Trump is Trying to Steal Our Election. Again.
Donald Trump will stop at nothing to stay in power. For starters, despite the pandemic, and putting self-preservation above public health, he is trying to make it more difficult to vote by mail because, he says, “Mail ballots, they cheat.”
For the last six months Trump has repeatedly tweeted that voting by mail, especially universal mail-in voting – where every registered voter receives a ballot by mail and votes by mail – will make 2020 “the most inaccurate and fraudulent election in history. . . . The universal mail-ins that are just sent all over the place,” he alleged, “where people can grab stacks of them, and sign them and do whatever you want, that’s the thing we’re against.” In another tweet, he claimed, “Mailboxes will be robbed, ballots will be forged and illegally printed and fraudulently signed. . . . This will be a rigged election.”
The big lie. In fact, voting by mail, including universal vote by mail, is actually less susceptible to fraud than in-person voting. Ballots are sent only to registered voters – there are no “stacks of ballots” to grab – and the voter must sign the ballot return envelope, if the signature doesn’t match the voter’s registration card, the ballot isn’t counted.
In any case, voter fraud, whether in-person or by mail, is infinitesimal relative to the total number of ballots cast. An analysis of 2016 and 2018 elections in three universal vote-by-mail states, Washington, Oregon and Colorado – uncovered only 372 possible instances of double voting or impersonation of a deceased voter, a tiny 0.0025% out of 14.6 million votes cast. Nationwide, according to a 2017 study by the Brennan Center for Justice, the number is 0.0003, about the same as the odds of being struck by lightning.
On September 22, 2020, FBI Director Christopher Wray testified to Congress that his agency has never found “any kind of coordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election.” And election officials across the country say that election infrastructure, e.g., electronic voting machines, is much more secure now that it was in 2016.
Before the pandemic, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Utah and Hawaii were the only universal vote-by-mail states, but New Jersey, Vermont, California and New Jersey have since signed on, and Montana, North Dakota and Nebraska allow individual counties to decide whether to mail ballots to all registered voters. Twenty other states and D.C. sent out mail-in ballots upon request, no questions asked. A recent Brennan Center poll found that four out of five Americans think that all voters should have a no-excuse mail ballot option, and a Washington Post analysis estimates that at least 83% of Americans are eligible to vote by mail in the 2020 election. One way or another, election officials predict a voter tsunami in November, a turnout of 156 million, almost 70% of eligible voters, and that almost 100 million will vote by mail, triple the 33 million mail-in ballots in 2016.
For more than six decades, our presidents, Republican and Democrat alike, have defended and expanded the voting rights of all Americans. President Lyndon Johnson urging the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965
“Many issues of civil rights are very complex and difficult. But about this there can be no argument. Every American citizen must have an equal right to vote.” President Lyndon Johnson urging the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965
“The right to vote is the crown jewel of American liberties.” Ronald Reagan in 1982, extending the 1965 Voting Rights Act
“The right of ordinary men and women to determine their own political future lies at the heart of the American experiment, a right won by the sacrifices of patriots, . . . at Lexington and Concord, . . . and at the price of a terrible civil war.” George W. Bush after signing the Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006
But the Voting Rights Act was gutted in 2013 by the conservative-packed U.S. Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder, invalidating a requirement that states and local governments with a history of voter discrimination get “preclearance” from the U.S. Justice Department before enacting any new voting laws.
The rationale of Chief Justice John Roberts in his 5 – 4 majority opinion was that preclearance had been so effective that it was no longer necessary. In her dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out that “throwing out preclearance because it has worked . . . is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” No surprise, after Shelby came down, many of those same jurisdictions passed new voter ID laws – Texas, for example, did so the very next day – that make it harder for people of color to vote, especially the poor, who often don’t have driver’s licenses because they don’t have cars. In 2000, not a single state required voters to present a photo ID at the polls, today 17 states do.
Earlier this year, the House passed HR 1, the 2020 Voting Rights Advancement Act – currently stalled in the Senate by Mitch McConnell – to restore the safeguards eviscerated by Shelby County. Trump told Fox & Friends, “They had things in there, levels of voting that if you’d ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”
He was saying, in short, “If more people vote, Republicans lose and I lose, and we can’t have that.” Unlike our other recent presidents, Trump doesn’t give a fig about American liberties or the sacrifices of patriots, only about his own reelection.
In a recent interview with Maria Bartiromo on Fox Business Network, Trump admitted starving the U.S. Postal Service of funding so that it wouldn’t be able to handle a flood of mail-in ballots that might cost him the election. “They want $25 billion for the Post Office. . . . They need that money to make the Post Office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots. . . . If we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money, . . . that means they can’t have universal mail-in voting, they just can’t have it.”
In June 2020, Trump appointed Louis DeJoy, who since 2016 has put more than $1.2 million into Trump’s campaign coffers plus $1.3 million more to the Republican Party, as Postmaster General. Dejoy, who made his fortune in New Breed Logistics, a national logistics and supply-chain services company that competes with the U.S. Postal Service, has eliminated hundreds of senior managers, slashed overtime, and even ordered the dismantling of automatic sorting machines, cynical changes that career postal workers say will hinder their ability to deliver mail-in ballots on time.
