First, unless there is direct evidence of voter fraud, we should not use words like “stolen” in connection with elections. Brown was wrong to do it; saying the Republicans do it more often, as he did in his “Meet the Press” interview, is simply another form of “whataboutism.” As voting guru Rick Hasen argues, such language only “feeds a growing cycle of mistrust and delegitimization of the election process, an attack pushed by President Trump and other Republicans” that might lead Trump in 2020 to “refuse to concede the 2020 presidential election if he is ahead in the count on election night and then ballot counts inevitably shift toward Democrats as the counting continues.”
Second, you better have facts and specifics (as Abrams did and Trump did not) when questioning election practices. Moreover, Abrams raised legitimate issues before the votes were counted, bolstering her argument that her concerns were about efforts to disenfranchise voters, not about who was winning.
Third, the distinction between “legal” and “legitimate” is a tricky one, but here is the difference: There is legal legitimacy (what Abrams said amounted to getting more votes), and then there is moral legitimacy. If you take active measures to disenfranchise voters you think will vote against you (without a shred of evidence of voter fraud to justify your actions), you’re not in a good position to argue you have the latter.
Moral legitimacy in a democracy comes from free and fair elections. American elections are distinguishable from phony elections that dictators run because, among other things, the outcome in American elections is not determined in advance and the popular will is respected. To the extent the Brian Kemps (or the Russians) put their fingers on the scale, the winner does risk a loss of moral legitimacy. You cannot systematically disenfranchise thousands of voters and claim your win is without taint.
Finally, it’s a disgrace that we make it so hard to vote and do not have a method for quickly and transparently tabulating results. We need to repair the preclearance measures under the Voting Rights Act that were struck down in 2013, institute voting by mail and automatic registration and, finally, strive for a system in which long lines for voting become a thing of the past. A candidate cannot have authority over elections in which he or she is a candidate.
By focusing on the voter suppression Abrams points us in the right direction. As Hasen says, “the right question is why the state gets to put stumbling blocks in front of voters—such as onerous voter registration requirements and easy voter-purge rules—without offering a good reason for doing so. … By focusing on the dignity and respect to be afforded to each voter, we can push to maximize the number of eligible voters who are enfranchised and able to cast a ballot that will count, regardless of election outcomes.”
If one party is opposed to those measures to expand voting access, you really have to question if its candidates and officials support free and fair elections. When a party cannot win in which every legal voter gets to vote (as Kemp acknowledged), it needs to rethink the message and get new messengers.