The Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Election

Donald Trump claims the 2020 presidential election will be the most fraudulent in history. What’s really going to happen?

Photo by Tiffany Tertipes on Unsplash

Fake ballots, people voting more than once, a person voting from the grave, long lines, and broken voting machines. Democracy’s so-called most sacred institution, voting, doesn’t look all that efficient. Add to the mix a significant disinformation campaign spearheaded by D.C and a raging virus, the 2020 election is the stuff of nightmares for experts.

But what is really going to happen?

First, it is important to take a step back and understand how the government tweaks the narrative and what is happening now. Noam Chomsky and Samuel Huntington have long raised the point that the United States government creates what they term “misimpressions” to push Americans towards a certain political opinion on important issues. This is not specific to the United States by any means but is significant in terms of the country’s standing on the world stage. Today, we would be more likely to use the term “disinformation,” but nonetheless, the main concept is to purposely give false information or hide facts from the public in order to gain domestic support for government action. This has happened for decades but is more prevalent now because social media is the perfect catalyst to spread these misimpressions.

It happened in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, where the United States intelligence community has stated with “high confidence” that Russia was involved in a disinformation campaign to influence potential voters. They are doing the same thing as we speak, as the Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) Willian Evanina stated in June, and they have the perfect ammunition: mail-in voting.

“Because of MAIL-IN BALLOTS, 2020 will be the most RIGGED Election in our nations history,” President Donald Trump tweeted on June 22nd. His administration’s continuous claims that mail-in and absentee ballots are subjected to tampering and fraud, whether through duplicating votes or the possibility of the dead voting the grave, have raised serious misconceptions among American citizens about the safety of mail-in voting. Whether the President genuinely believes those claims or not, it is a targeted attempt at suppressing votes and gives him an excuse to challenge the legitimacy of the system should he lose reelection.

But the idea that the 2020 election will be rigged because of mail-in ballots is not true. Officials in the intelligence community have directly countered President Trump’s conspiracies, saying that the production of fake ballots will not be an issue in the November election, and the claims that states will send ballots to every resident, including nonvoters, has been debunked. Most states that allow mail-in and absentee voting have a rigorous and thorough process that ensures votes aren’t counted twice, lost, or forged. For example, Pennsylvania has a tracking system from the moment a voter puts in a request for a mail-in or absentee ballot to the point when the county receives that ballot. Other states have similar measures, like signature analysis and cameras watching ballot drop-off boxes.

To determine exactly how risky the mail-in voting system is, a Washington Post analysis with the help from the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) found that improper votes in the 2016 and 2018 general elections in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon accounted for only 0.0025 percent of all votes. In simpler terms, the risk is minuscule and not likely to be statistically relevant in a presidential election.

There is a case to be made that mail-in voting is much safer than casting an electronic vote. Many counties in the United States have outdated machines running on outdated programs which give foreign entities ample opportunities to manipulate votes through hacking. That, not forged ballots, is intelligence officials’ main concern, though the manipulation of votes is highly unlikely to take place without the government’s knowledge.

So the prospects of a candidate winning the presidency due to fraudulent mail-in ballots are nonexistent unless states completely bypass the safeguards in place, but there are going to be issues with the November election that the country hasn’t faced previously.

Mail-in ballots are going to cause a problem, but not in the way the President predicts. Allowing voters to cast a ballot by mail has largely been on a state by state basis, but now with more states electing to turn to the system because of COVID-19, there will be some hiccups along the way. As Nathanial Rakich from FiveThirtyEight writes, “Converting to a vote-by-mail system is arduous and expensive, and most states simply aren’t set up to smoothly conduct a mail election with their present resources and laws.” The states that already have an expansive mail-in voting system in place have constructed it over years, and some states will be attempting to do it in five months. This doesn’t mean it will be disastrous, but it won’t be a shining example of efficiency.

Some states are recommending that voters send their ballots in a few weeks in advance of the November 3rd deadline to give poll workers a chance to keep up with what is likely going to be an overwhelming amount of mail-in ballots. There are also concerns that some counties will face a lack of poll workers because of the coronavirus, and will make the counting of ballots all the more difficult. The other issue is delays in the United States Postal Service itself due to changing policy procedures implemented by new Postmaster General Louis Dejoy — surely a coincidence right before the most expansive vote-by-mail election in US history. With all of those things working against mail-in ballots, along with general confusion and misunderstanding on how they work, officials and experts aren’t ruling out that the outcome of the election won’t be determined on the night of November 3rd. It might not even be the next day.

Although there are a few concerns, there is no evidence to support the idea that the 2020 election will be the most “rigged” in history because of mail-in ballots, but questions do need to be asked to ensure that the postal system is properly functioning in November. If the delays continue, we would likely see a massive case of intended or unintended voter suppression, where votes that miss a specific deadline do not count. Trial runs in the New York primary, which was bombarded by mail-in votes and a system that wasn’t prepared, and the Georgia primary, which saw clear cases of voter suppression and long lines, are precursors to what we will see in November.

It might not be an illegitimate election, but November will be filled with uncertainty, probable legal battles, and a uniqueness not flattering to the self-proclaimed “strongest” democracy in the world.

Writer on current affairs & politics. I have a Masters degree in government from Johns Hopkins.

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