Trump’s Endless War on Voting Unfairness

Donald Trump attacks the integrity of American voting because he knows his support has always been about 39% of the electorate. They love him unconditionally, there are tens of millions of them, their minds will never be changed about Trump’s greatness, but they are a clear minority of the voting populace. He knows that every one of them must vote, and that millions of others must be stopped from voting if he is to have a chance to once again squeak by in the upcoming election (via the Electoral College) and stay in power.

All quotes below (except for the last one) are from a transcript of the current episode (highly recommended) of Trump, Inc., a collaboration between WNYC and ProPublica. The episode is called Block The Vote.

Prior to the 2016 election Trump spread the same distrust of unfair, rigged elections, gamed by sneaky illegal immigrants and the corrupt denizens of crime-infested cities:

DONALD TRUMP: Illegal immigrants are voting. I mean, where are the street smarts of some of these politicians? They don’t have any is right. right. So many cities are corrupt and voter fraud is very, very common.

And, just as he feared, they stole the election from him last time. There was also the problem with the massive zombie vote, those dead voters who stole the election from him. Don’t forget the zombies!

DONALD TRUMP: You look at the dead people that are registered to vote who vote.

MEG CRAMER: Right after he was inaugurated, The Washington Post reported that in a meeting with congressional leaders Trump claimed without evidence that three to five million people had voted illegally inflating Hillary Clinton’s totals. By telling this lie, Trump could claim that maybe he had not lost the popular vote.

DONALD TRUMP: And we’re going to do an investigation on it.

He was as good as his word, and investigate they did. The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, run by Mike Pence and Kris Koback, folded its tents after two meetings — they’d found no fraud, beyond the 1,300 cases researchers for the right-wing Heritage Foundation discovered (total cases of voter fraud, in elections going back to 1982).

Anyone who reads the news learns over and over that voter fraud is extremely rare, that reports of massive fraud are misleading, that the myth of widespread voter fraud has been debunked many times. Even using the right-wing Heritage Foundation’s numbers, the incidence of voting fraud in 2016 was less than 1 in 2,000,000 — a few hundred thousandths of 1%.

We are sometimes told the incidence of voter fraud is “less than 1%”, which is true, but misleading, it is far less than a ten-thousandth of one percent.

With constant repetition by the president and his Attorney General this baseless myth thrives, as galvanizing to millions in that solid 39% base as the one about the Satanist cannibal pedophiles who run the Democratic party.

But here’s the really creepy part. A right-wing lawyer working for the Heritage Foundation is advising a group of Republican state attorneys general on how to use disproven legal theories about electoral fraud to take control of state elections and “safeguard the integrity of the upcoming election” to support the president and his followers. This man, Hans von Spakovsky, is the Heritage Foundation’s expert on voter fraud:

HANS VON SPAKOVSKY: All we have to do is look at the many cases, proven cases of absentee ballot fraud to understand that the problem with absentee or mail-in ballots is there the ballots that are most vulnerable to fraud, to being stolen. And they also…

ANDREA BERNSTEIN: Hans von Spakovsky who is well known to ProPublica’s Jessica Huseman.

JESSICA HUSEMAN: Hans von Spakovsky is a longtime voter fraud conspiracy theorist, and he got his start like many people who are now doing strange things in the world of voting in the 2000 election.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN: After that, he went to work for the Justice Department under President George W. Bush.

He eventually wound up at the Heritage Foundation where he became their resident expert in making thinly-sourced voter fraud claims.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN: In 2018, von Spakovsky was called in to be an expert witness in a federal trial over a Kansas law that required proof of citizenship in order to vote. Von Spakovsky was there to present data on noncitizen voting.

JESSICA HUSEMAN: The judge basically dismissed all of his testimony, called it cherry picked, called it biased. Said that he was more of an activist rather than an unbiased expert witness. And her opinion basically said that she gave his testimony no real credence in her decision.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN: The judge, Julie Robinson, wrote von Spakovsky’s statements were premised on several misleading and unsupported examples and included false assertions. She said his generalized opinions about the rates of noncitizen registration were likewise based on misleading evidence and largely based on his preconceived beliefs about this issue, which has led to his aggressive public advocacy of stricter proof of citizenship laws. Von Spakovsky maintains a database of what he calls some 1,300 cases of vote fraud.

