On Friday evening, Democrat Ben McAdams led incumbent Republican Mia Love by 6,748 votes in Utah’s 4th Congressional District. By the next afternoon, 25,600 new votes had come in, largely from GOP strongholds. McAdams’ lead shrank by nearly 2,000.
So naturally, noted anti-voter fraud crusader Donald Trump accused Utah Republicans of coming up with votes out of thin air. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a serious person who is deeply and legitimately concerned about counting ballots after election day, insinuated that “shenanigans” were taking place in Provo. And Florida Gov./Senate candidate Rick Scott, standing in solidarity with a fellow politician whose election night lead was shrinking, urged his Beehive State counterpart to stop the counting and declare the Democrat the winner ASAP.
Actually, and obviously, none of that happened. When late ballots favor Republicans instead of Democrats, GOP concerns about fraud disappear.
This ought to surprise no one. In 2016, President Trump himself promised he would “totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election—if I win.” In fact, he won and disputed the results anyway, with a “voter fraud commission” that tried and failed to undo his loss in the popular vote. In this, as in so many other unsubtle things, Trump has both glommed onto and accelerated trends within his party. This year has made clear that a growing number of GOP politicians believe deeply in a democratic process—just so long as it means that Republicans remain in charge.
Things will only get worse from here. It’s not hard to imagine plenty of Republican candidates going into the Election Day 2020 with the false-fraud-claim-on-Fox strategy as a backup plan. This year it’s two or three races, after control of both chambers have been decided. Next time it could be a dozen races in the House, a half-dozen in the Senate, and quite possibly the presidency itself.
By definition, a republican form of government requires politicians to accept voters’ decisions, even if they don’t like them. This guardrail of democracy is on the verge of collapse. Patriotic Americans of both parties have to restore it, and quickly.
First, the press has to change the way it covers election results. It’s easy for non-political junkies to confuse “100% of precincts reporting” with “100% of the vote is in.” That makes it easy for politicians acting in bad faith to pretend legitimately votes tallied after Election Day are being “magically found,” in the words of New Mexico state Rep. Yvette Harrell, who un-conceded her race to issue a baseless claim to Jeanine Pirro on Fox. So don’t tell us how many precincts are left to report—tell us how many votes there are to count. If you don’t know how many votes are left to count, tell us that, too.
Democrats, meanwhile, should face up to the fact that in too many blue states and counties, election administration is a disgrace. In Broward County, Florida, a poorly designed ballot may rob tens of thousands of voters of the chance to be heard. In comfortably blue New Jersey, where I spent Election Day, voting machines went down and there weren’t enough emergency paper ballots to go around. Meanwhile, as Americans nationwide face unprecedented levels of voter suppression, poll workers need to be better trained than ever; knowledgeable of the law and prepared to call in an expert if something seems amiss.
Democrats and patriotic Republicans are rightly appalled by the idea that an election could be decided by Russian officials’ meddling. We should be just as appalled by the idea of an election decided by American officials’ incompetence.
If Republican elites seem less able and less willing to rein in their politicians than they used to be, perhaps it’s time to start thinking about whether existing anti-defamation laws can do it instead. You can’t knowingly and falsely accuse someone of stealing a car—why should you be able to falsely accuse them of stealing an election?
Even if we can’t or choose not to impose legal consequences, we can certainly impose political ones. When politicians falsely allege fraud, they’re not sparring with the other party. They’re attacking their own voters. In Florida, for example, Scott is suing to keep his own constituents’ votes from being counted. In New Mexico, Harrell is arguing that thousands of her fellow citizens should be disenfranchised. If there’s a backlash against candidates who threaten their neighbors’ rights with false claims of fraud, it’s a safe bet those claims will quickly disappear.
In other words, the ultimate guardian of our electoral process is us. And that’s why, despite the Son-of-Recount nightmare currently upon us in Florida, the Sunshine State offers hope. On Tuesday, Amendment 4—a measure to restore voting rights to former felons—passed by a margin of more than 20 percent points. Trump and his Republican Party will keep coming up with new ways to keep votes from being cast and counted, but the American people still overwhelmingly view the franchise as a fundamental right.
If we recognize the emerging threats to our democracy, and respond with the urgency the moment demands, we can protect that right through 2020 and beyond.