Editorial: Cynical Trump feeds paranoia of rampant voter fraud

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at Windham High School, on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016, in Windham, New Hampshire. | Evan Vucci/AP

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Even when he contemplates possible defeat, Donald Trump has an excellent way of reminding us why he has no business being president of the United States.

Trump is not one to accept blame or admit personal failure — ever. And so, as he plummets in the polls, he now insists that if he loses it likely will be the result of massive voter fraud. It is a charge based on nothing, like much what of Trump says, but it will further undermine public confidence in the integrity of our nation’s democratic system. Jacking up the cynicism — that will be Trump’s lasting contribution to American politics.

“We’re going to have unbelievable turnout, but we don’t want to see people voting five times, folks,” Trump said at a rally on Sunday in Altoona, Pa., lamenting the lack of tougher voter ID requirements at polling stations. The Republican nominee for president has repeatedly fed a false but widespread belief among arch-conservatives that droves of sneaky liberals typically vote multiple times.

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Election fraud happens, but almost never in that way. An awful lot of people would have to cast fake ballots in person to significantly skew the results of an election, which would be hard not to notice. It’s just not an efficient way to steal an election. A 2014 study by Loyola University law professor Justin Levitt found just 31 instances of possible voter fraud of this sort, out of more than 1 billion votes cast, between 2000 and 2014.

Real election fraud, by both Democrats and Republicans, historically has involved vote-buying, coercion or ballot-box stuffing before or after the polls opened or closed. Those were the preferred methods in Chicago’s bad old machine days, even if the old joke was “Vote early and vote often.”

But the true threat to the integrity of the ballot today, as recent federal court rulings have made clear, lies in persistent efforts by Republican state legislators across the country to prohibit legitimate voters from voting. The threat to democracy, that is to say, is not one person voting five times; it is hundreds of thousands of people not being allowed to vote once.

As a rule, every effort should be made to expand voter participation, which is why we regret Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto last week of a bill that would have automatically registered qualified people to vote when they obtain or renew a driver’s license. Rauner has long said he favors such a law in concept, but the bill in question was fuzzy and flawed, placing too many burdens on the Board of Elections, inadvertently increasing the risk of voter fraud, and lacking sufficient funding. The fact that those new voters — younger, more transient — would be more likely to vote Democratic in the upcoming November elections, Rauner’s office said, was never a consideration.

Make of that what you will, but the real travesty in recent years has been efforts in other states to actually reduce the number of people eligible to vote. Most of these Republican-led efforts are flat-out racist, disallowing forms of identification more commonly used by African-American voters, for the simple reason that African-Americans are more likely to vote Democratic.

Two weeks ago, a federal appeals court struck down a voter ID law in North Carolina that, the court said, targeted black Americans “with almost surgical precision.” A week earlier, a federal appeals court ruled that a voter ID law in Texas unconstitutionally aimed at suppressing the vote among African Americans and Latinos. Other such laws have been struck down in North Dakota, Kansas and Michigan.

We doubt that Trump has thought about any of this or cares. He’s some kind of politician, to be sure — there is no qualifying exam — but he will never be a statesman. Bigger issues of principle and country will always elude him. He’s a blowhard New York real estate developer who’s done pretty well for himself by stiffing others. As long as he thinks feeding division and cynicism will get him one more vote, he’ll go there.

Trump continues to bet that most Americans are no more decent than he is.

As he might say: Sad.

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