Federalism, Democracy, and the 2020 Election

Forthcoming, Texas Law Review Online, vol. 99 (forthcoming Feb. 2021)

FSU College of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 935

23 Pages Posted: 11 Dec 2020 Last revised: 22 Jan 2021

See all articles by David Landau

David Landau

Florida State University - College of Law

Hannah Jacobs Wiseman

Penn State Law – University Park

Samuel R. Wiseman

Florida State University College of Law

Date Written: December 7, 2020

Abstract

In the aftermath of the 2020 election, the United States has experienced an anti-democratic crisis, with a chief executive attempting to delegitimize the general election and declare victory in an election that all impartial observers stated he lost. In comparative terms, the U.S. election system has been much maligned – it is highly localized and partisan, and lacks the independent, apex institutions such as electoral tribunals that are characteristic of many modern democracies. This brief essay builds off our recent joint work on federalism to argue that state and local governments, which administer elections and have refuted claims of widespread voter fraud, are serving as important bulwarks against this threat. By separating and dispersing the functions of governance—the day to day work of governing—U.S. federalism provides protection against authoritarianism. The decentralization of authority over elections offers one particularly dramatic example of this dynamic in action. Indeed, the U.S. model of dispersing core functions, although messy and costly in other ways, may have important advantages in some contexts over the alternative model of centralized, apex institutions, especially by reducing vulnerability to capture.

Keywords: federalism, authoritarianism, democracy, elections, Donald Trump, Joe Biden

Suggested Citation

Landau, David and Wiseman, Hannah Jacobs and Wiseman, Samuel R., Federalism, Democracy, and the 2020 Election (December 7, 2020). Forthcoming, Texas Law Review Online, vol. 99 (forthcoming Feb. 2021) , FSU College of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 935, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3744530 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3744530

David Landau (Contact Author)

Florida State University - College of Law ( email )

425 W. Jefferson Street
Tallahassee, FL 32306
United States

Hannah Jacobs Wiseman

Penn State Law – University Park ( email )

Lewis Katz Building
University Park, PA 16802
United States

Samuel R. Wiseman

Florida State University College of Law ( email )

425 W. Jefferson Street
Tallahassee, FL 32306
United States

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