(Photo: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images; Pacific Standard)
Moderator Chris Wallace just asked Donald Trump whether he would honor the outcome of the election. Trump’s response: “I will look at it at the time…. I’ll keep you in suspense.”
Trump has long insisted that, if he loses in November, it will be because of widespread voting fraud perpetrated by the Democratic Party. At the end of the first debate, Trump seemed to modulate his tone, pledging to honor the outcome of the election even if Hillary Clinton wins. Shortly after the debate, he rescinded that pledge, and the main theme of his candidacy ever since has been that widespread fraud is inevitable.
Setting aside concerns that Trump is helping destroy faith in the electoral process, his campaign is also set to impede actual voting, on the ground.
As early as August, Trump’s website was soliciting supporters to volunteer as “Trump Election Observers”—an idea that is at best redundant and at worst reeks of voter intimidation—during the first presidential election in half a century where voters won’t enjoy the full protections of the Voting Rights Act:
As Public Policy Polling found after the first debate, Trump supporters believe overwhelmingly that voter fraud could be decisive in the election: According to PPP, 65 percent of surveyed Trump supporters said that, if Clinton wins the election, it will be because things were rigged in her favor. Just 21 percent say that a Clinton victory would be legitimate. And some of them are ready to hit the street. Take what one Trump supporter told the Boston Globe earlier this week:
“Trump said to watch your precincts. I’m going to go, for sure,” said Steve Webb, a 61-year-old carpenter from Fairfield, Ohio.
“I’ll look for … well, it’s called racial profiling. Mexicans. Syrians. People who can’t speak American,” he said. “I’m going to go right up behind them. I’ll do everything legally. I want to see if they are accountable. I’m not going to do anything illegal. I’m going to make them a little bit nervous.”
Research suggests that such an initiative would lead to the suppression of honest votes. Adam Gitlin, of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law, spoke to ProPublica about this danger:
There’s actually a risk that, in a more disorganized way, people are going to be showing up to the polls, they won’t know the law, and they’ll be engaging in discriminatory challenges. That can create the potential for a lot of disruption, longer lines because each voter takes longer to vote, and potentially discouraging and intimidating voters from coming to the polls.
The Brennan Center reports that it’s legal in 46 states for a private citizen to challenge a voter’s registration on or before Election Day. That means, potentially, a passel of increasingly angry Trump voters shouting at Hispanic voters, or worse—all in service to fixing a terrifying problem that doesn’t exist.