An election that is already tainted
Trump has no reservations about using the authority of the presidency to mess with democracy. After all, he was impeached for an audacious attempt to coerce a foreign power — Ukraine — into intervening in the election to hurt Biden’s campaign. And he has consistently rejected his own intelligence agencies’ assessments that Russia meddled in the 2016 election to help him — once, infamously at the side of President Vladimir Putin.
Whether the President is seeking to construct a face-saving exit from power if he loses in November or is mounting a more overt effort to stack the deck, one thing is clear: Given his fervent support among tens of millions of Americans, the election — the bedrock of the country’s democratic government and rule by the people for the people — has already been deeply tarnished.
Trump’s warning could spark chaos at polling places
He seemed to suggest in an interview with a local station in Wilmington, North Carolina, on Wednesday that people should vote once by mail, then show up at their polling place to see if their preference had been registered.
“Well, they’ll go out and they’ll go vote, and they’re going to have to go and check their vote by going to the poll and voting that way, because if it tabulates then they won’t be able to do that,” Trump said.
“So let them send it in, and let them go vote, and if the system is as good as they say it is, then obviously they won’t be able to vote. If it isn’t tabulated they won’t be able to vote, so that’s the way it is. And that’s what they should do.”
Trump’s advice could lead to considerable chaos and recriminations at polling stations if it is followed by thousands of Republican voters. It could also lengthen the time that it takes for votes to be counted. Trump is already raising likely delays in tabulating results to claim, falsely, that the election is not secure.
There is also no current evidence to support his implication that significant numbers of mail-in votes could go astray or not be counted in the Tar Heel state. The North Carolina State Board of Elections says in voter advice on its website that there are “numerous safeguards” included in the absentee-by-mail voting process. It also says that if someone has “voted by absentee ballot and then shows up to vote in person, the check in system will alert the poll worker that the person has already voted.”
Patrick Gannon, the board’s public information officer, said people do not need to go to the polls on Election Day if their ballot has been counted.
“In fact, we’d strongly advise against that, to allow other people who haven’t yet cast a ballot to vote.”
The state’s Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein said he would do everything in his power to ensure the will of the people is upheld.
“President Trump outrageously encouraged NCians to break the law in order to help him sow chaos in our election. Make sure you vote, but do NOT vote twice!” Stein tweeted.
Voting arrangements, which vary from state to state, are often complicated and can confuse some voters. So at a minimum, it is irresponsible for a President, with all of his visibility and power, to repeatedly cast doubt on the system.
And more fundamentally, voting twice is illegal.
Barr appeared to support the President’s inflammatory suggestion that North Carolinians should try to vote twice to test the system.
“So let them send it in by mail and let them go vote, let them send in the ballot, and then let them go vote. And if the system is as good as they say it is, then obviously they won’t be able to vote,” Barr said on “The Situation Room.”
Long-term effects of a tainted election
Trump’s constant claims that the election will not be free and fair threaten to leave deep damage whoever wins in November.
If he loses but claims he was cheated, Trump will delegitimize the result among millions of voters who backed him but who might accept a loss if he graciously conceded, as is expected of every defeated presidential candidate who puts nation above self. An election seen as stolen by Trump could have unpredictable effects among those who believe they were disenfranchised.
The appearance of a tainted election would also shatter hopes that a Biden administration might harbor of uniting a divided nation and of summoning national resolve to finally prevail over a pandemic that Trump mismanaged.
It would also sow distrust of elections on the right, potentially for decades, further fueling conspiratorial fringe groups like QAnon.
And it would all seem so unnecessary given the facts.
CNN’s Dianne Gallagher and Ethan Cohen contributed to this report.