Trust In Our Elections

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With less than three weeks before Election Day, every issue seems to take on outsized significance in our polarized electorate. Both sides characterize a win by the other as being a catastrophe for America. As always, the truth will be found somewhere in between.

However, one narrative being pushed by Donald Trump is the idea that anything other than an outright victory by him will be the result of fraud and, in his words, “a rigged election.” To us, this kind of rhetoric is extremely damaging to the unwritten norms that have guided the American Experiment for over 200 years. That this idea has taken hold in some corners of the Republican Party is troubling.

Trump has set the table for possible chaos after the election by sowing doubt about voting by mail, by making false claims about non-citizens voting in the 2016 election and by pushing what amounts to voter intimidation at polling places.

The idea that an absentee ballot mailed in is any different from a mail ballot sent to all registered voters is ridiculous. Trump says he favors requested absentee voting – he votes that way himself. Vote by mail, where all voters receive a ballot, has worked in a number of states for years, with very little vote fraud. Indeed the largest vote fraud in recent memory involved requested absentee ballots in North Carolina’s 9th congressional district in 2018, affecting over 900 votes. A 2018 case in Virginia involved a man in James City County trying to cast a vote for his dead wife. The Heritage Foundation lists all cases of voter fraud on its website. Since 2014, this site lists 44 cases. When looked at against a total of over 136 million votes cast in the 2016 presidential election, it’s clear that actual vote fraud is a non-issue. But this doesn’t stop Trump from sowing the seeds of mistrust in our elections.

Trump’s continual claims that if he loses, it will be the result of a rigged elections has no basis in fact. But it does parallel efforts by other countries, particularly Russia, that are using disinformation tactics to push distrust in our elections. The Russians take any opportunity to foment mistrust in our institutions.

The weight of this broadside of misinformation on mail voting, on claiming that elections could be rigged – ludicrous considering that thousands of local electoral boards in 50 states would be working together in a plot – has stirred talk about possible scenarios happening in the days and weeks after Nov. 3, when the mountain of absentee and mail ballots are counted. If one side takes the position that these ballots are somehow suspect, that party may try to cast the entire election in doubt. Can our democratic institutions withstand this – who knows?

All of this demonstrates how much our system of government depends upon a general acceptance of norms of behavior that are not in the Constitution or specifically written into law, but have been accepted for hundreds of years by politicians of all parties and ideologies, until now.

For the good of the country, and ultimately, the Republican Party, party leaders should repudiate this strategy of illegitimization of our elections. Votor suppression, fear-mongering and misinformation will cause its demographic to shrink even further.

Could a new conservative party spring from the ashes of the current GOP, as the Republican Party did from the ashes of the Whigs in the 1850s? If today’s Republicans have to stoop to the tactics they’re using, it would not be surprising.

The News-Gazette

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