It’s rigged, folks. Believe me, there’s something going on here. You know what I’m talking about. They’re going to steal this election.
It has become the slogan of the season, the mantra of a failing campaign. Seeing poll after poll that show him losing badly, Donald Trump has focused on a theme that is increasingly, disturbingly, popular in this country: The voting system is rigged. How, he doesn’t say, but Trump infers that “they” are virtually everyone who is not at his rallies. Democrats, certainly. Republicans, probably. Who knows, maybe even Kroaky the Clown is involved. You never know, folks.
Incredibly, lots of people believe it. A September Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 46 percent of registered voters believe that fraud happens “often.” While 28 percent of Hillary Clinton supporters believe in the fraud, 69 percent of Trump supporters do. Overall, faith in fair elections appears to be dropping. Expectations that elections are fair has dropped from 70 percent to 63 percent since 2004, according to a recent Gallup Poll.
For some perspective, there are probably few people in the country as knowledgeable as Doug Chapin, director of the Program for Excellence in Election Administration at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. The new program’s goal is to find and train the next generation of election officials. Before running the U’s program, Chapin was director of Election Initiatives for the Pew Charitable Trusts, where he successfully lobbied for enactment of military and overseas voting reform, and worked with technology giants to make voting more accessible, fair and honest.
In other words, he relies on facts, not emotions, for his faith in elections.
Because of the constant claims of fraud, I asked Chapin if he was the most annoyed man in the country right now.
“Don’t know that I’m the most annoyed — that honor would likely go to just about any election official in America,” Chapin said. “I guess as someone who works with election officials, it’s a bit frustrating.”
While it’s not uncommon for candidates who lose to imply there may have been some voting shenanigans, the repeated, unfounded accusations before an election are unusual, Chapin said. And dangerous.
“When we vote, we have a peaceful transfer of power,” said Chapin. “People believe that it’s the will of the voters, so any talk that it’s not the case is dangerous.”
The notion that the election was rigged can foster a feeling of disenfranchisement, and even provoke violence, Chapin said. He has been heartened, however, by the wide spectrum of elected officials who have come forward from all parties to disavow the idea of a stolen election.
Investigations into fraudulent or rigged elections have repeatedly found that they don’t happen. One study by a Loyola professor, for example, found 31 known cases of impersonation fraud among 5 million votes.
Chapin said the notion of widespread, coordinated national voter fraud is not even logical for several reasons. Voting is decentralized by state (31 governors are Republicans, 18 are Democrats and one is an independent), it’s done in public and it’s overseen by professionals and volunteers.
Attacks on the electoral system disrespect the thousands of election officials who show their patriotism by ensuring your right to have your vote counted, Chapin said.
“I may sound like I’m making lemonade out of lemons, but this is a tremendous opportunity for election officials to show their work,” Chapin said. “They are saying, ‘Look, you can come and check our work.’ ”
“If you really don’t trust the system, go see it, it’s all public,” Chapin said. “I would encourage anyone, if they are suspicious, to pay attention to the process, both during and after the election.”
Then he quoted President Reagan’s citation of a Russian proverb: “Trust, but verify.”
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