Why Election Integrity Should Resist the Temptation to Hitch a Ride with Trump
By Jonathan Simon
As Donald Trump — facing a defeat he signaled in advance he would not (and could not, given the stakes and his nature) accept — files lawsuit after lawsuit in a kind of virtuoso false-note cadenza improvised on a lifelong theme of litigiousness, some of my election integrity colleagues (and good friends) have declared support for Trump’s attempted putsch, “open-mindedly” asserting it is our vehicle to a new election-integrity dawn. The ironies could not be much richer.
We do face what one of my colleagues, appalled by Trump, described as a “horrible dilemma:” to seize the rarest of opportunities to secure bipartisan support and press for serious election reform or essentially keep silent vigil and pray Trump’s con doesn’t work. The answer, to me, becomes clearer with every CAPS LOCK TWEET, frivolous lawsuit, and breathless Trump/GOP fundraising appeal. This crisis is being played for money (lots of it) and short- and long-term political advantage. It has literally nothing to do with democracy or election integrity. And it is being played by the same cynics who doubled down on every thumb on the electoral scales, including voter-suppression and disinformation schemes galore.
It is worthy of note that Trump has never stopped claiming that there were “millions of illegal voters” who cost him the popular vote victory in 2016 — without ever producing a shred of evidence to substantiate that eternally repeated claim. In fact, he slapped together an Electoral Integrity “Commission” to ferret out the fraudsters and then disbanded it without so much as a Report.
And it is further worthy of note that Trump’s current strategy is not about actually overturning enough votes to win election legitimately. His own aides have acknowledged that is impossible. Rather it is fixed on delaying certification past the applicable deadlines. The law favors delay and Team Trump knows it. His plan is to prevent certification of 270 Biden electoral votes by tying up several state processes in court past the state deadlines (the “hard” one being 12/14, when the Electoral College votes on slates) and then either importuning friendly state legislatures (the GOP controls Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Arizona) to send Trump elector slates to Congress, or simply throwing the election to the House, where the GOP controls the majority of state delegations (under the Twelfth Amendment, the House votes for president by state delegation) so Trump wins.
Does that look like democracy or electoral integrity to you? To me it looks like yet another right-wing scheme to steal an election — and haven’t we been through (and been irreparably harmed by) enough of those? Don’t kid yourselves — this is a clear and present danger.
So I think we should examine what’s going on now in context. Yes, our electoral system is manifestly in need of serious reform. And yes, no Democrat, since The Help America Vote Act (2002) ushered in the Computerized Voting Era, has challenged the system’s non-transparency or the parade of red flags that that non-transparency has given rise to. But Trump has no intention of pursuing a genuine investigation bent on bringing transparency to the system. He is interested in the welfare of no one and nothing other than Donald J. Trump — not his party, not his nation, not its voters. That has been demonstrated beyond any disputing. He will lie. He will falsely accuse. He might even commit fraud as part of his desperate putsch.
I think our responsibility is not to join the Democrats and media in chanting how wonderful and legitimate our electoral system is. We know better than anyone that it is not. But our responsibility is to keep careful watch over the delay-scam that Trump is now setting in motion, and give what support we can to the beleaguered election officials who will now be attacked ruthlessly and desperately (my god, they’re even going after their own GOP Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in Georgia!). So far Trump has failed for lack of evidence in virtually every case he has taken to court, some before highly partisan right-leaning judges. We can let that process play out (it is infinitely more than Kerry or Clinton or Ossoff or Coakley or any Democrat-of-note with the exception of Al Franken has ever ventured). But we don’t have to and shouldn’t provide more anecdotal or ambiguous forensic fuel to a desperate man who has utter contempt for fact and evidence, or to the party that yet again is riding cynical shotgun for him.
It’s not that we — as Democrats, Progressives, or EI advocates — “won.” Given the polls and the control of the equipment, and given all the other outcomes (from Senate to House to state legislatures), Democrats are hardly the “winners” of this election. We have at least as good reason, in the pervasive red shift from both exit and tracking polls, to suspect wholesale rigging as Trump has to suspect retail — indeed much better, given the egregious numbers and the whole forensic history of the post-HAVA era.
Perhaps this will turn out to be a long-postponed moment of truth and reckoning for our voting system and for a counting process incidentally or diabolically designed for concealment. We continue to crunch numbers and search for telltale patterns of “mistabulation.” Computerized election fraud rarely, if ever, comes out and shakes your hand. Trust in our electoral process and its core protocols has, as I’ve cautioned with increasing urgency over the past two decades, at last jumped the shark, hit the wall, gone over the cliff — so perhaps there will now be a more receptive audience for our near-proofs and desperate pleas.
But you don’t get Trump if you don’t get that he will use everyone and everything he possibly can for his own ends — and lose you when you no longer serve them. He’s demonstrated that his whole life with hardly a single flinch. You think you’ll ride his scattershot charges to some new dawn for electoral integrity. If you get in bed with him (and do anything to further nurture the hopes of his besotted followers), don’t expect to get up in the morning.
Or perhaps I should stay away from bed analogies and take this outside. Election Integrity advocates have walked a long, lonely road in the dark. The destination seems little closer now than it was when we started decades ago; it may even be further away. You can understand the temptation to hitch a ride when one is finally offered. I once, as a teenager, hitched a ride on a dark Massachusetts highway with someone who turned out to be an armed psycho, and was lucky to escape (by barrel-rolling out the door of his speeding van) with my life. Anyone who hitches a ride with Trump for any cause, certainly on this stretch of dark highway, will need all the luck they can get.
Jonathan Simon is author of “CODE RED: Computerized Elections and The War on American Democracy” and was executive director of Election Defense Alliance from 2006–16.