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Opinion Republicans can’t just support a peaceful transition. They must condemn Trump’s words.

Republican leaders pushed back Sept. 24 on President Trump's refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power should he lose the 2020 presidential election. (Video: Reuters)
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We should not give Republicans credit for saying that we need a peaceful transition of power if they do not also mention and condemn President Trump for suggesting he will throw out ballots and may not respect the will of the people. It is not good enough for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to say:

We know that if a Democrat had suggested ignoring ballots, Republicans would demand resignation. Now, Republicans continue to support a campaign promising four more years of this tin-pot dictator routine.

It is also not good enough to say “both candidates” should respect the results. Republicans are pointing to a comment made by Hillary Clinton — who is not the candidate! — that Joe Biden should not concede. Biden himself has stated he would count every vote and honor the result. As my colleague Aaron Blake writes about the fundamental principle of accepting election results, “Trump still won’t say that, which is why this is news — and why Republicans are offering these tortured responses.“

Trump has declared his intent to reject mail-in ballots and deem, without a shred of evidence, that they are rigged or fraudulent. This provoked FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, a rare voice of sanity, to declare on Thursday that there is no evidence of fraud. The Post reports:

FBI Director Christopher A. Wray told senators Thursday that the United States has not experienced large-scale voter fraud by mail or other means, and said it would be a “major challenge” for a foreign country to attempt such a thing, despite repeated claims made by President Trump in the run-up to November’s election.
“Americans must have confidence in our voting system and our election infrastructure,” Wray told the Senate Homeland Security Committee. “We are not going to tolerate foreign interference in our elections.”

Boldly rejecting Trump’s scare tactics, Wray explained, ”We have not seen historically any kind of coordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election, whether it’s by mail or otherwise.” (He noted some fraud occasionally happens on the local level. The best example of this would be the fraud committed by Republican operatives in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District in 2018.)

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It is obvious that Trump and his toadies in the administration, likely sensing a defeat is in the offing, want to discredit ballots in advance (although — go figure — he wants Florida Republicans to return their absentee ballots). The Justice Department on Thursday put out a vague, problematic statement claiming nine military ballots for Trump were discarded in Pennsylvania. Later, the statement was corrected to say, on second thought, only seven of the nine ballots were for Trump.

We have no idea in what election (the primary?) these ballots were cast, what the circumstances were or really anything else to suggest foul play. The decision to even confirm an investigation is ongoing is a serious divergence from DOJ policy, as many former Justice Department lawyers pointed out to me. Moreover, who those ballots were cast for should never have been disclosed. It was a telltale sign the attempt to discredit voting has already begun. In Pennsylvania, it is illegal to tabulate (let alone release the results of) ballots before 7 a.m. on Election Day. It is this sort of low-level deceit and entirely inappropriate conduct that we can expect from Attorney General William P. Barr’s Justice Department.

A number of steps can be taken to foreclose any effort to discredit the election and afford Trump reason to claim victory. (Of course, a landslide election would largely mute Trump.)

First, officials such as Wray must continue to speak out: The burden on him and other officials at the federal and state level to declare Trump’s assertions unfounded is great. (Kudos to the Federal Election Commission’s Ellen Weintraub, who tweeted, “In case anyone is unclear on the concept, in the United States of America, we do not ‘get rid of’ ballots. We count them. Counting the ballots — all the ballots — is the way we determine who leads our country after our elections. The only way.”)

Second, no federal employee, least of all Justice Department employees, should participate in attempts to suppress or discredit the vote. It is a violation of their federal oath of office (and, for lawyers, of their professional responsibilities) — and may in some cases be illegal. They will be discovered. They must refuse illegal or unethical orders and report them to Congress or the media.

Third, the media must report on every false utterance from Trump that mail-in ballots are unsafe, and repeat again that they have a minuscule rate of fraud. They must remind voters that this rhetoric is part of a pattern and is unprecedented for any official, let alone the president.

Fourth, reporters must push Republicans: “How can you support for another four years someone who says he wants to ignore ballots and won’t promise to respect the results of the election?”

Fifth, every House and Senate Democratic candidate should raise this, explaining that Republicans have repeatedly put Trump over country and the Constitution. The GOP cannot be trusted with power.

Sixth, voters need to avail themselves of early in-person voting (ballots for which are generally counted first on Election Day) wherever available. If they must vote by mail, they should return their ballots early. If they feel comfortable going to the supermarket with a mask, they might consider voting in person on Election Day, while maintaining social distancing.

Trump’s outlandish threat to our electoral system should serve as an indictment of Senate Republicans who left him in office despite overwhelming evidence of abuse of power. Now, the rest of us — Republicans, Democrats, independents, officeholders, civil servants, the media and ordinary voters — must step into the breach. It is up to all of us to secure our democracy and to throw out those who have made this the most treacherous election in U.S. history.

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Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) argues that the Democratic Party needs to present policies that appeal to nonvoters who do not feel either party represents them. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Jose Sanchez / AP/The Washington Post)

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