In June of 1788, the United States Constitution, a brilliant plan of enlightened self-government, was ratified, breathing life into our republic. Our republic has endured for 232 years due to the patriotic efforts and sacrifices of those Americans who came before us, and the faith they had in our government’s legitimacy. That legitimacy is founded on the idea that governmental power rightfully derives from the consent of the governed. That consent is granted by the people through democratic elections.
For months President Donald Trump has attacked the integrity of our national elections. Specifically, he alleges massive mail ballot fraud. This begs the question: if President Trump thinks he is going to win, why would he seek to discredit his own re-election? Some believe that his alleging massive mail ballot fraud would allow Trump to save face if he loses the election. Many others believe that Trump is seeking to discredit the election to provide a pretext to contest the election results in one or more key swing states where Trump actually lost the popular vote. Such an act would create a constitutional crisis which surely would be challenged in the US Supreme Court. In such a scenario, were the Supreme Court to side with President Trump, it will have upended the will of the people, undercutting the legitimacy of our republic. There is no need for drama or crisis this year because the integrity of elections is secure.
Trump, who voted by absentee ballot himself, has stoked election integrity fears by focusing on the security of no excuse, universal mail in ballots which he labels as “chaos-ridden” and rife with potential for massive fraud. Instead, Trump favors the traditional absentee ballot voting used in North Carolina. According to the president, North Carolina’s absentee balloting procedure is secure and reliable because the state requires voters to request a ballot, via application, prior to being issued one. Other states such as Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have the same requirement. Since these key “swing states” may ultimately decide the presidency, Trump’s accusation that the election is rigged against him rings hollow.
Trump’s allegation of massive mail ballot fraud is extremely difficult to conceive. With 50 statewide elections, along with myriad local boards of canvassers, massive mail ballot fraud would have to start with a well-funded organization run by knowledgeable individuals, who have access to various state and local election databases along with unique ballot configurations. Further, it would require numerous accomplices in various states, whose commitment to secrecy would need to be air-tight. Coincidentally, this would be the exact type of criminal enterprise, whether foreign or domestic, that the FBI is vigilantly guarding against this election. In testimony before Congress, FBI Director Christopher Wray along with top intelligence leaders defended the integrity of the US election, and countered many of the allegations made by Trump regarding voter fraud, including mail-in ballots.
While imperfect, our republic is a mature democracy with routinely well-run, bipartisan/nonpartisan, secure elections. To safeguard the integrity of the elections, states utilize measures including voter identification, signature authentication, bar coding, mail tracking, and secure drop boxes. Consequently, voter fraud, including mail and absentee ballot voting, is infrequent and rare. According to the bipartisan Brennan Center for Justice, the rate of voter fraud ranged between 0.0003 percent and 0.0025 percent. In terms of numbers, the conservative Heritage Foundation estimated that there have been some 1,298 “proven instances of voter fraud” in the 50 states since 1979. Interestingly, most reported incidents of “voter fraud” are traceable to other sources, such as clerical errors and poor data matching practices.
In light of the evidence and facts, Trump’s claim of massive mail ballot fraud must be called out for what it is: blatant disinformation designed to manipulate or perhaps even upend the will of the American people. This must not be tolerated: we must keep the faith in our republic. Now, it is our turn to defend the republic by demanding a complete and accurate count of election ballots this November. Only then will the rightful president be declared and the people’s consent legitimately be granted.
James C. Sheehan is a member of the RI Senate. In his 20 years of service, his primary focus has been government accountability and transparency. In addition, Sheehan is a 25 year veteran of education, instructing US history, Civics and Psychology.