Given that Trump’s eldest son has a documented track record of trying to corrupt our elections and subvert the national interest on his father’s behalf, it’s not surprising that Donald Trump Jr. is now actively trying to supply that rationale.
“They are planting stories that President Trump will have a landslide lead on election night but will lose when they finish counting the mail-in ballots,” he said. “Their plan is to add millions of fraudulent ballots that can cancel your vote and overturn the election. We cannot let that happen.”
“We need you to help us watch them,” Trump Jr. said.
An interesting two-tiered dynamic has developed here. Even as Trump, his son and other propagandists keep making such claims, Democrats are quietly winning court battles that are disabling ways that Republicans will concretely seek to get those ballots invalidated and thus suppress those votes.
For instance, state courts have now ruled in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan that mail ballots that are postmarked before Election Day but arrive after will still be counted (the length of each extension varies by state). That’s big: It eliminates a key way that numerous mail ballots, if held up by postal delays, might get tossed out in three swing states that will help decide the election.
So you might be tempted to think that even if Trump rages that late ballots must not count, they will be counted anyway. And to some degree, it doesn’t matter what the president says about the votes — what matters is who wins in the electoral college.
But election-law expert Rick Hasen notes that this is still a dangerous development, especially when you consider various legal possibilities.
Hasen points out that various entities — such as the Trump campaign, Republican Party committees and GOP-controlled state governments — are likely to keep fighting those decisions extending arrival deadlines in court. That is already going on in Pennsylvania.
And they will likely try to keep fighting in court to restore other rules governing the acceptance of absentee ballots that Democrats have succeeded in getting relaxed amid pandemic conditions, such as various procedural requirements. This could even take place after the election.
Some of these victories “may potentially be challenged all the way to the Supreme Court,” Hasen told me, with claims that “state courts have usurped the power of state legislatures to set the rules for federal elections, or that the easing of voting rules will allow for fraud.”
“If the election is close enough, we also may see post-election challenges to the counting of particular classes of ballots, such as those arriving without a postmark or rules for dealing with mismatched signatures,” Hasen continued.
So claims from Trump Jr. and others that mail ballots will be fraudulent could have a purpose. They create a way to tell millions of Trump supporters that these efforts at mass disenfranchisement are actually justified in their defense.
Indeed, note that Trump Jr. is actively calling for an “army” to mobilize in preparation for the certainty that the counting of mail votes can only reflect a plot to steal the election. Now imagine how loud this will get as the votes are getting counted. It all makes violence or other civic damage more likely.
Obviously all this might not end up affecting the actual outcome. It’s also possible that Joe Biden could win by a comfortable enough margin that none of this has much practical impact. Or Trump could win outright.
But we should be worried about the prospect of the president of the United States and his senior advisers working to persuade millions and millions of people who trust them very deeply that ongoing vote counting is illegitimate, amid the searing tensions that often accompany close presidential elections. That seems like it bodes very badly for post-election civic peace and for the possibilities for post-Trump civic restoration.
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