For four years now, as both a candidate and president, Donald Trump has repeatedly attacked America’s voting system, falsely claiming voter fraud any time it suited his needs. In a new low, last week he threatened the federal funding of two states over their reasonable moves to facilitate mail-in voting. What does it say that the head of the world’s leading democracy is so intent on undermining that democracy?
Trump won the presidency in 2016 despite losing the popular vote by 2.8 million ballots. He could have done what George W. Bush did when faced with a similar Electoral College asterisk in 2000 — chalk it up as a lucky break and move on. But Trump’s boundless ego couldn’t allow that. So he concocted a ridiculous lie about millions of illegal votes against him, then launched a bogus voter-fraud commission to prove it.
That failed, because individual voter fraud today is virtually non-existent. But that hasn’t stopped Trump from repeatedly exhuming this nonsense. How else could he explain the national drubbing the GOP took in the 2018 House elections, despite its gerrymandered advantage?
Trying to suppress votes by falsely charging “voter fraud” has been a party-wide Republican strategy for years now, but Trump, as always, takes it to dangerous new places. The reason isn’t mysterious. As Trump himself openly acknowledged as recently as March, higher voter turnout tends to hurt Republican candidates.
The pandemic has prompted states to expand mail-in voting options for the safety of voters — Republicans as well as Democrats — and has started a needed conversation about making that option the national standard. So Trump has doubled down on the baseless claim that such a change would usher in massive fraud. He wants to force voters to choose between their voting rights or their lives, clearly trying to tamp down turnout. (Never mind that he voted by mail himself in 2018 and again earlier this year.)
On Wednesday, Trump falsely claimed in a tweet that Michigan’s secretary of state’s office sent out 7.7 million absentee ballots to voters (it actually just sent out applications for ballots), followed by the threat: “I will ask to hold up funding to Michigan if they want to go down this Voter Fraud path!” In another tweet, he made a similar threat against Nevada. He later appeared to back off the threats, perhaps realizing it’s unlikely he could legally carry them out.
Nonetheless, the specter of a president threatening to withhold federal funding from states in crisis, in order to gain a personal political advantage, should sound familiar. It’s essentially what Trump did to Ukraine last year, earning impeachment by the House and what should have been removal by the Senate. The folly of that failure becomes clearer by the day.
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