Donald Trump protests that his ascent to the White House is threatened by a “rigged election.” By the phrase “rigged election” he means different things at different times: that the media treats him unfairly, that other institutions have failed in their duties, that illegal votes will be cast.
All of those are absolutely true, but that is not why Donald Trump is going to lose the election. He will lose because he has failed to win over the voters of — let’s go ahead and call the roll here — the swing states of New Hampshire (+11 Clinton), Virginia (+11 Clinton), Michigan (+8 Clinton), Colorado (+7 Clinton), North Carolina (+6 Clinton), Pennsylvania (+6 Clinton), along with the voters of conservative Georgia (+4 Clinton) and practically every traditionally Democratic state (Trump boasted that he’d put states such as New Jersey, Connecticut, and New York into play, but is in fact losing them by 12, 15, and 20 points, respectively). They are not buying what Trump is selling. Florida is in the toss-up column, which is to be expected, but then so is Texas, which is catastrophic. Utah may very well go for a candidate who may not technically be named “Egg McMuffin” but who may as well be.
Trump is wrong in the conclusions he draws from his complaints, but that does not subtract from the truth of those complaints.
That the news media’s attitude toward Hillary Rodham Clinton vacillates between kid-glove deference (CNN) and outright sycophancy (Politico’s Glenn Thrush) is too well-established to merit my rehearsing it here, and the failure of the Justice Department and other federal agencies in the Clinton e-mail matter is beyond dispute (Andrew C. McCarthy has left James Comey’s reputation in such a condition that its remains cannot be detected by conventional scientific instruments). These are important questions for this election.
But the question of actual electoral fraud is an issue for every election, and bears further consideration.
Try as our Democratic friends might, there is no denying that fraudulent voting happens. Illegal immigrants and other non-citizens cast votes: Research from politics professors Jesse Richman and David Earnest finds that one in six non-citizens are registered to vote, and many of them report voting illegally. Legal U.S. voters have been found illegally voting in multiple states. Efforts to purge voter rolls of ineligible voters, e.g. dead people, have been resisted strongly by Democrats, as have efforts to see to the enforcement of laws against voting by felons. It is easily within the realm of statistical possibility that these votes have been decisive in at least two elections: Al Franken’s 2008 Senate election and Barack Obama’s 2008 victory in North Carolina.
For Democrats, this is a game of moving the goalposts. Their first objection was: Illegal voting doesn’t happen. When it was decisively shown that it does happen, the criterion changed: Well, it doesn’t happen very much. When it was decisively shown that voting infractions are fairly common, the criterion changed again: There’s no dispositive evidence that illegal voting has thrown a major election.
The question of actual electoral fraud is an issue for every election, and bears further consideration.
The goalpost-moving game is a funny one. At the same time they deny or attempt to minimize fraudulent voting, Democrats have made a great fuss about “voter suppression,” which usually consists of such sneaky Republican dirty tricks as requiring that voters show up at the polls with a photo-ID card made available to them free of charge at the local DMV. (The libertarian in me suspects that making regular DMV visits a mandatory part of the voting experience would do more to reform American politics than all the think-tank wonkery combined.) Democrats also strongly resist efforts to enforce ordinary laws against fraudulent voting by dead people (Lyndon Johnson’s second-most-important constituency, behind household pets), prisoners, disenfranchised felons, and the like. Even if we buy the argument that there’s no real evidence that illegal voting has thrown an election, there’s no evidence that voter-ID laws or enforcing other voting laws has thrown an election, either. The focal distance of these stories is forever changing: If the question is purported “disenfranchisement,” then anecdote rules and statistical questions are set aside; if the question is illegal voting, then statistical claims are central and anecdotes are dismissed as uninformative.
That’s cheap high-school debaters’ stuff, but it works more often than you’d think.
The fact is that we should be opposed to illegal voting even if it is only desultory and rare, even if it amounts to something less than a decisive factor in electoral outcomes. For one thing, it is wrong, malum in se, and for another, it actually does what the Democrats accuse Trump of doing: It undermines confidence in the legitimacy of U.S. elections. Shootings by police officers in questionable confrontations are not the leading killer of black men in the United States, or among the top-ten causes of death for black men, or the top 100 or the top 1,000. (For teenaged black men, it’s homicide, suicide, and heart disease; for black men in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, HIV and strokes emerge as top causes of early death.) But if it were the case that black men are being wrongly killed by police officers, we would want to act on that irrespective of whether it was a statistically significant cause of death, because it is wrong and because it undermines confidence in law enforcement.
The hypocrisy is difficult to bear. For the entirety of the 21st century, Democrats have complained that George W. Bush and an illegitimate, corrupt Supreme Court intervened to rob Al Gore of the presidency. But there is more to it than that. For years, Democrats from Hillary Rodham Clinton to Bernie Sanders to Elizabeth Warren have complained that the economic system is rigged by shadowy international elites against the interests of ordinary people. We have not seen very much in the way of political rioting, but we have seen significant violence in response to that kind of rhetoric, from riots in Seattle to attempted acts of terrorism in Ohio.
Should Democrats cease speaking about the “rigged” economic system because of that violence? No, they should cease making the claim that our economic system is rigged because that claim is false.
We should continue talking about illegal voting because the claim is true, and because it is necessary that we do something about it.
Despite the hysterical ninnies, this is not the most important election of our lifetimes, nor is it likely to be the last American presidential election, as some of our apocalyptic friends insist. There will be future elections, and we will need to do something to ensure that they are not marred by fraudulent voting.
Fuming, sputtering Donald Trump, in his coming retirement, probably is not going to be a great deal of help in that project. But that does not mean that there isn’t something to his complaint.