The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump’s campaign to discredit the election is deeply dishonest and dangerous

President Trump speaks at a coronavirus briefing at the White House on Wednesday.
President Trump speaks at a coronavirus briefing at the White House on Wednesday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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IN A democracy, the first rule of leadership is to model trust in electoral processes, tempered by willingness to reform their demonstrated flaws. President Trump, by contrast, is currently engaged in a campaign to discredit the upcoming November election, based on the idea that mail-in voting, necessitated by public health amid the pandemic he has failed to tame, will create the “greatest rigged election in history,” as he put it in a news conference Wednesday. This is deeply dishonest — and dangerous.

As is often the case with Mr. Trump, his narrative is not only false but also self-contradictory and convoluted. Mail-in voting is not riddled with opportunities for fraud; it has been carried out honestly in several states for years. Mr. Trump is on record favoring absentee voting, which is functionally the same as mail-in, in terms of the demands on the U.S. Postal Service. On Tuesday, he added the assertion that congressional Democrats are holding up an economic stimulus package over a demand for “$3.5 billion for universal mail-in”; actually, the $3.6 billion the House included in the Heroes Act was for general, much-needed election logistical support. It could not be conditioned on mail-in voting because that is up to the states.

Mr. Trump also faulted the Democrats for demanding a $25 billion bailout for the USPS, then said the fact that he’ll never agree to it means “they don’t have the money to do the universal mail-in votes” and fraud will result. This non sequitur is also a fib. In a USA Today op-ed published a few hours before Mr. Trump’s news conference, top postal officials said that, even without additional funds, they have “ample capacity to deliver America’s election mail,” which “will account for less than 2 percent of all mail volume from mid-September until Election Day.” That is not a “vast amount of ballots . . . being sent at random,” as Mr. Trump would have it. To be sure, the USPS’s new, and disruptive, effort to get overtime costs under control has fueled Democratic suspicions that it will not be able — or willing — to keep that promise. That’s what can happen when the Postal Board of Governors (four Republicans, two Democrats, all Trump appointees) picks a top Trump political donor to run the agency.

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The truth is that seven states and the District will have universal vote-by-mail this fall; most others will have liberalized absentee voting. It’s likely that roughly twice as many voters will use those methods than in 2016, when nearly one-quarter of the 136.6 million votes were mail-in or absentee. Yes, counting of mailed-in ballots in New York’s primary was a fiasco, as Mr. Trump incessantly says, but most states are learning by doing, and more recent primaries have gone smoothly. A decent, democratic president, genuinely concerned with honest elections and his people’s fundamental right to vote, would be touting improvements and offering assistance to make sure they continue through November. A desperate, demagogic president, behind in the polls, would sow confusion and conspiracy theories, trying to delegitimize in advance any result other than a victory for him. That is what Mr. Trump is doing.

Historian Carol Anderson traces the evolution of voter suppression tactics — from poll taxes to poll closures — and argues they are all rooted in White rage. (Video: The Washington Post)

Read more:

Jonathan Capehart: Vote like Miss Sylvia: Hand deliver your mail-in or absentee ballot

Paul Waldman: Trump's attack on the Postal Service is now a national emergency

Julio Ricardo Varela: Is Puerto Rico’s botched primary a preview of what an Election Day crisis will look like?

Alexandra Petri: What could the president possibly mean when he says he wants to deny the Post Office funding?

The Post’s View: President Trump wants to undermine the election. Here’s one way to stop him.