More on Questioning Electoral Outcomes
Yes, there can be real problems with election activities, but that does not excuse POTUS' lies about fraud.
In a post earlier this week I noted, and highly criticized, Trump for his fact-free accusations of voter fraud/election stealing. He was playing with fire in making his wild, baseless claims. Such statements, when believed by his supporters and propagated through right wing news outlets, undercuts the basic foundation of American democracy. If people start to lose faith in electoral outcomes, the show is over for our current form of government. That is not hyperbole. If elections are not trusted you get, as best, something like Putin’s Russia or Mexico prior to 2000: a situation in which elections are a game that the government knows it need to engage in, but where those elections are not actually choosing who governs. Or, you can get much worse than that. As such, given that I have studied democracy (both its failings and its flourishings) for quite some time now, I am approaching this very seriously and honestly believe that we risk profound consequences if this kind of thing continues.
Worse, I would note that it did not start with Trump, although like most things he has taken it to a cruder, more blatant level. Cries about in-person voter fraud, as well as paranoia about illegal immigrant voting, has sparked a number of laws across the land that have clearly created barriers to voting.
To state my basic position on this: I am not unsympathetic, in the abstract, to voter ID. Indeed, on one level it makes perfect sense for all voters to have appropriate identification. The problem is that if we are going to have IDs, then they need to be universal, free, and easy to obtain. Studies are quite clear as to whom these laws effect, and it is minority groups and other vulnerable populations (e.g., the elderly and the poor). Further, studies are also clear on how little (to the point of being nonexistent) in-person voter fraud is. As such, while I support the notion in principle, most voter ID laws lead to a diminution of ballot access for vulnerable citizens while at the same time increasing costs all the while “solving” a non-existent problem. Hence, I cannot support these laws as they are typically written. I would note that plenty of countries have national IDs (and automatic registration), so this can be done.
I have been writing about this for a long time, and here are some past posts:
- Voter Fraud Exposed!
- Voter Registration Restrictions and Representative Democracy
- Yet Again: No Evidence of Voter Fraud
- More on Voter ID
- Yet Again: No Evidence of Voter Fraud
- Fighting the Scourge of Voter Fraud
- Another Poor Attempt at Illustrating the Scourge of Voter Fraud
- Back When the Bush Administration Investigated Voter Fraud
- The Scourge that is in-Person Voter Fraud
That is likely not all the posts I have written on this topic, and doesn’t even count a large number by Doug and James along similar lines. (See, also, a linkful post by the Brennan Center: Debunking the Voter Fraud Myth).
The really important issue here is not voter ID specifically, but rather it is that the Republican Party has been spreading a narrative of doubt about our elections for some time, and Trump is now turning up the dial to 11. I cannot say often enough that this is dangerous to basic democracy. Democracy requires some level of trust in process. Lose enough of that trust and you lose democracy.
Now, a critic (or just a general observer not as convinced of the seriousness of this) might note several of things. First, surely the integrity of the vote matters, so ID and other rules are needed. Second, we all know that voter fraud has happened in the past (and around the world), so shouldn’t we be vigilant? Third, aren’t Democrats causing problems just like Trump by talking about voter suppression and Russian interference?
First, yes, legitimate concern about electoral integrity is fair (and important). But it has to be grounded in credible facts. There is no evidence of in-person voter fraud of significance (unless one thinks a literal handful of examples is “evidence”). Again, see all the links above. We should be more concerned with the security of mail-in ballots as well as possible vulnerability to hacking of voter totals and registration rolls. I am not claiming that such things have happened, but am noting that if we are truly worried about system integrity, this is where we should be focusing our energies.
To be honest, things like ballot design are more of a threat to accurate electoral outcomes than voter fraud (not to mention the antiquated patchwork that is our system).
Second, yes, there have been examples of real, actual fraud in the US. The most prominent have been ballot-box stuffing via ballot cast on behalf of the dead (see, for example, this article about the 1948 election of LBJ to the US Senate). There are also tales of voter fraud in Chicago. Still, we are talking about isolated events decades ago (although some dead folk voting was discovered in Chicago in the 1990s). Of course, the best way to deal with that is to spend the money necessary to modernize voter registration mechanisms and maintenance. There are real problems to be addressed, but if one is serious about voter integrity, focus on those issues, not fantasies of people changing their clothes in the car and voting more than once.
Third, in my previous post some commenters pointed out that there have been accusations by Democrats of voter suppression by Republicans and Russian interference that helped Trump–surely that is the same as Trump’s tweets and rants? But, of course, that is nonsense. To point out that the effects (if not the explicit goals) of some laws are voter suppression is not fomenting authoritarianism. Indeed, it is the opposite. Now, one needs to be careful not to go overboard on accusations and to properly discuss these matters. I would be uncomfortable, for example, with claims that Kemp stole the Georgia governor’s election from Abrams, but am fully on board with the notion that the situation may very well have been one in which various laws led to voter repression. Let’s investigate, research, and understand and work to counter such a situation. In other words, I have suspicions and concerns about Georgia, but don’t think evidence-free assumptions should fuel accusations.
But, and this is a HUGE but, there has not been massive voting by illegals, as the president has claimed. There was no attempt to steal the Florida elections, and there weren’t people changing their clothes in their car so they can vote multiple times. Here’s the President of the United States, in an interview with the Daily Caller:
“When people get in line that have absolutely no right to vote and they go around in circles. Sometimes they go to their car, put on a different hat, put on a different shirt, come in and vote again. Nobody takes anything. It’s really a disgrace what’s going on.”
That is a blatant, fantastical lie conjured out of some fever dream. It is utterly unacceptable for the President to be making such claims. That is the highest elected official in the country actively encouraging the delegitimatization of our democracy. That should be an outrage no matter what party you identify with.
And no, this is not the same as pointing out that there is evidence that the Russians attempted to influence the 2016 election, because there is credible evidence that they did. It is not the same as pointing out the empirical evidence of the effects of voter ID laws (and the empirical evidence that in-person voter fraud is not a problem–see, also, The Atlantic: Voter Suppression Is Warping Democracy). It is not the same as noting that at least some Republicans actually do see the goal of voter ID laws as voter suppression (just go through the examples in this NYT piece).
In short: either one thinks citizens should have direct, easy access to a fundamental right, or one does not. It shouldn’t matter who is helped by more voting–indeed, if you don’t want more voting because it will damage your party, then you don’t really believe in democracy.
I will conclude that if the best one can muster in defense of Trump’s lies about voters fraud is to engage in whataboutism, then one is empowering an authoritarian turn that Putin would gladly embrace, as whataboutism is a major tool in his toolbox.