Florida has long been known for its oranges, sandy beaches, “snow bird” retirees and unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud, but the latest charge from President Donald Trump deserves some kind of special recognition that mere Alternative Fact of the Week status seems too modest to confer. In an interview with The Daily Caller on Wednesday, President Trump not only charged that Florida, now in the midst of three statewide recounts, ran a corrupt election; he also suggested a scenario in which individuals were casting ballots multiple times at one location with the assistance of (wait for it) — disguises.
“The Republicans don’t win and that’s because of potentially illegal votes,” the president said. “When people get in line that have absolutely no right to vote and they go around in circles. Sometimes they go to their car, put on a different hat, put on a different shirt, come in and vote again. Nobody takes anything. It’s really a disgrace what’s going on.”
This wasn’t the first time that President Trump has tried to cast Florida’s election as a “disgrace.” Earlier, he tweeted a make-believe claim about “massively infected ballots” in the Sunshine State without a bit of corroboration on that charge either. And he’s been complaining about fraud in U.S. elections generally for years, even making the stupefying claim that there were 3 to 5 million illegal votes cast in the 2016 election, a baseless allegation that had far more to do with his failure to capture the popular vote in his contest against Hillary Clinton than it did with anything that actually happened at any polling place.
Back on Planet Earth, there are some irregularities involved in Florida’s vote tally, but they seem to be part of a far better established pattern in Florida of incompetence and general messiness in running elections. The Florida recount is under dispute chiefly because the two highest profile races, for U.S. Senate and for governor, are close and because vote-by-mail ballots have signatures that are judged defective because they don’t perfectly align with signatures on record. That may sound nefarious, but what appears to be going on is that people are sloppy about how they sign things because of aging or arthritis or they’re simply young people who don’t use their signatures very often and thus haven’t developed a strong pattern (a trend observed by credit card companies).
Here’s the best measure of the criminality of Florida’s vote counting we’ve seen to date: As much as Mr. Trump and Florida Gov. Rick Scott have been claiming all kinds of wrongdoing, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (an agency under Governor Scott’s purview, incidentally) has found no evidence of it as of this writing. None. Instead, the Trump-Scott camps seem to be determined to give everyone the impression that even routine vote-counting patterns — such as how mail-in ballots can be counted after Election Day and even sometimes change the outcome, or how candidates for different statewide offices end up with different vote totals because, well, voters sometimes don’t indicate a preference in certain races.
This is shameful behavior, but, again, it’s not exactly new. Political conservatives recognized years ago that their candidates did best when fewer people showed up at the polls. Young people, the elderly, minorities, those aren’t usually votes that go their way, so finding ways to inconvenience them has often been a priority. The Voting Rights Act curtailed many of these practices, but claims of fraud — and the common remedy, voter ID — live on. There’s been such a drumbeat on the subject that it’s convinced millions of Americans that the notion that somebody is going out to their car and putting on a Groucho Marx mustache and glasses isn’t far fetched. Never mind that academic studies show voter fraud is almost entirely smoke and mirrors.
Meanwhile, actual interference with U.S. elections — let’s say, for example, a foreign government manipulating public opinion through social media to achieve a desired outcome that may or may not be linked to a certain high-profile candidate’s campaign — has gotten inadequate attention from this administration. Hmm, wonder why. Is it because actual criminal wrongdoing is involved. Or maybe because someone expects to benefit from it again in 2020? In the meantime, it would be nice if the U.S. ran elections in a democratic manner with the goal of counting every ballot and not on concocting schemes to discredit those that fail to support a desired outcome.