Historian Warns ‘Our Election System Is Broken’

American University Professor Allan Lichtman weighed in on the highly contentious presidential race and what it means for our democracy

As some states remain too close to call, the race between President Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has yet to be declared. But American University Professor Allan Lichtman, the historian known for accurately predicting presidential elections, said if one thing is clear it’s that the current election system is broken. 

“There’s a much bigger picture here,” Lichtman told Wake-Up Call. “Our election system is broken — it’s shattered, it’s in pieces.” 

Lichtman argued that this is due in large part to what he believes is an outdated election system, pointing to the Electoral College as a prime example. He noted that the system by which we choose our president still has its roots in slavery. The framers of the U.S. Constitution gave each state a number of electors roughly in proportion to the size of its population, but as part of a compromise with Southern states, Black Americans were just counted as three-fifths of a person.

“We’re still living in an era when a group of white men set up the system at a time when the vote was pretty much limited to white men with property — a whole different time, a whole different idea about voting,” he said. 

The professor emphasized that the political landscape in the nation has completely shifted and should therefore be taken into account. While he said Republican voters are more spread out throughout the country, he argued that Democrats tend to be concentrated in states like California, New York and New Jersey.

“The electoral college because of the changing political demography of this country, enormously favors them,” he said referring to Republicans.

But Lichtman, who has correctly predicted every presidential election since 1984, believes that despite these systematic issues, Biden will still defeat the president, pointing to his system of 13 “key factors” that he developed to help determine whether the party in the White House will maintain control. These factors range from whether the party has an incumbent president running to short- and long-term economic conditions.

At the same time, Lichtman said this election should have been a “cakewalk” for Biden. Even though the former vice president won the most votes out of any candidate in history, ballots are still being counted in critical battleground states like Pennsylvania and Georgia, meaning the final verdict on polling and forecasting may not be known for several days. 

As a result, Americans woke up on Wednesday without knowing who their next president was, which isn’t unprecedented. Lichtman noted that there have been a handful of elections over the course of U.S. history that took days or even weeks to come to a resolution. This includes the contentious 2000 election between Al Gore and George W. Bush, which wasn’t decided until December. 

But the professor added that what is new is the president’s attacks on vote-counting efforts. In an address from the White House early Wednesday, the president falsely criticized votes that were being counted after Election Day and declared a premature victory, which garnered bipartisan criticism

“We have never seen a president, so blatantly and falsely attack our democracy before, especially during an election,” he said, while also suggesting that if Biden loses, it could be linked to voter suppression.

Litchman isn’t alone when it comes to concerns around voter suppression — the FBI has opened an investigation into anonymous robocalls seeking to discourage people from voting by warning them to “stay safe and stay home.”

In addition to the president’s continued attacks on mail-in ballots, Lichtman also believes that polling has been distorting the outcome of the election. He believes that polls are not only “irrelevant,” he thinks they should be “abolished.” Similar to 2016, the polling industry has caught fire from critics for underestimating Trump support and being off, particularly in states like Florida and Texas. 

“What useful purpose possibly do they serve except to mislead the American people and perhaps distort the vote,” he said. 

The other problem of polls, according to Lichtman, is that they don’t reveal the underlying dynamic of elections. He said that they are being used as predictors when in reality polls are just snapshots of campaigns at a certain point in time.

“All of these poll compilers — they’re totally using polls as predictors,” he said. “They’re distorting our election system, we have a problem with the polls. They have vastly greater error than they tell you.”

Lichtman’s parting advice was to be patient on the voting counting process.

“Voters should be patient and should wait until all legal votes are counted and pay no heed to the phony claims of Donald Trump that he actually won the election,” he said. 

Written and reported by senior writer Tess Bonn.