Carson Bonner, Campus Carrier news editor
The 2020 election, known primarily for its political partisanship, resulted in some unprecedented events. Some of the most notable events were the January 6 insurrection, and subsequen investigation against former president, Donald Trump. A grand jury in Georgia has concluded a report that may or may not recommend indiction for Trump. Though the jury cannot indict Trump, the report can recommend such action. As Georgia votes were being counted, Trump contacted Georgia’s secretary of state Brad Raffensperger, asking him to discard votes he claimed were fraudulent, so that he could win the state of Georgia.
The grand jury’s job is to decide whether or not that attempt to influence the election is criminal or simply a political action. While they cannot indict or punish him, their decision will either push the case to the district attorney or it will be decided he did nothing wrong. It is also possible that the jury will decide his subordinates are at fault, in which case they will have a case with multiple defendants in the court.
“The grand jury might actually decide to completely leave Trump out of it,” Associate Professor of Political Science Eric Sands said. “We don’t know what the investigation has concluded. There were voting irregularities, but there always are. In many instances you have antiquated voting systems, machines that aren’t working correctly so you get pockets and surges of suspicious votes, but there was a thorough investigation of those things and nothing untoward was found.”
In serious cases that require a grand jury, the jury has investigative powers that give them the ability to subpoena, ask that evidence be produced, and the prosecutor will present all the evidence. The jury will then decide if charges should be brought.
“They looked at written communications that took place between President Trump and the Georgia officials,” Sands said. “They’ll especially be looking at interactions with the secretary of state office. If there are phone calls that existed between Trump and the secretary, then those will have been listened to as well.”
There have never been criminal charges brought against a former president so if there is a case that continues as a result of the grand jury investigation, this will not only set a precedent for the criminal justice system, but the political system as well.
“Part of it will come down to what they charge him with,” Sands said. “I understand why the district attorney is doing this: to get an accounting of what happened. I just think we need to be careful, because I don’t want to see this become the criminalization of politics. Politics is a rough and tumble place where lots of morally dubious things happen all the time. But we don’t want to say that normal political activity is criminal in nature and requires prosecution and investigation.”
From a voter perspective, this level of controversy in the system has been unsettling, according to sophomore Peter Merrill, who voted for the first time in the 2020 election.
“It doesn’t really generate a lot of faith in our system,” Merrill said. “And I think that this is a common experience for people our age. We see a breakdown of these structures and the way voting is supposed to work and the fact that things moved as far as they did in regards to Trump’s attempts to alter the election is disturbing.”
Part of Trump’s efforts to swing the election in Georgia in his favor was claiming that the votes were being cast in the names of deceased people or people incapable of voting. According to Merrill, the reaction to the election proved this was incorrect. In his hometown of Atlanta, the election of President Joe Biden resulted in people celebrating in the street.
“In Atlanta, I went outside after the results were announced and the streets were completely filled with cars,” Merrill said. “People were waving flags and the whole city came out to celebrate. I’d never seen anything like that. To see that, and then have Trump say it was all dead people voting and that it was all a scam, it’s just very blatantly obvious to anyone who lives here that that’s not true.”
After the announcement of the grand jury’s decision, it will remain to be seen whether Trump will face criminal charges and some form of consequence with this new precedent, or if it will be resolved that what he did was merely an act of political influence that is in no way criminal.
“I’m interested as to what the punishment would be in a situation that has no precedent before it,” Sands said. “It’s entirely up to the justice system to decide if there is even a case. Whether or not there is, the only thing we can do is see how it plays out.”