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What makes a democracy work is that the losing side accepts the legitimacy of an election. Polls this year have shown that partisans on both sides may have trouble accepting the outcome. Lucy Perkins of member station WESA in Pittsburgh reports on how that is playing out with a group of voters in Pennsylvania.
LUCY PERKINS, BYLINE: This is the first presidential election Savannah Henry will be old enough to vote in. She's a junior at the University of Pittsburgh and tried to vote absentee in the 2018 midterms. But she never got her ballot, so she's voting in person on campus this fall.
SAVANNAH HENRY: Like, if they're sending me to campus, and I'm, like, back enrolled in school and I'm expected to go to class and to do all of these different things, I can go vote.
PERKINS: Savannah is a progressive Democrat from Erie. She's troubled by Trump's false claims of mail-in voting fraud and by his acknowledgment that low Black voter turnout helped him win in 2016.
HENRY: This country is no stranger to, like, making it harder for certain populations to vote. And I'm a college student. I'm Black. If they see that on paper, like, I feel like it's easier for them to, like, you know, throw it out.
PERKINS: To be clear, attributes like race and age are not listed on ballots. Savannah still thinks voting by mail is a good idea, and a lot of Pennsylvanians seem to agree. Millions of people applied to vote by mail this fall, and the vast majority of them are Democrats. That imbalance worries Republican Ed Cwiklinski.
ED CWIKLINSKI: While I don't think that people are going to cast votes illegitimately, I think the system was set up so that more Democrats would vote.
PERKINS: Ed's in his 40s and lives in the suburbs south of Pittsburgh. He plans to vote for President Trump in person on Election Day because while he generally trusts voting by mail, he says there are too many kinks to work out. Ed says he's watching closely for suspicious activity and says he has to trust the results unless there are signs of fraud. Ed hopes Trump will do that, too, though he worries the president will cry foul before every vote is counted.
CWIKLINSKI: Yeah, it concerns me because Trump should just not say anything. But I'm sure he will.
PERKINS: Some Democrats are worried that Trump has not committed to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses, but Ed thinks those concerns are groundless.
CWIKLINSKI: Trump's in to win anything he does. He's not going to be asked, will you commit to a peaceful transfer of power? - because if he says yes, then reporters will say, see? Trump knows he's going to lose. Or they'll take whatever he says and use it against him.
PERKINS: Republican Mary Henze agrees. She says it's absurd to worry about Trump refusing to respect election results.
MARY HENZE: I think you're giving a scenario that's not going to happen. He has more class than that even though we don't see it all the time. Trump's going to win. He's going to win. I'm sure of that.
PERKINS: Mary's in her 50s and lives in Pittsburgh's exurbs. She doesn't like the idea that the results will change as mail-in ballots are counted. So although she missed voting in the primary because she was getting chemotherapy, Mary plans to vote in person despite the health risks.
HENZE: I will trust the in-person voting. I don't know that I can honestly say that I would trust the mail-in voting.
PERKINS: Democrat Linda Bishop is in her 60s and lives north of Pittsburgh in Mars, Pa. She worries about long lines at mostly Black polling places across the country and voter ID laws that can discourage many people from voting.
LINDA BISHOP: It's not voter fraud. It's voter suppression. That's what the real issue is in this election.
PERKINS: Linda plans to vote by mail this year. But if the results are close, she worries Republicans will sow distrust in the outcome.
BISHOP: There needs to be an absolutely overwhelming victory for Biden that his supporters will have no choice but to accept.
PERKINS: Meanwhile, the Republicans I spoke to believe it's Democrats who won't accept the results if Trump wins.
For NPR News, I'm Lucy Perkins in Pittsburgh.
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