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Dana Milbank: Trump won't be able to derail voting
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Dana Milbank: Trump won't be able to derail voting

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has done everything in his power — and some things outside his power — to sabotage the election.

He has suggested postponing the election and holding a re-vote, warned baselessly about rampant fraud and pushed his supporters to vote twice. The big-time Trump donor now running the Post Office has impaired mail delivery and sent misinformation to voters about mail-in ballots.

But here's the good news: It's not going to work.

Trump has succeeded in sowing confusion about the ability of the United States to hold a free and fair election. His allies in Congress have abetted the sabotage by refusing to give states the funds they need to hold an election during a pandemic while defending against foreign adversaries' interference. But despite the attempts to incapacitate elections, the United States is on course to give Americans more ways to cast ballots than ever — and more certainty than ever that their ballots will be accurately counted.

"While it's critical we be clear-eyed about the problems and keep up the pressure to do better, there's been too much alarmism," said Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the New York University Law School's Brennan Center for Justice. "People have the impression that the election is not going to work and they're going to have problems, which is absolutely not the case for the vast majority of Americans."

The Brennan Center exists in part to sound the alarm about flaws in the voting system, so it's worth noting that Weiser says "we've watched the election system improve before our eyes" — especially after a pandemic primary season characterized by closed polling places, long lines and chaos.

Among the encouraging signs:

Somewhere between 96% and 97% of votes cast in this election will have paper backup — assurance against fraud and interference — compared with only about 80% in 2016. If there's a challenge to election results, there will be a paper trail to verify the outcome.

Trump's attempt to cause chaos by telling his supporters to vote twice? All states have protections against that, and all battleground states (including North Carolina, where Trump has focused his vote-twice effort) have ballot-tracking bar codes on their mail ballots — so voters and election officials will know whether someone has already voted. Their attempts to vote twice may cause delays as people submit provisional ballots, but there's a near-zero chance they will succeed in voting twice, Weiser says.

Trump's attempt to sabotage the Post Office to prevent mail-in balloting? Almost all states that have vote-by-mail also have multiple options for returning ballots. With a couple of exceptions, battleground states have some combination of drop boxes, early voting locations and election offices that will accept dropped-off ballots.

As for mail-in voting in general, elections officials and lawmakers in Democratic and Republican states alike have vastly expanded the availability, despite Trump's attempts to discredit this long-standing and reliable method. Thanks to recent changes, all but six states — Indiana, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee — now either send ballots automatically or allow voters to request them without needing a special excuse for doing so.

Likewise, all but six states (Connecticut, Delaware, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire and parts of North Dakota) now offer some form of early voting so voters can avoid Election Day crowds.

Finally, after primaries plagued by precinct closures and a shortage of poll workers, the Brennan Center now expects the number of Election Day polling places to be close to 2016's level, even if there's a resurgence of the coronavirus.

Want to help? Sign up to be a poll worker at powerthepolls.org, or contact your local election office.

Certainly, there are still hurdles. The biggest problem may be misinformation, much of it amplified by the Trump administration. On Saturday, a federal judge temporarily blocked the U.S. Postal Service from sending out a mailer that gave incorrect voting information. There's still some hope Congress will provide states with funds to send out correct information to voters — but Senate Republicans may block even that.

The best thing the rest of us can do is counter misinformation with accurate information.

Above all, don't inadvertently reinforce Trump's vandalism with hand-wringing about voting problems. Yes, Trump is trying to sabotage voting. But the world's greatest democracy knows how to hold an election.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

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