To skirt mail delays, election officials in many states now provide official drop-off locations where voters can safely turn in their mail-in ballots. In Texas, heavily Democratic Harris County, which has 4.7 million residents and covers 1,700 square miles, including Houston, set up 12 drop-off sites, and Texas Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins rendered an opinion that nothing in Texas election law limits the number.
But the next day, Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican and big Trump supporter, issued an executive order limiting each of the 256 counties in Texas to just one ballot drop-off location, alleging that multiple centers could not be secured and would result in voter fraud, despite the fact that voters must present a proper ID to drop off their ballots and may not deliver anyone else’s ballot.
In Abbott’s world, fairness means that Harris County, pop. 4.2 million, Dallas County, 2.5 million, and Travis County (Austin), 1.3 million, have the same number of ballot drop-offs, just one, as Forde County, pop. 1,300, Culberson County, 2,400, and Jeff Davis County, 2,300 – yes, that Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy.
U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pittman blocked Abbott’s order. “By limiting ballot return centers to one per county,” Pitman wrote, “older and disabled voters living in Texas’s largest and most populous counties must travel further distances to more crowded ballot return centers where they would be at an increased risk of being infected by the coronavirus in order to exercise their right to vote and have it counted.”
But even as Texas counties were already collecting ballots from the drop-off centers, a 5th Circuit three-judge panel, all appointed by Trump, stayed Pittman’s ruling, saying that voters still have adequate options for casting their ballots. In fact, only a small percentage of voters are affected by Abbott’s order, because unlike most other states, Texas restricts absentees ballots to voters 65 or older, disabled, in jail or outside the county. In Austin, Democratic congressman Lloyd Daggett noted acidly, “This is not about election security, it is about Republican political insecurity.”
Chris Hollins, the county clerk for Harris County countered Abbott’s order by adding several drive-through polling locations where voters can hand over their ballots to election officials. The Republican Party of Texas immediately sued to shut down all drive-thru sites, calling it “illegal voting.” Lillie Schecter, chair of the Harris County Democratic Party, asked puckishly, “We just want people to vote, when did that become a thing?”
In California, Republicans went in the other direction, installing dozens of unauthorized “Official” ballot drop boxes outside churches and gun shops in four Southern California counties with competitive House races. State law permits only election officials to set up drop boxes, for the obvious reason that “ballot harvesting” by political parties is an invitation to fraud; e.g., ballots from drop-offs in predominately Republican areas will be delivered to state counting centers, but not ballots from heavily Democratic areas. California’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, sent Republican party officials a cease-and-desist letter with 48 hours to comply or face civil and criminal penalties. But true to form, Trump encouraged Republicans in other Democratic states to try the same tactic, tweeting, “New York and Illinois – go for it!”
In Colorado, which has universal absentee voting, voters return their ballots to locked steel containers weighing as much as 600 pounds, bolted to the ground in brightly lit locations videotaped 24/7. According to Secretary of State Jena Griswold, Colorado’s drop-off boxes, one for every 9,600 voters, are “emptied at least every 24 hours by teams of bipartisan election judges who must maintain a chain of custody log when transporting ballots between drop boxes and the central counting facility to ensure no ballots are removed or added.” This is the same procedure used across the country, and as in every other state, Colorado voter fraud is almost non-existent: in 2016 there were 62 cases of potential double voting referred for investigation, a tiny 0.0027 percent of the 1.5 million ballots cast.
But the threat of voter intimidation is very real. Voters who plan to go to the polls to vote in person will be met by 50,000 poll watchers recruited by Trump and the Republican National Committee. “Trump’s Army,” he calls them. “We’re going to have everything,” he told Fox News host Sean Hannity, “We’re going to have sheriffs, and we’re going to have law enforcement, and we’re going to hopefully have U.S. attorneys and . . . attorney generals.”
These are not garden variety volunteer poll watchers, typically from both parties at every polling place, who must wear IDs, stay outside of the area where voters cast their ballots, and direct any challenges or questions to election personnel, not to voters.
Instead, Trump is taking a page from an old Republican playbook. For the 1981 elections, the Republican National Committee (RNC) formed the “Ballot Security Task Force” (BSTF), made up of off-duty deputy sheriffs and police officers, carrying revolvers, two-way radios and BSTF armbands, who questioned and challenged Black and Hispanic voters in Newark and Trenton.
After the election, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) filed a federal lawsuit for violations of the Voting Rights Act. Rather than go to trial, the RNC agreed to a consent decree prohibiting any more voter suppression tactics. But the damage had already been done. Republican Thomas Kean edged Democrat James Florio by a mere 1,797 out of more than 2 million votes cast.
In his 2016 campaign, Trump claimed that the election was “rigged” and urged his supporters to watch the polls for “voter fraud.” The DNC went to court alleging that the RNC had violated the consent decree and asked for it to be extended beyond its December 2017 sunset date. But U.S. District Judge John Vazquez ruled that although Trump had clearly encouraged voter suppression during the 2016 campaign, his statement could not be tied to the RNC and the consent decree, ignoring the obvious: for the last four years Trump has had an iron grip on the Republican party, what he says goes.
