Po­ten­tial dam­age of ‘rigged’ vote claim

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Julie Pace

WASH­ING­TON >> Don­ald Trump keeps ped­dling the no­tion the vote may be rigged. It’s un­clear whether he un­der­stands the po­ten­tial dam­age of his words, or sim­ply doesn’t care.

Trump’s claim, made with­out ev­i­dence, un­der­cuts the essence of Amer­i­can democ­racy, the idea that U.S. elec­tions are free and fair, with the van­quished peace­fully step­ping aside for the vic­tor. His re­peated as­ser­tions are sow­ing sus­pi­cion among his most ar­dent sup­port­ers, rais­ing the pos­si­bil­ity that mil­lions of peo­ple may not ac­cept the re­sults on Nov. 8 if Trump loses.

The re­spon­si­bil­i­ties for the New York bil­lion­aire in such a sce­nario are min­i­mal. Trump holds no public of­fice and has said he’ll sim­ply go back to his “very good way of life” if Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton wins.

In­stead, Clin­ton and con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans, should they re­tain con­trol, would be left try­ing to gov­ern in a coun­try di­vided not just by ide­ol­ogy, but also the le­git­i­macy of the pres­i­dency.

As Trump’s cam­paign ca­reens from cri­sis to cri­sis, he’s broad­ened his un­founded al­le­ga­tions that Clin­ton, her back­ers and the me­dia are con­spir­ing to steal the elec­tion. He’s ac­cused Clin­ton of meet­ing with global fi­nan­cial pow­ers to “plot the de­struc­tion of U.S. sovereignty” and ar­gued his op­po­nent shouldn’t have even been al­lowed to seek the White House.

“Hil­lary Clin­ton should have been pros­e­cuted and should be in jail,” Trump tweeted on Satur­day. “In­stead she is run­ning for pres­i­dent in what looks like a rigged elec­tion.”

Trump is re­fer­ring to Clin­ton’s use of a pri­vate email sys­tem while serv­ing as sec­re­tary of state. Repub­li­cans, and some Democrats, have harshly crit­i­cized her de­ci­sion to do so, but the FBI did not rec­om­mend any­one face crim­i­nal charges for her use of a pri­vate email ad­dress run on a per­sonal server.

Trump has of­fered only broad as­ser­tions about the po­ten­tial for voter fraud and the com­plaints that the sev­eral women who have re­cently al­leged he sex­u­ally ac­costed them are part of an ef­fort to smear his cam­paign.

“It’s one big ugly lie, it’s one big fix,” Trump told a rally in North Carolina on Fri­day, adding later: “And the only thing I say is hope­fully, hope­fully, our pa­tri­otic move­ment will over­come this ter­ri­ble de­cep­tion.”

Trump’s sup­port­ers ap­pear to be tak­ing his griev­ances se­ri­ously. Only about one-third of Repub­li­cans said they have a great deal or quite a bit of con­fi­dence that votes on Elec­tion Day will be counted fairly, ac­cord­ing to poll from the Associated Press-NORC Cen­ter for Public Af­fairs Re­search.

Dur­ing a cam­paign event Tues­day with Trump’s run­ning mate, Mike Pence, a voter said she was deeply con­cerned about voter fraud and pledged to be “ready for a rev­o­lu­tion” if Clin­ton wins.

Pence waved away the woman’s ral­ly­ing cry, say­ing, “Don’t say that.” And on Sun­day, in an in­ter­view with NBC’s “Meet The Press,” he said the cam­paign will “ac­cept the will of the Amer­i­can peo­ple, you bet.”

There is no ev­i­dence voter fraud is a wide­spread prob­lem in the United States. A study by a Loy­ola Law School pro­fes­sor found that out of 1 bil­lion votes cast in all Amer­i­can elec­tions be­tween 2000 and 2014, there were only 31 known cases of im­per­son­ation fraud.

Trump’s mo­ti­va­tions for stok­ing these sen­ti­ments seem clear.

One of his last hopes of win­ning the elec­tion is to sup­press turnout by mak­ing these fi­nal weeks so re­pul­sive to vot­ers that some just stay home. Trump ad­vis­ers pri­vately say they hope to turn off young peo­ple in par­tic­u­lar. This group leans Demo­cratic but doesn’t have a long his­tory of vot­ing and is al­ready skep­ti­cal of Clin­ton.

Trump is also likely con­sid­er­ing how he would spin a loss to Clin­ton, given that he’s spent decades cul­ti­vat­ing a brand based on suc­cess and win­ning. His years in public life of­fer few ex­am­ples where he’s owned up to his own fail­ings and plenty where he’s tried to pass the blame on to oth­ers, as he’s now sug­gest­ing he would do if he’s de­feated.

Clin­ton ap­pears in­creas­ingly aware that if she wins, she’d ar­rive at the White House fac­ing more than the usual po­lit­i­cal di­vides. “Dam­age is be­ing done that we’re go­ing to have to re­pair,” she said dur­ing a re­cent cam­paign stop.

But that task wouldn’t be Clin­ton’s alone.

The ma­jor­ity of Trump’s sup­port­ers are Repub­li­cans. If he loses, party lead­ers will have to reckon with how much cre­dence they give to claims the elec­tion was rigged and how closely they can work with a pres­i­dent whom at least some GOP back­ers will likely view as il­le­git­i­mate.

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell’s of­fice wouldn’t say Satur­day whether he agreed with Trump’s as­ser­tions the elec­tion is be­ing rigged. A spokes­woman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Ryan is “fully con­fi­dent the states will carry out this elec­tion with in­tegrity.”

Repub­li­cans have al­ready ex­pe­ri­enced the par­a­lyz­ing ef­fect of Trump stir­ring up ques­tions about a pres­i­dent’s le­git­i­macy. He spent years chal­leng­ing Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s cit­i­zen­ship, deep­en­ing some GOP vot­ers’ in­sis­tence that the party block the Demo­crat at ev­ery turn.

Jim Man­ley, a for­mer ad­viser to Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Harry Reid, DNev., re­called the skep­ti­cism some Repub­li­cans had about Obama. “I’m afraid a Pres­i­dent Clin­ton is go­ing to start off with far too many peo­ple rais­ing sim­i­lar ques­tions,” he said.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Signs are placed on seats as peo­ple wait for a char­ity event hosted by the Repub­li­can Hindu Coali­tion on Satur­day in Edi­son, N.J. Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Don­ald Trump spoke dur­ing the event.

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