Elections are messy affairs — and America is better for them


Conventional wisdom says it could take a few days for us to “call” the most important races of the 2022 midterms. But we can confidently project now that — whatever happens — the sun will continue to rise in the east after Election Day, and America will be better for it.

Despite warnings to the contrary by President Biden, democracy will in fact continue, no matter who wins on Tuesday. The republic and the experiment that started nearly 250 years ago will endure.

Mr. Biden and his former boss, President Obama, were correct on the stump over the previous week when saying some version of “We can’t take America for granted.” But they neglected to say that we also have to give it a lot of credit.

Election Day and the ensuing vote-counting, final calls, lawsuits, accusations and social-media conspiracies will be, in a word, messy.

Mail-in voting and absentee voting are messy. Voting in person with long lines in sometimes-inclement weather is messy and unpleasant; many people won’t talk to each other in voting lines anymore. Voting machines will screw up, and that makes things even messier.

Some judge, in some swing county, will order the polls to stay open a few hours later than scheduled, creating even more mess.

Of course, social-media sites make all of this profoundly worse, and the internet will be awash in conspiracy theories from both sides.

Whoever wins over the next few days or even weeks — and regardless of whether Georgia’s U.S. Senate race goes to a runoff in December once again — your crazy uncle will yell at Thanksgiving, telling the entire table that he knows a guy who knows a guy whose cousin was a poll worker who swears someone threw out 50,000 ballots. (Fact check: Your uncle doesn’t know the guy, and nobody threw 50,000 ballots in a dumpster.)

Of course there will be problems on Election Day — and that’s a good thing, in a way. The only elections without problems are where there aren’t actual elections. Have you ever heard of keeping the polls open late in Russia? Or signature mismatches in Saudi Arabia?

Whatever the problems of this election, they won’t be what cable news anchors tell you to worry about. Trust me on that — I am a cable news anchor, and we always worry about the wrong thing.

Whatever the messes that occur in this election, just remember that America started out messy and it’s always been messy.

A representative democracy is a lot harder to manage and maintain than any other form of government — and we should be happy about that. It beats the alternatives, but the messiness is how we get through things.

Since I began my journalism career, the U.S. Supreme Court effectively determined the 2000 presidential election’s outcome with its Bush v. Gore decision, something that had never happened. We all thought that would be the end of the Electoral College — but, no.

Less than a year later, 19 hijackers taught us to look outward rather than inward for real threats to America.

Remember when the Bush-Kerry presidential contest of 2004 was described as the most important election of our lives? Turns out it wasn’t.

Once again, despite what you hear on cable news, the 2022 midterms are not the most important elections of our lives, either.

The important part is having the election.

Remember Election Night 2016? We all knew that Democrats’ Hillary Clinton would win. Then she didn’t, and we had President-elect Donald Trump. The sun came up that day and every day of the Trump presidency.

Moreover, people never moved en masse  to Canada despite saying they would. They stayed here, because in their hearts they know we are the greatest country on Earth. We aren’t perfect — but almost nobody ever leaves.

The horror of Jan. 6, 2021, was awful, completely un-American. But we got through it. The republic survived and, in many ways, is probably stronger because of it. The sun came up on Jan. 7, with Joe Biden certified as president-elect — and the system worked.

When the Founding Fathers met in Philadelphia during the summer of 1776, they didn’t envision a perfect union but a more perfect one. After the Revolution, the Founders literally failed; the Articles of Confederation didn’t work — talk about “messy” — and the subsequent Constitution then required a Bill of Rights.

Democracy, like America itself, is messy. Imagine if we’d had cable news at the first Constitutional Convention — a time when democracy literally hung in the balance.

Every election we have, every challenge and crisis we get through, is a testament to the Founders’ genius, not their perfection. So, whatever happens on Election Night or election week, the sun will come up the next morning and we, America, will be better for it.

Leland Vittert is a veteran journalist who joined NewsNation as an anchor/correspondent in 2021 and hosts “On Balance with Leland Vittert” weekday evenings. He has covered national and international affairs for 20 years, including the Arab Spring revolutions in Egypt and Libya in 2011 and war in eastern Ukraine in 2014.