The Fulcrum: Citizens need a better understanding of ‘election overtime’ before next November

December 20, 2023
Kevin Johnson

This op-ed originally ran on The Fulcrum.

A year from now, in early December 2024, America could be confronting one of the toughest challenges a democracy can face -- one that voters are not well prepared for. In the next presidential election, some states will likely be won by very tight margins, close enough that one side may decide to legally challenge the results. That scenario, a close and contested election, can be tough on democracy in the best of circumstances. As we learned in 2020, in our bitterly divided country, it’s potentially explosive.

But “close and contested” doesn’t mean “tainted and suspicious” – and it’s critical that Americans understand that difference.

Sports have clear rules for what happens when a game ends in a tie, or when a team challenges a call by a referee. Baseball fans know a tie game goes into extra innings, and that both sides get a chance to score each inning. Pro football fans know teams can challenge a referee’s decision, but the ruling on the field stands unless there is clear video evidence to overturn it. These are often the most suspenseful parts of the game, but they certainly aren’t a surprise to fans, much less a sign of breakdown in the game itself. It’s inevitable that some games end in ties, and inevitable that some elections are close and contested.