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Trump's dangerous rhetoric about 2020 election

If President Trump fears the verdict that voters will render Nov. 3 about his first-term performance, then maybe he should consider resigning right now.

Instead, Trump is trying to build in excuses ahead of time for losing. The incumbent appears unwilling to accept that voters may declare, “You’re fired!” So he is laying the groundwork to claim the results were fraudulent and that he was cheated.

It is a dangerous, self-serving, unpatriotic game. The president’s unsubstantiated warnings of voter fraud undermine confidence in our democratic process. Our leaders hold authority via the consent of the governed. If that consent is in doubt, the pillars of representative government begin to crumble. And Trump is seeding that doubt.

He went beyond the pale this week in raising the question whether the Nov. 3 election should be postponed “until people can properly, securely and safely vote.” And who would make that determination? Trump? What, when his poll numbers improve? In that case, there might never be an election.

It is an absurd suggestion, of course. Trump should be embarrassed, if he were capable. The U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to fix the date of the election. Since 1845, through the Civil War, the Great Depression, and two world wars, it has remained the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Congress is not going to change it and the president cannot.

The president bases his prediction that “2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history” on the anticipated increase in absentee/mail-in voting, a product of the reality that many voters want to avoid the crowds at polling stations during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, if the Trump administration had not so spectacularly mismanaged the pandemic it would be under better control and in-person voting would be safer. That irony seems to elude Trump.

Another constitutional lesson for the president: it is up to each of the 50 states how to conduct elections and how extensively to allow mail-in voting. Article II of the Constitution unambiguously affords the states the power to select presidential electors (i.e. the electoral college).

Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Hawaii and Utah already conduct their elections almost exclusively by mail, without evidence of fraud or disenfranchisement of voters. Every state has long offered voters, to varying degrees, the option to request absentee ballots. About one-in-five ballots cast in the 2016 presidential election were mail votes. Trump, the winner in the electoral college vote, was happy to accept those results.

Could there be problems as states, like Connecticut, prepare to count far more mail-in ballots than they have traditionally dealt with? Yes, there could and probably will be. Results could be delayed days beyond Election Day as mail-in ballots are counted. Based on problems during primaries, there are legitimate concerns that voters may not get the absentee ballots requested or that votes will be discounted on technicalities, such as voters forgetting to sign.

These problems, if not adequately addressed, could well hurt Democratic candidates as much or more than Republicans. The focus should be on doing this right, not on causing undo alarm.

Paradoxically, in key swing state Florida, it is the GOP that has a history of effectively using absentee ballots to help boost the senior, and traditionally more conservative, vote, and tapping military personnel stationed abroad who also tend toward the Republican brand. Florida resident Donald Trump votes by absentee ballot.

So, while this election has its special challenges, there is no evidence to back Trump’s claims of pending widespread fraud tied to such voting. In any event, a mail-in ballot fraud big enough to swing a major election would be impossibly complex and readily detected by obvious statistical anomalies in vote totals.

Instead, it is Trump’s rhetoric, like so many of his statements, which is fraudulent.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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