Richard Hasen– probably the pre-eminent American scholar of voting and elections–had a column in last week’s New York Timesin which he patiently dismantled Trump’s barrage of criticisms of mail-in-voting.
Not that anyone who listens to or actually believes anything Trump says would be likely to read the Times.
I have only one quibble with Hasen’s essay–his assertion that Trump’s relentless attacks on mail-in voting are part of a “strategy.” After watching Trump for nearly 4 years, it is my considered opinion that the development of a strategy–let alone adherence to it–is far beyond his capacities.
Be that as it may, Hasen says there are two possible reasons for the assault: to create an excuse in advance of a loss, or an effort to create chaos that will both drive down turnout and undermine the legitimacy of the election. Hasen “very much fears” that the latter is correct, and that Trump is laying the groundwork for contesting his loss in a close election.
You can’t say he isn’t giving it his all. As Hasen reports,
Mr. Trump has made at least 91 attacks on the integrity of voting so far this year (and more than 700 since 2012) and backed up his complaints about mail-in ballots with lawsuits in Pennsylvania, Nevada and Iowa. He has repeatedly tweeted the unsupported claim that increased use of mail-in ballots in November, necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic, will lead to voter fraud and a rigged election.
These attacks have been more than a little contradictory–evidencing Trump’s usual scattershot and illogical approach to most issues–and raising a not-insignificant possibility that they will end up hurting Republicans as much as–or even more than–the Democrats who are his targets.
The end game here is a bit curious because Republicans traditionally have relied on mail-in balloting to get out the vote, and there are already signs that Republican turnout might be hurt by his rantings. How else to explain the president seeking to distinguish between good “absentee” voting and bad “mail-in” balloting and urging Floridians to vote by mail? And how else to explain the president not only repeatedly voting by mail but using a third person — what Mr. Trump refers to as “ballot harvesting” — to deliver his own ballot to election officials in the Florida primary on Tuesday?
Hasen patiently explains why Trump’s claims of fraud are bogus (or as he phrases it, “unsupported by the evidence.”) Absentee ballot fraud is rare. There have been fewer than 500 prosecutions for such behavior over a 12 year period in which more than a billion ballots were cast, and Hasen tells us that they tended to involve small elections “when there wasn’t an active press looking for chicanery.” (An observation that reinforces the importance of a robust local press…but that’s a subject for another day.) Furthermore, Hasen says that the relative rarity of cases shouldn’t surprise us, because states have all kinds of security measures in place. Those security measures go well beyond signature matching, to include ballot tracking and statements signed under penalty of perjury.
The real danger posed by this campaign of disinformation is in the event of close election results on November 3d.
A “blue shift” toward Democrats as later votes are counted is now a well-established phenomenon; as Democrats vote later, their ballots are counted later, leading to a good number of elections where Republican leads on election night turn into Democratic victories when the full and fair count ends.
Trump could claim, as he did in a 2018 U.S. Senate race in Florida, that later-counted ballots are fraudulent (a claim he abandoned when Rick Scott, a Republican, won the race). It could lead millions of his supporters to believe that Democrats stole the election, when in fact all that happened was that battleground states engaged in a close and careful count of ballots to ensure the election’s integrity.
To the extent that Trump has a “strategy,” my guess would be that this describes it. And after years of anti-government rhetoric, topped off by the in-your-face-illegality of this administration, Americans’ distrust of our institutions will feed those suspicions.
Vote early–and if at all possible, in person.