The Trump-fueled pandemic has already claimed 94,000 American lives. And six months from now, the pandemic-fueled election may well wreak havoc with what’s left of American democracy.
Every time Trump opens his big mouth, that dire November scenario seems more likely. As more states prepare for universal mail balloting - understandably, they don’t want citizens to risk their health by voting in person - Trump is becoming more unhinged. He clearly fears he’ll lose if mail balloting expands the size of the electorate. Voting should take place in person, Trump riffed, on Wednesday as opposed to “when they send you a pile of stuff and you send it back.” Voting by mail is “a very dangerous thing. They’re subject to massive fraud...tremendous illegality and fraud...It’s not a fair situation...A lot of things can happen...Common sense tells you massive manipulation can take place.”
Trump, of course, is the last person who should be talking about “common sense.” The actual facts prove that mail ballot fraud is exceedingly rare. Hundreds of millions of votes were cast nationwide between 2000 and 2012, with five states (including Republican Utah) conducting virtually all-mail elections, yet the total of nationwide prosecutions for mail ballot fraud was 491. As two voting experts at the Brennan Center for Justice concluded after crunching the data, “It is more likely for an American to be struck by lightning than to commit mail voting fraud.”
Trump’s tweets about Michigan and Nevada were also predictably packed with lies. The Michigan secretary of state has sent mail ballot applications to all registered voters, which Trump said was “done illegally.” In truth, the voters of Michigan, in a 2018 referendum, approved an amendment to the state constitution that gives everyone the right to vote by mail.
Trump tried the same scam with Nevada, fuming in his tweet that Nevada’s secretary of state has sent out “illegal vote by mail ballots” - whereas, in truth, Nevada law clearly states that citizens can vote by mail for any reason.
Trump somehow neglected to denounce Georgia, Iowa, Nebraska and West Virginia - four other states that are mailing ballots to all registered voters. Gee. Why isn’t Trump mad at them too? Perhaps (just a wild guess) it’s because those are red states where his re-election prospects are decent anyway - unlike in Michigan (which he won in 2016 by a razor-thin margin and is now trailing Joe Biden) and blue-trending Nevada (which he lost in 2016 by only three points, and is now trailing Biden).
He’s so panicked about Michigan and Nevada that he threatened to withhold congressionally-mandated money from both states. That action would be unconstitutional, because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that only Congress can impose conditions on a state’s receipt of federal money - before a state agrees to take the money.
And if Trump’s threat sounds vaguely familiar - remember when he threatened to withhold promised military aid to Ukraine unless Ukraine helped him rig the 2020 election against Biden? The people who rightly impeached Trump last winter warned that if he was let off the hook he’d pull the same crap again. Presto!
So what do Trump’s latest tirades tell us? Basically, that he’s terrified of losing in November. So he’s clearly trying to lay the groundwork for denying defeat. The big danger for our democracy - especially if the national vote count is slow, thanks to the surge of mail ballots - is that his cultists will take up the cause.
“Democracy depends upon the losers of an election accepting the election results as legitimate and agreeing to regroup to fight to regain political power in the next election,” Rick Hansen, one of the nation’s top ballot experts, wrote in the Washington Post. “If large numbers of voters believe the winning side cheated in elections, we could have unrest and resistance to lawful government orders.” I’m reminded of the famous scene in Citizen Kane, when the demagogic mogul faced an electoral defeat, and his newspaper spun the loss with a headline it had prepared in advance: FRAUD AT POLLS! That was funny in reel life. It would be worse than tragic in real life
Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at DickPolman.net. Email him at email@example.com.