Joshua Douglas says Trump's fantastical views about potential voter fraud need to be countered by the Senate majority leader
Douglas: The fact is that voter fraud occurs at such a minuscule level that it hardly ever affects a race
Talking about a "rigged election" strips US voting of the democratic virtue admired worldwide, he says
Editor’s Note: Joshua A. Douglas is a law professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law who specializes in election law and voting rights, with a specific focus on the constitutional right to vote, election administration, and post-election disputes. He is the co-editor of a new book, “Election Law Stories.” He has contributed to and volunteered for the Hillary Clinton campaign. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaADouglas. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
Mitch McConnell must end this nonsense.
McConnell, the Senate majority leader from Kentucky, must take a stand against Donald Trump’s irresponsible claims of vote rigging and election fraud. They are untrue, unproven and dangerous for the rule of law. McConnell, as the top establishment Republican, will do the country a great service if he calls it what it is: inaccurate fear-mongering.
The fact is that voter fraud occurs at such a minuscule level that it hardly ever affects a race. Moreover, it does not happen in the way that Trump and other Republicans seem to think: through in-person impersonation or individuals voting multiple times. The only proven fraud that exists, infrequent as it is, entails absentee balloting or paying off poll workers, typically to sway a local election. Voter ID laws, which Trump and others champion as a cure for our elections, would do nothing to solve that kind of fraud.
McConnell should know. His own state of Kentucky has an unfortunate history of election fraud in some parts of the state. Stories of vote buying, through absentee ballots or complicit poll workers, are part of the lore of eastern Kentucky politics.
Yet a strict voter ID law would do nothing to prevent that wrongful activity. Hardly anyone shows up to the polls pretending to be someone else. Perhaps that is why Kentucky does not have a strict voter ID requirement, instead focusing its election integrity efforts on prosecuting the kind of fraud that does, occasionally, occur.
In fact, not only is in-person impersonation virtually nonexistent, but it is also patently stupid if one really wants to throw an election. It would take a massive effort with tons of people involved, and yet there would be very little chance of actually altering the outcome. This is because one would need a lot of complicit people to all go to the polls and pretend to be someone else to change the vote totals enough to sway an election.
Further, the more people involved in the conspiracy, the more likely they will be caught. No wonder those few people with nefarious intentions opt to use absentee ballots or crooked poll workers to try to change the result – and even then they are usually caught, such as when eight local politicians and poll workers were convicted of vote-buying in Clay County, Kentucky, in 2010. But Trump is not talking about this kind of inside job, and in any event, even this kind of fraud is quite rare.
Trump’s frequent suggestions of a rigged election, more than just foolish words of a candidate looking for attention, are causing real harm to our democracy. Some voters are now starting to question whether their votes will count properly.
Trump is calling on his supporters to show up at the polls in “certain places,” such as minority communities in Philadelphia, essentially sanctioning voter intimidation. We have already seen violence, not only at Trump rallies but also against Republicans at a GOP headquarters in North Carolina. Trump’s rhetoric is undermining the inherent virtue of our democracy, revered around the world: the peaceful transition of power.
Once again, McConnell can look to his own state to see what can happen if leaders from all sides do not renounce the dangerous and unfounded talk of election rigging. In January 1900, Democratic Kentucky gubernatorial candidate William Goebel was shot in the middle of a ballot-counting dispute. He then took the oath of office – despite serious questions about who actually won – and died four days later. The campaign was ugly, violence was expected, claims of election rigging were rampant, and unfortunately Kentucky was unable to avoid bloodshed over the election.
Republican leaders like McConnell can help defuse the current ramped-up rhetoric that could lead to actual violence by assuring the American people that, in fact, the presidential election will not suffer from election rigging, imagined or otherwise.
Paul Ryan, the Republican speaker of the House, already took one minor step in the right direction by having his spokesperson issue a statement saying, “Our democracy relies on confidence in election results, and the speaker is fully confident the states will carry out this election with integrity.” Republican Jon Husted, the secretary of state of Ohio, a battleground state, similarly said that no “election rigging” will occur in Ohio.
Virtually every election law expert, voting machine consultant, and government official with knowledge of Election Day processes agrees that the result of the 2016 presidential election will not suffer from election rigging or voter fraud.
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Anyone who has seriously studied the issue knows that the level of voter fraud, although not zero, is minuscule, and that in-person impersonation hardly ever exists. Yet by saying it over and over, Trump is fanning flames that are dangerous for our democracy.
McConnell enjoys the privilege of having the word “Leader” before his title. For the good of the country, it is time for him to live up to that title and be a leader right now.