Trump tac­tic un­der­mines con­fi­dence in vote process

San Francisco Chronicle - - NATION - By Jill Colvin Jill Colvin is an Associated Press writer.

WASH­ING­TON — It was a star­tling dec­la­ra­tion about one of the pil­lars of Amer­i­can democ­racy, all the more so given its source.

The pres­i­dent of the United States last week pub­licly pre­dicted with­out ev­i­dence that the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion would be “the most cor­rupt elec­tion in the his­tory of our coun­try.”

“We can­not let this hap­pen,“Don­ald Trump told an au­di­ence of young sup­port­ers at a Phoenix megachurch. “They want it to hap­pen so badly.”

Just over four months be­fore elec­tion day, the pres­i­dent is es­ca­lat­ing his ef­forts to cast doubt on the in­tegrity of the vote.

It’s a well­worn tac­tic for Trump, who in 2016 went af­ter the very process that ul­ti­mately put him in the White House. He first at­tacked the Repub­li­can pri­maries (“rigged and boss con­trolled”) and then the gen­eral elec­tion, when he ac­cused the me­dia and Demo­cratic ri­val Hil­lary Clin­ton’s cam­paign of con­spir­ing against him to un­der­mine a free and fair elec­tion.

“The process is rigged. This whole elec­tion is be­ing rigged,” he said when polls showed him trail­ing Clin­ton by dou­ble dig­its as he faced a flurry of sex­ual mis­con­duct al­le­ga­tions.

Then, as now, elec­tion ex­perts have re­peat­edly dis­cred­ited his claims about wide­spread fraud in the vot­ing process.

In a coun­try with a his­tory of peace­ful po­lit­i­cal tran­si­tion, a ma­jor­party can­di­date’s ef­forts to dele­git­imize an elec­tion amounted to a strik­ing rup­ture of faith in Amer­i­can democ­racy. But to do the same as pres­i­dent, his­to­ri­ans say, is un­prece­dented.

“Never,” said pres­i­den­tial his­to­rian Dou­glas Brink­ley when asked whether any past U.S. pres­i­dent had ever used such lan­guage. “What you’re see­ing is some­one who’s an au­to­crat or a dic­ta­tor in ac­tion.”

This year, Trump has seized on ef­forts across the coun­try to ex­pand the abil­ity of peo­ple to vote by mail and avoid crowds at the bal­lot. It’s a move­ment that was spurred by the coro­n­avirus, which has killed more than 125,000 na­tion­wide.

There is no ev­i­dence of wide­spread voter fraud through mail­in vot­ing. Trump and mem­bers of his ad­min­is­tra­tion have them­selves re­peat­edly voted via ab­sen­tee bal­lots. But that hasn’t stopped Trump from ac­cus­ing Democrats of try­ing to “rig the elec­tion by send­ing out tens of mil­lions of mail­in bal­lots, us­ing the China virus as the ex­cuse for al­low­ing peo­ple not to go to the polls.”

Trump’s com­plaints come as he has been lag­ging in both in­ter­nal and pub­lic polls. The crit­i­cism is seen by some as part of a broader effort by Trump to de­press turnout by mak­ing it harder for peo­ple, es­pe­cially in cities, to vote safely, and to lay the ground­work for a po­ten­tial chal­lenge to the re­sults in Novem­ber if he loses. Trump and his cam­paign deny this.

Win Mc­namee / TNS

Pres­i­dent Trump speaks at a cam­paign rally in Tulsa, Okla., on June 20. Elec­tion ex­perts have re­peat­edly dis­cred­ited his claims about vot­ing fraud.

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