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We Unpack Donald Trump’s Grand Unified Theory of Rigged Elections

TrumpSince his poll numbers tanked, Donald Trump has been angling to preemptively disqualify the results of the presidential race by alleging that the election is rigged against him.

Speaking Wednesday afternoon to a crowd of supporters in Abington, Virginia, Trump outlined his theory of exactly how and why the presidential election would be compromised.

His remarks on the subject in full were:

One of the things I suggested is your ballots. You go and sign — do it early so you don’t have to — because on November 8th we have our big day. And if you go in and sign, we have some people in the room now that I met before that are going to be pushing hard. But put in your ballots. They have certain requirements and you live by those requirements perfectly. Make sure they don’t lose your ballot. Make sure they don’t lose your vote, which I’m sure — You know, and I just left a great place, North Carolina. And they just had a tremendous loss. Voter ID. Voter ID. They lost voter ID. How do you lose voter ID? You mean, you don’t have to show identification? You don’t have to show that — hey? And then you say, you know, I‘ve been talking about the rigged system for a long time. And I get hammered in the press for talking about — “Oh, I can’t believe he’d be talking about the rigged system.” And then in the meantime, voter ID you don’t have to do. And I’m sure none of those folks would be voting ten times during one day. Right? I’m sure a thing like that. But I gotta — and really, a big part of the rigged system is the press itself. Because they can take a little story that isn’t a story and make it into a big deal. Happens so much. Happens so much.

Trump’s grand unified theory of rigged elections is something of a multi-tentacled monster, with the candidate gesticulating at a host of diverse threats to the democratic process. I’ve tried to unpack his theory below.

1.) One of the things I suggested is your ballots. You go and sign — do it early so you don’t have to — because on November 8th we have our big day.

Trump is likely encouraging people to get to their polling place early in the day on Tuesday — rather than take advantage of “early voting” in the sense of voting prior to Nov. 8.

Early voting in this latter sense is anathema to the GOP. Since 2010, Republican-led legislatures in eight states passed laws scaling back and cutting early voting periods, effectively limiting opportunities for people to cast their ballot and creating long lines on Election Day.

2.) And if you go in and sign, we have some people in the room now that I met before that are going to be pushing hard. But put in your ballots. They have certain requirements and you live by those requirements perfectly. Make sure they don’t lose your ballot. Make sure they don’t lose your vote, which I’m sure —

In enjoining his supporters to get there early in the day (“and sign”), Trump is apparently suggesting that if supporters arrive too late, someone may have already cast their vote for them — in essence, impersonating them and stealing their vote. This is the specter of in-person voter fraud that Republicans invoke in arguments for the necessity of strict photo-identification laws. This form of voter fraud is virtually non-existent.

When Trump says, “They have certain requirements, and you live by those requirements perfectly,” he is likely referring to Virginia’s photo ID law that has been in effect since 2014. That bill was passed by a majority-Republican House and a split Senate (with a GOP lieutenant governor casting the tie-breaking vote in the law’s favor), and signed into law by a Republican governor.

Trump takes care to assuage any doubts that the crowd might lack the required forms of ID (“you live by those requirements fully.”) A list of acceptable forms of ID is viewable here. The law was upheld in court in May 2016, but that decision is currently on appeal, according to the Brennan Center.

3.) You know, and I just left a great place, North Carolina. And they just had a tremendous loss.

The “tremendous loss” Trump mentions refers to the July ruling in which the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a number of provisions of North Carolina’s omnibus law that packaged several restrictions to voter registration and in-person voting. The Court found that the law “targeted African Americans with almost surgical precision.” More on that below.

4.) Voter ID. Voter ID. They lost voter ID. How do you lose voter ID? You mean, you don’t have to show identification? You don’t have to show that — hey?

The North Carolina law laid out an array of barriers to the ballot: It removed same-day registration, reduced the early voting period by one week, ended voter registration drives and pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds, and instituted a strict photo ID requirement. Based on his repeated invocation of “voter ID,” it is apparently the loss of the photo-identification requirement that troubles Trump the most.

In striking down those provisions of the law, the Court wrote:

The photo ID requirement, which applies only to in-person voting and not to absentee voting, is too narrow to combat fraud. On the one hand, the State has failed to identify even a single individual who has ever been charged with committing in-person voter fraud in North Carolina.

In summary, the photo ID requirement was among the law’s provisions that “impose[d] cures for problems that did not exist,” the Court wrote.

If voter ID laws do nothing to prevent voter fraud, they do successfully prevent Hispanics, African-Americans, and mixed race Americans from casting their ballots and demonstrably tip elections in favor of the political right, according to a recent study. Another study in 2014 by the Government Accountability Office found that voter ID laws in Kansas and Tennessee reduced turnout by 2 to 3 percent, especially among young, African-American, and newly registered voters.

5.) And then you say, you know, I‘ve been talking about the rigged system for a long time. And I get hammered in the press for talking about — “Oh, I can’t believe he’d be talking about the rigged system.”

Here Trump makes the leap from voter impersonation fraud to the media. Trump has repeatedly called the press liars, has blacklisted an array of media outlets for reporting he finds unflattering, and has discussed opening up libel laws to make it easier to take journalists to court.

6.) And then in the meantime, voter ID you don’t have to do. And I’m sure none of those folks would be voting ten times during one day. Right? I’m sure a thing like that.

Trump invoked the “voting ten times” canard in an interview with the Washington Post last week. “If you don’t have voter ID, you can just keep voting and voting and voting,” he said.

7.) But I gotta — and really, a big part of the rigged are system is the press itself. Because they can take a little story that isn’t a story and make it into a big deal. Happens so much. Happens so much.

The press colludes with the forces of voter fraud by focussing its attention elsewhere, Trump claims. His “little story” is likely a reference to the kerfuffle surrounding his comments Tuesday, in which he encouraged “2nd Amendment people” to fight back against Hillary Clinton should she be elected. Many took the remarks as an incitement to gun violence, and they reportedly earned Trump a meeting with the Secret Service. Trump and his campaign denied that that was his intention.

***

In sum, Trump claims that voter impersonation is rampant, despite Republicans’ inability to produce evidence to that effect. He suggests that the judiciary failed to protect the integrity of elections when it struck down the highly restrictive provisions of North Carolina’s law, particularly the photo ID requirement. He neglects the fact that those provisions have been shown to muzzle minority voters and that the Circuit Court concluded that the state legislature “enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent.” Finally, he chides the press for not treating the notion of a rigged election with the seriousness he feels it deserves.

[image via screengrab]

Sam Reisman (@thericeman) is a staff editor at Mediaite.

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