With the painful loss of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Trump and his minions are working hard to install an ideologue as quickly as possible. No surprise. If the Democrats win a majority in the Senate and Biden is elected president, they would be within their rights to dispense with Senate filibuster rules and expand the Supreme Court with the addition of two of their own ideologs to balance the scales of our now fully politicized judiciary. The experiment in democracy that is the United States is diminished further, and Putin rubs his hands with glee.
Another part of the GOP’s “win at all costs” strategy is to thwart the American majority by stopping the census before it is complete, and by hampering the U.S. Postal Service to delay ballots. More insidious is the continual efforts by Trump and his minions to delegitimize the election process and lay the groundwork for refusing to leave if he loses.
One organization that wants you to believe that election fraud is rampant is The Heritage Foundation. If you check their website, you will find “A Sampling of Recent Election Fraud Cases from Across the United States.” This database of “recent” records includes 1,298 instances of voter fraud dating back for 20 years.
Will fraud occur? Of course. People are people and, in every population, there is ethical variance. According to the Heritage Foundation database, the most recent conviction from Washington State was in the year 2010. Idaho had a case in 2017 and four cases in 2011. Oregon had five cases from 2019. A perusal of cases around the country shows that most involve individual people voting twice. For example, in 2016 one Oregon resident voted in both the Oregon and Washington elections.
The Heritage Foundation wants you to believe that these fraud cases demonstrate the tenuous nature of our electoral process. Ironically, it does just the opposite. Consider that Oregon resident. Catching this person required coordination between two Secretaries of State where the total number of votes cast in the 2016 General Election exceeded 5 million. The fact that this person was caught (and punished) among so many legitimate votes speaks loudly to the validity of our electoral process.
Even if all 1,298 cases occurred in a single year instead of over 20 years, in 2018 there were 153,070,000 registered voters in the U.S. for which these fraud cases would represent 0.0008 percent. A 2017 study by the Brennan Center for Justice that found the rate of voter fraud in the U.S. to be in the range of 0.00004 percent and 0.0009 percent. Of course, the conspiracy-minded will rebut this point by saying that this only accounts for the “known cases.” It is true that you can’t prove a negative (making the argument useless), but with Trump encouraging North Carolina voters to vote twice, we might see an uptick of individual voter fraud for 2020. Georgia already reported that 1,000 people voted twice this summer; prosecutions are in the works.
There are cases that can severely damage local elections. Trump touts a case from Paterson, N.J., although this instance is not as simple as he describes (details available at numerous reputable outlets). Last week a local commentator highlighted this case and wanted his readers to know that the individuals involved were Democrats. Political and religious affiliation are not predictive of fraud (unless we are talking about the Trump administration), as shown by a similar voter fraud case in the Ninth Congressional District in North Carolina (2018) that was orchestrated by Republican operatives (well described in numerous reputable outlets).
The claim that voting-in-person “drastically minimizes voter fraud” compared with absentee or vote-by-mail systems is simply wrong as demonstrated by numerous studies. When I drop off my ballot in a few weeks, I have full confidence that everyone’s ballot signature will be cross-checked and if there are any questions or concerns, Whitman County Elections officials will investigate. Voter fraud in Washington state is a Class C felony.
The irony, of course, is that hamstringing the postal service and destroying confidence in the electoral process is likely to disproportionately impact rural Americans, and rural white Americans compose a large part of Trump’s base. Go figure.
Doug Call is a microbiologist. He first discovered the Palouse 37 years ago.