So, naturally, he is now working behind the scenes for Mr. Trump’s re-election. He has apparently been hosting Republican-only strategy meetings for state government officials involved in overseeing the 2020 election. The frequency of these meetings is increasing as the already contested election approaches, and officials of the Trump administration are involved in the strategizing.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN: Von Spakovsky’s meetings were attended by state, secretaries of state. These officials are often partisan but their job is to ensure the integrity of their state’s elections.

MIKE SPIES: The purpose of the meeting was essentially to sort of jointly strategize.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN: And, again, only Republican officials were invited to the meetings. Up until 2020, they met basically a couple of times a year in Washington. Republican congressional staffers sometimes came and on at least one occasion so did officials from the Justice Department, Trump appointees.

The participants at these meetings are encouraged not to take notes, as everyone gets on the same page. Some took notes, some failed to carefully delete all emails and phone logs, two dogged reporters found some things.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN: Mike and Jake found an example of what it looks like for elections officials to be on the same page as von Spakovsky. In July, a voting rights group in Ohio publicly advocated that more absentee ballot drop boxes be placed at schools, libraries and other public places across the state’s 88 counties so that voters could vote more easily. According to a July 15 email, one of Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRosa’s deputies immediately called and emailed von Spakovsky asking to discuss the matter. Weeks later, LaRosa announced he did not have the authority to add more than one ballot receptacle per county. Voting rights advocates say that will make it harder for people who want to avoid the crowds of a polling place to cast a vote. They’re challenging the decision in court. Just this August, von Spakovsky invited officials to another meeting. The invitation said the convening would, quote, “gather the chief state election officials together to strategize on advancing their shared goal of ensuring the integrity of the elections they administer in their home states.” This time, a new official joined the group, a Trump appointee from the Department of Homeland Security.

It’s kind of self-evident that the Ohio Secretary of State, as a matter of law, would only be authorized to add one absentee ballot drop box per county. I mean, who could even challenge such a reasonable assertion? And if they wanted to, it would cost a lot of money and require a team of good lawyers — and an adverse ruling could be appealed past the date of the election, rendering it moot anyway.

And so on. Listen to the episode, fascinating and more than a little bit horrifying. Many of these characters need to be prosecuted and locked up, after their man is out office and out of the pardoning business.

The episode also has a nice summary of the federal case in Pennsylvania I’ve been trying to follow (Trump v. Boockvar), and a related ruling:

Another example, in Pennsylvania, a federal judge ordered the Trump campaign to provide evidence to back up its claims about the dangers of voter fraud, quote, “and if they have none state as much.” That’s the case where the campaign called the shift to mail-in voting the single greatest threat to free and fair elections. The campaign submitted a 524-page document, which according to the news site The Intercept did not include any examples of mail-in vote fraud. The federal judge put that case on pause until a similar case was decided in state court. In that case, Pennsylvania’s state Supreme Court issued a ruling in favor of several provisions that make voting by mail easier, writing that claims of heightened election fraud involving mail-in voting are unsubstantiated. The pause on the federal case has been lifted, and the case is ongoing.

There’s also Nevada where the Trump campaign filed a lawsuit challenging that state’s expansion of mail-in voting. On September 18, a judge dismissed the lawsuit calling the campaign’s claims about the dangers of vote fraud impermissibly speculative. The judge wrote not only have plaintiffs failed to allege a substantial risk of voter fraud, the state of Nevada has its own mechanisms for deterring and prosecuting voter fraud. The Trump campaign has 30 days to appeal.

Perez [Myrna Perez, director of the Voting Rights and Elections program for the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law. –ed] pointed out that these lawsuits have consequences beyond the resulting legal decisions.

As this writer succinctly points out (emphasis mine):

Nominally, Trump and his political sycophants are trying to stop state and local officials from making voting-by-mail more accessible during a pandemic.

But, in fact, the real aim is simply to push into the public sphere the false claims that mail-in ballots are prone to fraud. Each court battle or legislative fight gives them the opportunity to keep sowing those doubts, ready to be harvested later.


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