Mr. Trump has no rational basis for his claims. Voting by mail presents logistical and administrative challenges, but it has been proved safe in blue states and red states alike. Yet this coronavirus-inflected election will feel different from what many Americans are used to, and Mr. Trump will exploit that reality to sow doubt about the results — for his own benefit, even if it corrodes faith in U.S. democracy.
The best antidote is for states to prepare now, both for increased mail-in voting and for safe in-person voting; and for Congress to give them the funds to do so, which so far Republicans are resisting.
But it also would be useful to stand up some neutral authority that could endorse fair standards for this pandemic election — and to which the nation could turn for assurance that its votes are being counted honestly. Such a bipartisan or nonpartisan commission could sort out at election time what is alarming and what is not in an unusual time.
This year, there may be no projected winner on election night, or even days after, because late-arriving mail-in ballots might swing the outcome in tight races. Preliminary election night results, without late-arriving absentee ballots, may seem favorable to Mr. Trump, as fewer Republicans than Democrats appear interested in absentee voting (in large part thanks to his dishonest trash-talking). It’s all too predictable that he will then allege fraud if the lead shifts away from him in the days following the vote.
It would help lower the temperature if a highly visible, authoritative commission were ready to observe and evaluate alleged irregularities — to clarify that voting officials in Georgia are counting votes, not stuffing ballot boxes, or that postal workers in Iowa took a little longer to deliver ballots, so it is not surprising that a surge of votes was recorded a couple days after Election Day. Alternatively, a commission could highlight authentic problems, such as long lines deterring voters from polling sites or mail-in ballots being thrown out for small technical issues beyond voters’ control.
Mr. Trump will not convene such a commission, because he wants chaos. But congressional leaders could do so, or a balanced group of business and community leaders. The American Enterprise Institute’s Norm Ornstein suggests that former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama could head the commission. If they did not want to be so visible, they could at least help establish it. The commission could rely on highly experienced U.S. election monitoring groups for expertise.
Some partisans will refuse to believe numbers they do not want to be true, no matter what. But a commission could help those Americans who might simply be confused to distinguish between what are genuine problems — and what is just more Trumpian nonsense.