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What Might Be The Lasting Effect Of Trump's Refusal To Concede?

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

President-elect Biden delivered a Thanksgiving message, urging Americans to intensify the fight against the coronavirus, and he offered hope for the year ahead.

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JOE BIDEN: Service to each other and gratitude, even in the face of suffering, have long been part of what Thanksgiving means in America.

CHANG: Meanwhile, President Trump called into a meeting in Gettysburg, Pa., where Rudy Giuliani and Republican state senators pushed more false claims about election fraud.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This election was rigged, and we can't let that happen. We can't let it happen for our country.

CHANG: Trump continues to attack the legitimacy of the election results, despite legal efforts flailing in the courts and more states certifying their election results this week. To talk about whether there might be lasting effects from all of this, we're joined now by Justin Levitt. He's a professor at Loyola Marymount University Law School and an expert on election law.

Welcome back.

JUSTIN LEVITT: Thank you very much.

CHANG: So you and I spoke on election night. That is when you predicted that whatever litigation happened afterwards, it would be highly unlikely to change the outcome of the election, and you were right. Despite the Trump campaign's efforts, courts have thrown out baseless lawsuits. Officials have, by and large, carried out their duties. Let me ask you, do you feel like the system basically worked?

LEVITT: Yeah, certainly. The system for counting the ballots, for tallying the ballots, for making sure that the people with the most votes were certified as winners worked and is working. It was a lot bumpier road to get here than, I think, any of us would have liked, but the institutions are holding firm.

CHANG: That said, you know, Ben Ginsberg, the Republican election lawyer - he said that what ensued during the weeks after the election seemed like - sort of like a stress test on the system. And I'm wondering if you agree with that characterization, that there was a stress test? And if so, I'm curious; what specific parts of the electoral system do you think suffered the most stress the last few weeks?

LEVITT: I do think it was a stress test. It was a quite serious stress test. It was a lot more dangerous than, I think, a lot of people recognized or agreed to recognize now. There were - I mean, make no mistake, there were death threats issued to election officials, people who have a pretty non-glamorous (ph) job at the end of the day of just trying to make sure the machinery of democracy works for the rest of us. They sign up because of civic commitment and because of really small democracy ideals. And they're getting death threats from some of their fellow citizens based on fake news, based on allegations that simply are unsupported by the evidence that something went allegedly wrong when, actually, most things went pretty much right.

The institutions that we count on to do the nuts and bolts tallying, to make sure that Is are dotted and Ts crossed and to make sure that we not only make a list, but we check it twice - those institutions are comprised of people; real, plain, old, ordinary people. And they set about doing their jobs in some of the most frenetic circumstances with a lot of noise and a lot of bluster and a lot of concern by some of their fellow citizens that it's not fair to them, and it's not a good sign for the future.

CHANG: Well, what about the issue of voter confidence in the system? I mean, do you see any long-term consequences to Trump still going around saying the election was rigged, it was stolen?

LEVITT: I do - grave consequences, unfortunately. The fact that the institutions are holding does not mean that there's no danger in the tantrum of the moment. We only have a democracy that works if people are prepared to go into an election knowing there's a possibility, just a possibility, they might lose; that there might be more real, eligible people who agree with their opponent than agree with them. If we don't have that possibility going in, if the only options are either I win or it was stolen, we don't really live in a democracy. There are countries that work like that. That's just not us.

And I'm very concerned that the president continuing to use his very powerful megaphone to say that this election was rigged when it emphatically was not - and you can listen to Democratic and Republican and neither election officials from all sides of the aisle.

CHANG: Yeah.

LEVITT: The fact that he keeps pushing the notion that this was rigged actually is going to make it a lot harder to govern on January 21 and beyond. Those lasting effects are the ones I'm really worried about.

CHANG: Let me ask you in the 30 seconds we have left, are there any specific changes to the election system that you think could help stave off questions in the future about election integrity?

LEVITT: There are things we can and should do; things like counting mail ballots earlier, things that were blocked in Michigan and Pennsylvania and elsewhere that would have staved off some of the lasting after-election effects. But mostly, what we need to work on is us, right? - our own resistance and resilience in the face of misinformation and our own ability to discount what we hear when it's just not accurate.

CHANG: That is election law expert Justin Levitt.

Thank you.

LEVITT: Of course. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.