Democratic faith turns out to be as fragile as it is necessary, and Trump specializes in undermining it. When he repeatedly asserts massive fraud months before Election Day, announces that he won’t respect results that go against him, and refuses to promise a peaceful transfer of power—the litmus test of democracy—he is forcing Americans into a mental trap that can resemble madness. The president says that the election is rigged, and he also insinuates that he will rig the election. To believe him is frightening; to discount him is foolish. Either way, Trump becomes ever more powerful, while the people—on whose consent his power entirely depends—slip into passivity and paralysis, or are pushed into rage, even political violence.
Barton Gellman: The election that could break America
This is exactly the atmosphere of chaos in which Trump thrives. He makes it almost impossible to hold on to the idea that the election can be free and fair. But the survival of democracy, which lives and dies in our minds before anywhere else, depends on that idea. For the election to succeed, we have to think and act as if it will succeed.
Stealing an election remains extremely difficult, and almost impossible if the vote isn’t close. The Brennan Center for Justice has just released two reports that detail a number of improvements made by states, after failures during the primaries, to ensure voting accessibility and integrity. For example, 11 states have recently relaxed their rules to allow all voters to submit their ballot by mail; just five of the 50 still require a justification. “Litigation attempts by the Trump campaign and Republican committees to block state election officials from allowing everyone to vote absentee have so far been uniformly unsuccessful,” one of the Brennan Center reports says.
Prepaid postage and extended deadlines for absentee ballots, secure drop boxes, expanded early voting, new requirements for backup paper ballots, improved cybersecurity and vote-counting machinery—these and other recent fixes don’t get as much attention as scandals like the Florida legislature’s disenfranchising new law that forces ex-felons to pay court fines before being allowed to vote, or the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s absurd ruling that, to be counted, absentee ballots must be sealed inside two envelopes. Still, the Brennan Center reports suggest that local election officials are not hopelessly corrupt. In states like Ohio and Utah, Republicans have pushed back against Trump’s claim that mail-in ballots will lead to fraud. Most election officials care about the legitimacy of the vote in their area.
Lawrence Norden, an election-security expert at the Brennan Center and a co-author of the other report, works closely with local officials. Their greatest worry, he told me, is lack of resources for Election Day. Budget cuts and congressional inaction have left them struggling to hire poll workers, provide protective equipment, and pay for other essentials. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has donated $250 million to fill the gaps—helpful, but hardly adequate or the proper role for a billionaire whose company bears some responsibility for undermining public confidence in elections.