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If we can’t have civil, decisive elections, we be creeping toward civil conflict

Republican Brian Kemp, right, shakes hands with Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal at the Capitol on Nov. in Atlanta.
Republican Brian Kemp, right, shakes hands with Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal at the Capitol on Nov. in Atlanta. AP

Elections are designed to be a decisive way for people to choose their own leaders. We might not like it when the people we vote for don’t win, but we usually accept the results because being on the losing side of an election is preferable to the alternative – living in a society where there are no elections and we have no say in our own government.

But it seems like our last two election cycles have felt less decisive than any I can remember. In 2016, we suffered through the nastiest, most partisan Presidential election of my lifetime and it ended with a candidate winning the electoral college vote while losing the popular vote. That’s not a recipe for a unified electorate, and the man who won that contest hasn’t exactly tried to mend fences with those who didn’t support him as a candidate.

And it took more than a week before our high-profile, bitterly contested gubernatorial election here in Georgia reached its conclusion. The vote was close, as predicted, with Republican Brian Kemp winning enough votes to narrowly avoid a runoff.

Charges of voter suppression before the election had tainted the process in the eyes of many Democratic voters, especially people of color, before votes had even been cast. So no one should be surprised at Stacey Abram’s refusal to accept a loss without a vigorous effort to count every single vote that was registered.

Finally, on Friday she ended her fight.

But even with Kemp acknowledged as the winner, almost half the citizens who went to the polls this year will likely feel frustrated and disenfranchised. It will be very difficult for Kemp to win over people who believe he misused his position as secretary of state to help him win his own election. And let’s face it, in today’s bitterly partisan environment, how likely is to do more than give lip service to representing the interests of the people who didn’t vote for him? Slim and none I’d say, and slim just left town.

I hope that I’m wrong about this, but it seems likely that the fracture in our country and in our state between the left and the right is only going to get worse in the next couple of years. The odds are the presidential election in 2020 will be close again, and charges of voter fraud will likely be lodged by whoever is on the losing side. About half the country will be angry and frustrated at losing, and the other half will be doing their end zone celebration dance to taunt the other side. That’s where we are as a country.

The situation has led some people to speculate that we may be on the road to another civil war. They believe the harsh rhetoric will turn into violence at some point. And in fact some believe that the mass shootings and attempted mail bombing that occurred in recent weeks are the opening shots of that war, fired by people on the fringe of society who are most easily pushed over the edge by the hateful, partisan rhetoric.

Of course, the country is a lot different today than it was in 1861 and current demographics don’t really allow for dividing it up geographically to facilitate a new “war between the states.” But an increase in politically motivated violence seems like a real possibility going forward and it’s not hard to envision a future with more mass shootings and perhaps more political demonstrations that turn into riots.

And Lord help us all if the 2020 election is so close that a winner can’t be declared without some kind of judicial action like the 2000 election was. I don’t even want to think about the “fire and fury” that would be unleashed on our country if the new right-leaning Supreme Court was tasked with making a judgment call on whether or not Trump gets a second term.

Bill Ferguson is a resident of Warner Robins. Readers can write him at fergcolumn@hotmail.com.