A strong 21st century democracy is one where everyone can participate and do so free of intimidation. But it appears that some have a different vision for American democracy, based in fear and exclusion. Recent comments by Republican nominee Donald Trump and his supporters about voter fraud, trying to cast doubt on the results before the votes have even been counted, is not only irresponsible, it is also a lie. Trump took his dangerous rhetoric a step further in Wednesday night’s debate, refusing to commit to accepting the election results. Combining this with his irresponsible comments about a “rigged election” and voter fraud, Trump is hurting our democratic process at the most basic level. Any candidate who questions the integrity of elections without producing one shred of evidence doesn’t understand how democracy works. Trafficking in rumors and innuendo is an affront to the professionalism of election officials in both parties, raises doubts for candidates seeking office down ballot and most importantly confuses voters. If a person can’t tell the difference between actual evidence of wrongdoing that should be turned over to authorities, and a forwarded email peddling conspiracy theories, perhaps it’s best to say nothing and allow the professional election administrators who’ve devoted their careers to making sure our elections are fair to do their jobs.
There’s a reason he’s descended into conspiracy mongering, but the damage wrought could long outlast him. These types of conspiracy theories weaken our democracy by making people think their votes don’t count. But the same people who question the integrity of elections also refuse to support common sense solutions that modernize our elections and strengthen the security of our voting system, such as automatic voter registration.
Donald Trump’s escalating rhetoric about voter fraud or tampering at polling places, without any evidence whatsoever, is a danger to our democracy. His calls to supporters to “watch voters in certain places because I’ve heard things” is intended to intimidate voters and is incendiary and irresponsible. Properly trained poll workers, working through local election boards, or volunteers for large-scale election protection efforts, are two ways citizens can help ensure fair elections by taking the time to get trained and understand how the process works. Thousands of trained volunteers help first-time voters, assist voters with disabilities, trouble shoot problems and work so every eligible voter gets to cast a ballot, regardless of party. That’s a far cry from the rhetoric dominating the media now.
Elected officials from both political parties are right to condemn this reprehensible behavior, and more must stand up against it now. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, has called Donald Trump’s rhetoric “irresponsible.” Even U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan rebuked Trump’s claims, saying he is “fully confident” in our election system.