President Trump warned us this past week: He will not pledge to accept the results of the 2020 presidential election. We should pause to examine the magnitude of this blatant violation of our democratic norms. The head of the executive branch, sworn to uphold the Constitution, which enshrines the process for electing the president and provides for the peaceful transition of power, effectively tells us, Maybe I’ll go along with the results. Maybe not. His comments have not been sufficiently condemned.

Trump has already begun to cast doubt on an election that every public national poll and virtually every poll for critical swing states say he is losing, and losing badly. He has repeated the falsehood that voting by mail, which will be used more widely this year than in any previous election in U.S. history, is subject to fraud.

The Post’s fact-checking team has repeatedly debunked this assertion. Salvador Rizzo recently explained:

Documented instances of voter fraud are exceedingly rare in the United States, the odds being lower than those of being struck by lightning, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. More than 250 million votes have been cast via mail ballots since 2000, according to the Vote at Home Institute. In 2018, more than 31 million Americans voted by mail, representing one-quarter of election participants. Five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington — use mail ballots as the primary method of voting.

The percentage of ballots that are even potentially cast fraudulently, rather than as the result of errors, each year is minuscule. As Elise Viebeck explains, “A Washington Post analysis of data collected by three vote-by-mail states with help from the nonprofit Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) found that officials identified 372 possible cases of double voting or voting on behalf of deceased people out of about 14.6 million votes cast by mail in the 2016 and 2018 general elections, or 0.0025 percent.”

The first step in minimizing the chaos that could follow from the 2020 election is shoring up the credibility of the election results, first through a massive effort to inform voters how to register by mail and then through an equally massive effort to debunk Trump’s claim. We should call his falsehood out for what it is: an attempt to invalidate an election he likely will lose.

The next step is for every governor, every secretary of state and every state legislative body to pledge publicly to respect the results of the election and to uphold the rules in place for verifying election returns, which differ from state to state. Reporters and ordinary citizens should press governors, state lawmakers and other officials to confirm they will respect the election results and refuse to delay certification of the vote based on spurious accusations.

Follow Jennifer Rubin‘s opinionsFollow

We also need responsible behavior from mainstream media outlets. It is too much to hope that Twitter or Facebook will take down all posts that attempt to suppress the vote, circulate false claims of fraud and spread other misleading information. However, legitimate newspapers and broadcast and cable-news networks should begin well in advance of the election to explain what the process for casting and tabulating votes will look like. They should make absolutely clear that tallying votes may take days or longer to complete in some states given the number of absentee ballots voters are likely to cast.

Reporters and pundits alike need to adhere to pre-established rules, strictly enforced by senior management, for “calling” states. They must avoid providing a false sense of certainty when substantial numbers of votes are still outstanding. They cannot uncritically report on Trump’s claims of fraud. "Without basis, President Trump claims. . . " should be the formulation not, “Trump says. . . .” or even worse, “Widespread claims of fraud have been raised.”

News outlets should explain that returns from big-city precincts often come in well after less populous rural precincts. And they should disabuse the public of the notion that there is something nefarious if the “winner” of votes counted and reported on Election Day does not come out ahead after all the votes are tallied. (This happened with numerous House seats in 2018.)

None of these measures will prevent Trump, if he is determined, from sowing chaos and attemptingto cast doubt on the results if he loses. Certainly, a blowout election for Democrats would minimize the plausibility of his claims. Nevertheless, it is incumbent on governors, lawmakers, secretaries of state, voting officials, news outlets and ordinary voters to push back against the expected assault on our democratic system. Trump’s disdain for democracy and willingness to destroy every norm — don’t expect him to concede — are well known. The best we can do is prepare for his last, desperate attempt to burn the system down.

The jockeying for the post-Trump future of the Republican Party has started, says Post columnist Max Boot. (The Washington Post)

Read more: