To recklessly throw around claims of voting fraud is to play a dangerous game that could do lasting harm to our democracy.
Yet politicians from the White House to the local level are indulging in that game more and more. Social media and casual conversation cheer them on.
NPR pointed out a recent high-profile example last week: Asked about the absentee ballot tampering in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District that has prompted a new election, President Donald Trump gave an answer designed to confuse.
Saying he condemns “any voter fraud,” the president went on to talk not about the improprieties surrounding the thrown-out election of Republican Mark Harris but rather the unsubstantiated claims of “a million fraudulent votes” in California.
Despite such frequently repeated claims of massive problems, the evidence shows that outright voter fraud is rare in this country (so rare that a commission appointed by Trump to investigate fraud in the 2016 election was disbanded).
As for what happened in the 9th District, it’s remarkable because it is one of the clearest cases of election fraud in recent history. A Bladen County man who worked as a political consultant in Harris’ campaign has been charged in connection with the 2016 general election and the 2018 primary election. The charges involve illegally obtaining and altering absentee ballots, and the improprieties benefited a Republican candidate.
What happened in Bladen County is noteworthy also because it doesn’t look much like the fears that are usually raised by inflammatory rhetoric about voter fraud: that hordes of illegal immigrants or people using names of dead voters are going to the polls.
Rather than worrying about actual absentee ballot tampering in Bladen County, some Republicans in the North Carolina legislature have been using false and vague charges of voter fraud to try to win support for suppressing minority voters. After the Republican legislators’ strict voter ID law was thrown out by the courts, which found that it targeted African-Americans and other minorities, they tried again with an amendment to the state’s constitution. That too was thrown out by a judge on the grounds that the legislature is so gerrymandered that its members don’t represent the people (GOP legislative leaders have filed an appeal).
As the NPR report noted, politicians often use charges of “fraud” to confuse the issue when what they’re really worried about is people whose voting choices they might not like. They are, in short, afraid of democracy.
People in both parties can play the game. Some Democrats use emotionally loaded words such as “purge” to exaggerate such procedures as challenging registrations. The danger in all this is that Americans will begin to have serious doubts about the democratic process and the results of our elections. And if their candidate loses, people might conclude that the election was rigged. Then what happens?
We’re already seeing the hard-won gains in voting rights for minorities being eroded because of fears.
The country is deeply divided. We have to contend with Russians and others manipulating social media to make us lose faith in our system.
We don’t need our political leaders further whipping up divisions and doubts with reckless and misleading rhetoric.
News & Record of Greensboro