the popular vote with a margin of just under 544,000 votes.

Despite the highly charged atmosphere, party leaders accepted the result. Bush succeeded President Bill Clinton and we moved on.

In California in 2003, we plunged into another political conflict—one that was unprecedented in the Golden State.

Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, ran into deep trouble with the electorate due to the development of an enormous budget deficit and continuing controversy over his handling of a power crisis that left California at the mercy of predatory energy companies.

After a funding kick start by a wealthy San Diego congressman, Darrell Issa, recall fever swept the state. Arnold Schwarzenegger was one of 135 candidates who jumped on the ballot—a list that included child actor Gary Coleman, porn actress Mary Carey and Arianna Huffington. On Oct. 7, 2003, voters recalled Davis and replaced him with Schwarzenegger.

It was only the second recall of a governor in U.S. history. The first happened in 1921, when North Dakota Gov. Lynn Frazier was recalled.

It was a devastating end to Davis’ career.

But on Nov. 17, 2003, I was a pool reporter in the governor’s office as he met with Schwarzenegger to offer his advice and support for the transition. Schwarzenegger took the oath of office and Davis, to his credit, accepted the outcome with graciousness and maturity.

Both of these examples are notable in the face of Donald Trump’s complaints about a rigged election process. There is no evidence to back up that complain. In fact, since elections are staged by local and state officials, there is no plausible scenario in which a massive conspiracy could happen.

There are multiple levels of security, including a canvass of the vote with Republican and Democratic witnesses before the results are final. There are occasional instances of error or fraud, but it is not widespread or systematic.

Undermining public confidence in our voting process like we’re some third world nation is not only destructive, it ignores a great tradition of peaceful transition our nation is known for once the campaigning comes to a close.