Bottom line, the 2020 election will be the first since 1980 that Republicans will be able to deploy “ballot security operations, and last year Justin Clark, one of Trump’s top campaign directors was recorded on tape telling the Wisconsin Chapter of the Republican National Lawyers Associationthat voter suppression is “traditionally” part of Republican strategy in battleground states, that expiration of the consent decree was a “huge, huge, huge deal for us,” and “that what you’re going to see in 2020 . . . is going to be a much bigger . . . more aggressive . . . better-funded program.”
And poll watchers are the least of it. According to Chad Wolf, the Trump-appointed head of the Department of Homeland Security, violent white supremacists are the “most persistent and lethal threat in the homeland through 2021,” and that “open-air, publicly accessible parts of physical election infrastructure,” including polling places and voter registration events, could be “flash points for potential violence.”
This is not hyperbole, it is understatement. When a large groups of men in carrying military assault weapons show up at polling places, or at peaceful Black Lives Matter marches, or on the steps of statehouses and courthouses across America, or plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan, the unvarnished message is, don’t cross us, you will regret it. And when Wayne LaPierre, the head of the National Rifle Association, declares, “The guys with guns make the rules,” he means that right-wing vigilantes with guns, not the ballot box, will settle political disputes. This is the antithesis of democracy, profoundly un-American, indeed treasonous, and on the threshold of a warlord state or a second civil war.
Even after he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016, Trump claimed – with zero evidence – that “millions and millions” of people voted illegally, and that was why he lost the popular vote, surely the first U.S. president to allege “illegal voting” in the election he had just won. And he whined for weeks that crowds at his inauguration had been undercounted, that he had “the largest audience to ever see an inauguration,” much larger than Obama’s, despite videos showing the overwhelming opposite.
But that was just Trump’s ego talking. Now he is railing against “illegal voting” because he is afraid he will actually lose the election, and so is trying to convince his supporters that the only way he loses is if Democrats cheat.
Take Philadelphia. During the first debate, Trump said, “As you know today there was a big problem. “In Philadelphia, they went in to watch, poll watchers, a very safe, very nice thing. They were thrown out, they weren’t allowed to watch. You know why? Because bad things happen in Philadelphia, bad things.” Thea McDonald from the Trump campaign chimed in, “Democrats have proven their lack of trustworthiness time and again this election cycle.” And Donald Trump, Jr. tweeted, “The radical left are laying the groundwork to steal this election from my father. “
Once again, the big lie. Philadelphia has a bipartisan election board. When asked about Trump’s aspersions, Commissioner Nick Custodio said, “Watchers on Election Day are there to observe, and a lot of them will check tally sheets or which voters have shown up to vote so far, but they can’t be intimidating people.” Another, Omar Sabir, made clear, “We have law enforcement officers, we have protocols in place to make sure all the voters are safe. . . . Don’t let anything or anyone intimidate you from exercising your right to vote.”
Rick L. Hasen, an elections law expert at the University of California – Irvine, noted in a recent New York Times op-ed that Trump has made “at least 91 attacks on the integrity of voting so far this year (and more than 700 since 2012), and filed lawsuits in Pennsylvania challenging the way the state collects and counts ballots, in Nevada attacking its new universal absentee ballot system, and in Iowa seeking to invalidate tens of thousands of absentee ballots in two heavily Democratic counties.”
In fact, the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee are spending $20 million on voter suppression lawsuits in more than a dozen states, including the Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, Colorado, Nevada and Iowa battlegrounds, to block the expansion of mail-in voting. Last June, Trump admitted to a Politico reporter, “My biggest risk is that we don’t win lawsuits. Because if we don’t win those lawsuits, I think it puts the election [referring to his own re-election] at risk.”
Dr. Hasen concluded: “Trump’s unsubstantiated of voter fraud may be aimed at sowing chaos during the election and depressing turnout to help his side win election. Worse, it could be calculated to delegitimize the election results, which could allow him to contest a close election or weaken a Biden presidency. . . . We cannot count on him to speak responsibly about the fairness of the 2020 vote count. Indeed, he is one of the biggest threats to the integrity of the election.”
In a subsequent interview, Hasen said, “While I was worried about Trump norm-breaking in 2016, it is far worse for a sitting president to be undermining the integrity of the election . . . . That is profoundly destabilizing and scary.”
In his first televised debate with Joe Biden, Trump told the neo-Nazi Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by,” a dog whistle for voter intimidation and even violence on Election Day. And when asked if he would leave gracefully, make a smooth transition, if he lost the election, Trump said, “We’ll see.” Scary and then some.
Sam Levine & Spenser Mestel, Just Like Propaganda: The Three Men Enabling Trump’s Voter Fraud Lies – The Guardian – October 26, 2020
Rick L. Hasen, Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks, Distrust and the Threat to American Democracy (2020)
Shelby County v. Holder, 570 U.S. 529 (2013)