Prepare for electoral violence. Let’s work to prevent it | Opinion

It is time for people to start thinking and planning a response to the possible next round of violence and electoral disputes.

As we have followed the news over the past three years, most people had faith that our legal system would save us from hate-driven militias and those who would intentionally undermine our elections. Despite mounting threats against members of the judiciary, many courts have ruled with integrity, as more than 700 people pleaded guilty to charges and more than 170 people were convicted of crimes related to the January 6, 2021, breach of the Capitol. Experts say these outcomes have had a deterrent effect.

Meanwhile, the grand jury working on the 2020 election interference case in Georgia moved forward following Trump’s phone call pressuring the governor to find votes for him — a phone call we all heard. After two years of investigation, in August 2023, Trump and 18 others were indicted for an alleged scheme to stop the peaceful transition of power. In the public portion of the report, the grand jury was unanimous in finding no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Georgia as Trump claimed. In other words, they did not believe there was a valid justification for their attempts to recall him.

Former President Donald Trump speaks during a rally in Doral, Florida, on July 9.

GIORGIO VIERA/AFP via Getty Images

We got to see justice at work amidst the rubble of the 2020 election. Our justice system was working! In fact, the courts seemed to be doing a great job of dealing with legitimate threats of political violence and electoral sabotage.

Then the tide turned and hope that our judicial system would complete these cases before the 2024 race began to fade.

In November 2023, state-level lawsuits were filed arguing that Trump’s words incited violence at the U.S. Capitol. They therefore argued that Trump had violated the Insurrection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution and should be barred from serving as president again. Trump’s legal response focused not on the substantive issue at hand but on who had the right to make that decision. During a surge in attacks on the judiciary at the time, the Colorado State Supreme Court was undecided about its authority to decide whether Trump should be removed from the state’s ballot. The case eventually made its way to the highest court in the land.

In an unsigned opinion from March 2024, the U.S. Supreme Court found that states did not have the right to enforce the 14th Amendment and could not block Trump from appearing on their states’ presidential ballots. This ruling did not resolve the question of whether Trump’s language incited violence on January 6. It merely addressed the question of who could make that determination — a procedural matter.

In the Georgia case, the focus was also on procedural issues. First, members of the state legislature tried to change the law to bar Fulton County District Attorney Fanni Willis from bringing the prosecution. When that didn’t work, Trump’s team turned to digging into her personal life. That’s when, in early 2024, Willis was accused of having an inappropriate personal relationship with a prosecutor. Suddenly, the Georgia case became about her, not the defendants. The case is now on hold while an appeals court reviews a lower court decision allowing Willis to remain on the case. In other words, the case has been delayed because of procedural issues and is unlikely to go to trial before 2025, when Trump may already be in office.

Finally, in December 2023, the judge overseeing Trump’s federal election case (where he was charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States for resisting the peaceful transfer of power, among other things) halted proceedings to determine whether Trump has presidential immunity from criminal prosecution. The proceedings were originally scheduled for March 2024. But since the Supreme Court ruled on July 1 that presidents enjoy broad immunity from criminal prosecution for their “official” acts, the federal election case will be sent back to a lower court to determine which of Trump’s acts surrounding the 2020 election fall into that category. Even if the district court judge starts looking at this right away, there’s virtually no chance of a trial before November.

This lack of judicial review and accountability for any high-level coordination of the events of January 6, 2021 gives a green light to anyone who may be planning electoral interference and political violence during the upcoming presidential election.

Even if Trump did not orchestrate the assault on American government property and democratic processes, even if he does not lead the Stop the Steal movement, it is easy to look around and see that those initiatives were and continue to be supported by a complex ecosystem of pundits, elected officials, and media outlets that have pushed disinformation and fueled distrust in our electoral system. It is a powerful force.

However, according to experts in nonviolent collective action, there is a force more powerful than violence. Now, about four months away from the November elections, citizens must dig deep and find ways to unite across our divisions so that we can raise our voices in harmony against political violence. We must be prepared to stand united in nonviolent collective action to stop electoral fraud in 2024. We must continue the hard work of (re)building our mutual trust despite our differences.

If there are new attempts to use violence to manipulate the election results later this year, those of us who believe in the power of non-violence, dialogue and unity in diversity must be as organized – even more so – than those militias were on January 6, 2021.

Danielle M. Reiff is a professional peacebuilder who has lived and worked around the world promoting democracy, human rights, and peace. She is currently leading the Peacebuilders initiative in the run-up to the 2024 elections to promote nonviolence, unity in diversity, and a peaceful transfer of power. She moderates the nonpartisan initiative Facebook Group Vote for Love which provides a safe online space for Americans to come together despite our divisions.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own.