WASHINGTON, October 20, 2016 — In a bizarre twist in an already bizarre presidential campaign, Donald Trump says that he will not necessarily accept the results of the election but that, “I will look into it at the time.” Asked directly by debate moderator Chris Wallace whether he would accept the election result, Trump replied, “I will keep you in suspense.”
He said of Hillary Clinton, “She should never have been allowed to run.”
Trump’s claims that the election is rigged, offering no evidence to support that claim. When he was defeating his opponents in the Republican primaries, he said nothing about “rigged elections.” When he won the nomination and seemed poised to win the presidency, “rigged election” wasn’t his mantra.
Now, suffering from self-inflicted wounds and better public awareness of his history with women, business bankruptcies, lawsuits and his string of personal insults, his poll numbers have crashed.
If he loses the election, Trump says, it will not be because of anything he said or did, or his performance in the debates, but because the election is rigged.
Trump alleges that a conspiracy is underway to commit vast election fraud. Writing on Twitter on Oct. 16, he declared:
The election is absolutely rigged by the dishonest and distorted media pushing Crooked Hillary, but also at many polling places, SAD.
A week before, Trump called the presidential election “one big fix” and “one big ugly lie.”
This assertion was made hours after his running mate, Gov. Mike Pence, tried to play down Trump’s questioning of the fairness of the election. On NBC’s “Meet The Press,” Pence said he and Trump “will absolutely accept the result of the election.” Perhaps Pence should have consulted Trump before providing such an assurance.
Republican officials across the country are expressing dismay, arguing that it is a strange strategy to get voters to go to the polls and vote for Trump if the candidate repeatedly tells them that the election is fixed in advance. More than this, it threatens public confidence in the integrity of our political process, something no other candidate of either party has ever done.
Jon A. Husted, the Republican Secretary of State of Ohio, said that it was “wrong and engaging in irresponsible rhetoric” for any candidate to question the integrity of elections without evidence. “We have made it easy to vote and hard to cheat,” he said. “We are going to run a good, clean election in Ohio, like we always do.”
American elections are decentralized, rendering the possibility of large-scale fraud highly unlikely. In fact, the balloting in many of the hardest-fought states will be overseen by Republican officials who would be unlikely to help Democrats rig the vote.
Chris Ashby, a Republican election lawyer, said that Trump’s attacks on the electoral process were unprecedented. He said that Trump was “destabilizing” the election by encouraging his supporters to deputize themselves as outside poll monitors, outside the bounds of the law. He notes that, “That’s going to create a disturbance and, played out in polling places across the country, it has the potential to destabilize the election, which is very, very dangerous.”
More and more Republicans are appalled at Trump’s claims of widespread fraud, which are now a staple of his stump speech. “It is so irresponsible because what he’s doing really goes to the heart of our democracy,” said Trey Grayson, a Republican and former Secretary of State of Kentucky. “What is great about America is that we change our leaders in the ballot box, not by bullets.” Ashlee Strong, the spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, said: “Our democracy relies on confidence in election results, and the speaker is fully confident the states will carry out this election with integrity.”
Stirring doubt about the integrity of our electoral process flies in the face of everything we know about that process. Documented instances of voter fraud are very rare. Wendy R. Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School, said the rate of fraud is smaller than the rate of Americans being struck by lightning.
Rigging an election would demand a widespread, nationwide effort with the two major parties colluding at every level. Every jurisdiction has multiple overlapping systems in place to ensure fair vote counts, according to the Brennan Center. After voting is over in each polling place, representatives for the political parties and the candidates watch the election officials count the ballots. They also later participate in a public canvass where the election results are gone over again to make sure they are right.
Richard L. Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California at Irvine, said that the counting of votes at county offices and other places is “a transparent act with Republicans, Democrats and good government groups watching the counting.” To the question of whether many dead people are casting ballots, Wendy Weiser reports that, “There have been a handful of cases where votes have been cast in the name of dead people, and those have typically been minuscule in scale (like someone voting in the name of his or her recently deceased spouse) or involved ballot-box stuffing by unscrupulous election insiders. There has been no incident in over a century in which people were able to impact an election by mobilizing fraudsters to impersonate dead people at the polls.”
