Elections are the bedrock of our representative democracy. Our government derives its legitimacy entirely from the fact that electoral results, more or less, reflect the will of voters.
Donald TrumpDonald TrumpOmar, Muslim Democrats decry Islamophobia amid death threats On The Money — Powell pivots as inflation rises Trump cheers CNN's Cuomo suspension MORE is apparently willing to recklessly frack that electoral bedrock, regardless of the long-term consequences for our system.
Trump has repeatedly declared that U.S. elections are vulnerable to massive perpetrations of fraud, saying again during a media appearance recently, “I’m telling you, November 8th, we’d better be careful because that election is going to be rigged.”
Even taking into account all the wild rhetoric during this election cycle from both political parties, Trump’s statement is shockingly irresponsible.
The truth is that election fraud is nearly non-existent in U.S. elections. An ongoing nationwide canvass of election law cases since 2000, for instance, has found only 31 credible examples of fraudulent in-person voting out of roughly 1 billion ballots cast during that time period.
Fraud through absentee ballots, though slightly more common, is still incredibly rare. There are zero―I repeat, zero―instances of systemic election fraud in the United States, despite a veritable army of people hunting for such examples.
Election administration in the U.S. may have its problems, such as long lines, inadequate resources, and outdated equipment, but election fraud just isn’t one of them.
Observers may be tempted to discount the significance of Trump’s baseless prediction of a rigged election this November, simply lumping it in with his vast panoply of provocative remarks.
However, Americans of all political stripes need to recognize that this statement is exceptionally dangerous because it jeopardizes the peaceful transition of power in our country.
Elections are, at bottom, the mechanism that we use to select those who will govern us. Sometimes our favored candidate wins. Sometimes our favored candidate loses, though, and we nonetheless accept the result and consent to be governed by the other guy for a time because we expect our political opponents to do the same in subsequent elections.
This fundamental compact between us breaks down when trust in election administration is undermined. As long-time Trump supporter Roger Stone put it recently, “The government will be shut down if they attempt to steal this and swear Hillary in. No, we will not stand for it.”
Our nation will be gravely damaged if any sizable segment of our population is unwilling to accept any unfavorable election result (and the legitimacy of the resulting government) in November, or in Novembers to come, because they falsely believe the process is rigged.
Trump’s indulgence in this rhetoric is an utterly predictable consequence of his current situation. Removed from the cocoon of reality television where one can bask in the unceasing praise of c-list celebrities and thrust into the rough-and-tumble of national politics, Trump must find the prospect of a very public rejection in November to be frightening.
This is understandable, on some level. And it is easy to see how the impulse to grasp for a scapegoat would be almost irresistible in this scenario.
But we should not mistake Trump’s personal coping mechanisms for a systemic problem with the integrity of the U.S. election system. Elections should and must remain the bedrock of our system, despite Trump’s eagerness to blindly drill.
Matthew Sanderson is a Republican election attorney with the law firm Caplin & Drysdale, Chartered.