It’s a classic childhood tale.
It goes a little something like this: a young boy repeatedly attempts to trick his fellow villagers into thinking a wolf is coming to attack the town’s herd of sheep.
Startled and alarmed, the villagers raced up to the boy crying out that a wolf was nearby. When they discovered no wolf was present, they warned the boy to stop but went about carrying on with their daily lives.
This went on multiple times, with the boy falsely crying “wolf” and the villagers responding.
Until one day, a wolf did appear. But when the boy alerted the villagers, they figured it was a false alarm and didn’t respond to the boy’s cry.
President Donald Trump has forced us to live that tale these past four years, and it is bound to continue until at least November, if not beyond.
First, he told us he lost the popular vote by over 2 million votes to Hillary Clinton in 2016 because “millions of people” voted illegally. There is no evidence to suggest any widespread voter fraud occurred in the 2016 election, or that it exists in general in the United States.
This time, Trump is muddying the waters and sowing doubt over mail-in voting. There is expected to be a surge in mail-in voting this November due to fears over the coronavirus pandemic.
“Who’s mailing them? Mostly Democrat states and Democrat governors,” Trump said at his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. “Well, supposing they don’t mail them to Republican neighborhoods. That means they’re not going to get them.”
Trump is playing with fire here. For one, Republicans aren’t even supporting his outlandish theories on why mail-in voting is rigged against him. Various state Republican parties are encouraging their voters to cast a ballot by mail this year, and some even worry that Trump’s comments to undermine confidence in the election could backfire and cause Trump voters uncomfortable with voting in person not to vote by mail themselves for fear their vote will not be counted fairly.
The Chicago-Tribune wrote that five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington — already practice all-mail elections in which every registered voter receives a mail-in ballot. Voting by mail is nothing new but has now become the subject of the partisan firing ring of the day.
Trump said out loud what many Republicans have been quietly whispering about for years: the party’s base of support is narrow and getting narrower, skewing older, whiter and male. Trump said if the country switched to all-mail voting “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”
It’s interesting, you’d think if that were the case, the Republican Party — recognizing that expanding access to the vote and making it easier for people to participate in our elections is a good thing — would adapt and shift their messaging to fit the system, not force the system to conform to its platform. But Trump spelled it out perfectly clear for us. The more people vote, the more likely it is the party with the wider appeal — implied by Trump himself — would win.
While vote by mail has not been proven to show any clear partisan advantage one way or the other, it certainly does, however, increase voter turnout.
We do understand that this election will be different, and yes, there will be complications attached to counting more votes than ever by mail. States and localities will need to sort through strategies for setting responsible deadlines and communicating clearly about how this all will work, including whether specific “drop boxes” will be used and making sure the personnel is in place to count these ballots in a timely manner.
We don’t deny the logistical challenges that come with more mail-in ballots.
But in Trump’s words, getting more people to vote would be the end of the Republican Party. That’s a tough case to make.
And yet, that’s not even the most damning part about Trump’s claims.
By far the most terrifying, damaging and long-lasting impacts of Trump’s voter fraud claims are if the boy cries wolf and the wolf really is there.
What if this country does experience real voter fraud?
Nobody would believe it.
Trump has entirely blown any credibility on this issue. And that’s scary.
Trump has eliminated any credibility the U.S. government might have had on detecting, identifying and announcing a serious instance of voter fraud in which the outcome of the election actually might be in jeopardy.
Would anyone seriously believe Trump if the day or the week after the election Trump ascended upon a White House podium, flanked by Attorney General William Barr, and announced that a certain percentage of votes cast were deemed fraudulent in some way?
That’s the crisis. That’s the real threat to our democracy — that if our most sacred and fundamental democratic principle of voting was compromised, nobody would believe it. We would take it as yet another political stunt by Trump to attack the “deep state” and claim he was “rigged.”
Trump has so destructively poisoned our faith in our elections and our government that we would see an instance of actual voter fraud as nothing more than one of his political stunts to claim vindication, machismo and a sad attempt to avoid losing — to avoid being unwanted by the American people.
We would see it as nothing more than a boy who cried wolf.