In the case people impersonating others at the polls, states Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt, now deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, only 31 incidents of voter impersonation were found out of more than a billion ballots cast between 2000 and 2014. The Government Accountability Office concluded in a report to Congress that the Justice Department had found “no apparent cases of in-person voter impersonation out of more than a billion ballots cast between 2000 and 2014.”
The claims of a rigged election have no basis in reality, but seem to be a diversion to direct voters’ attention away from emerging scandals which have been engulfing the Trump campaign. Judge Richard Posner, a conservative judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, said: “Beside the risks to the politicians, think of how much it would cost to orchestrate an effective voter impersonation fraud, given the number of voters who must be bribed, and in amounts generous enough to overcome their fear of being detected.”
The only Republicans who have supported the “rigged election” claims made by Trump are his surrogates—-Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, Sen Jeff Sessions (R-AL), and a handful of others. . Clearly, they will find a way to embrace whatever Trump says. None of them ever mentioned the threat of a “rigged election” before Trump embarked on this explanation for his declining campaign. Other Republicans reject this idea outright. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a former Oklahoma Secretary of State, said he is worried about the alarm bells Trump is ringing: “I just don’t believe there is any risk of massive voter fraud in the elections…It does concern me, because you’ve got a national platform running for president and you delegitimize the process by which presidents are chosen when you raise doubts.
For months, the Trump campaign has been collecting contact information from supporters who are interested in being election observers. The website where people can sign up reads, “Help Me Stop Crooked Hillary From Rigging This Election.” This is, in effect, a call for what Benjamin L. Ginsburg, a Republican election lawyer, calls “vigilantes.” He says that in most states and jurisdictions, poll watchers need to be credentialed in advance and follow rules, such as remaining a certain distance from polling places.
“Vigilantes can’t go waltzing into polling places and challenging voters,” said Ginsburg. “Every state has provisions that allow both parties to go into the polling place to be sure the vote is fair and accurate.”
Voting, Trump seems not to understand, is a decentralized process run by local elections officials of both parties. Talk of “rigging”‘is calling into doubt the integrity of Republican and Democratic officials across the country. Rep. Peter King (R-NY), a Trump supporter, said of the election: “Is it legally rigged? No, it’s not. Whoever wins, wins.”
Some Trump supporters claim that when he says the election is rigged, he is only referring to critical media coverage. This, however, is not what he is saying. Beyond this, the media has long had a liberal tilt, but Bob Dole, John McCain and Mitt Romney didn’t blame the media for their losses. And George W. Bush won twice, despite such media bias. What is unique about the media and Donald Trump is that the conservative media is as critical of him as the so-called “mainstream” media.
Newspapers that regularly support Republicans, The Wall Street Journal, The Arizona Republic, The Manchester Union Leader, The San Diego Union, The Richmond Times Dispatch, and a host of others have rejected Trump. So have conservative journals such as National Review and The Weekly Standard and many prominent conservative commentators such as George Will, Michael Gerson, William Kristol,David Brooks, Glenn Beck and Hugh Hewitt among them.
The Deseret News of Salt Lake City, a traditional conservative voice, said that Trump was unfit to be president. This is unprecedented but does not seem to have led even to a moment of introspection on Trump’s part.”
Challenging our electoral process as Donald Trump has been doing ever since his poll numbers have been in decline has been widely criticized by Republicans. Sen Jeff Flake (R-AZ) called Trump’s refusal to say he would accept the results of the election “beyond the pale.” Even Trump’s own campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said she didn’t believe there will be voter fraud. Writing in The American Conservative, Rod Dreher notes that, “The Republican Party’s nominee said on national television, three weeks before the election, that he might not accept its legitimacy. On no grounds, whatsoever. Every horrible thing…Hillary stands for..all of it is obviated by this statement. A man so vain and so unspeakably reckless cannot be trusted in the White House.”
Donald Trump has never been a Republican or a conservative. Those in the party who have embraced him may spend the rest of their lives regretting having done so. Whether the party itself will survive this candidacy remains an open question.