Donald Trump is calling for volunteers to watch the polls in November, and he is making no bones about why.
“Help me stop Crooked Hillary from rigging this election!” says the application form on his campaign website.
There are so many lies and delusions flowing daily from the Trump campaign that it’s easy to miss the times when the Republican nominee is being not just ludicrous, but dangerous. This is one.
Trump has seized on the charge that Hillary Clinton plans to win by cheating. He has said it before, but he keeps on saying it. This looks like pre-emptive face-saving, of course — getting an excuse ready if he loses badly. But it’s worse than that.
Trump has been attacking recent court decisions striking down utterly unjustified state voter-identification laws that are attempts by Republican legislatures to hinder black and Latino voters, who tend to vote Democratic. The crime the laws were meant to prevent — voting by fraudulent voters with fake IDs — is a Republican myth, concocted for partisan reasons. There is no evidence that such fraud exists on any scale, only a handful of isolated instances.
Trump says otherwise. He is accusing the government he wants to lead of being both victim and perpetrator of a vast conspiracy. And he is setting the stage for an upwelling of right-wing outrage, cuing up a crisis of electoral legitimacy. If Clinton wins, get ready for at least four years, maybe eight, of the catcalls and loathing that plagued President Obama’s two terms.
A more immediate concern is what happens on Nov. 8, when squads of Trump volunteers fan out to defend their candidate’s presumed victory. It does not seem far-fetched to expect that signatures will be pointlessly challenged and citizens intimidated and inconvenienced, that the ruckus of the Trump campaign will spread to polling places around the country.
The anger Trump is whipping up is not a small phenomenon. A Pew Research Center poll this month found that an amazing 30 percent of registered voters who support Trump have “little or no confidence” that their own vote will be counted accurately. Only 11 percent of Trump supporters believe that votes across the country will be accurately counted.
You may ask yourself: Well, how did we get here?
Trump did not invent paranoia; he did not create the Republican meme of fraudulent minority voting. He just took it — as he so often does — to an extreme. Sen. John McCain made similar warnings in 2008, and murmurings of cheating go back at least to 2000, a close national election, botched in Florida, decided for George W. Bush by the conservative majority of the Supreme Court. And long before Trump entered the presidential race, Republican legislators were busy passing voter ID laws based on the fallacy of widespread fraud.
Trump’s brain is a pincushion for conspiracy theories, so maybe it’s no surprise that he thinks the Clinton campaign will be sending African-Americans and foreigners into booths across the country to fake their votes over and over, millions of times.
Now, more than ever, the country needs responsible political leaders and the courts to defend and expand voting rights, rather than sitting silently while Trump further demolishes public confidence in the foundations of our government.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE NEW YORK TIMES