The talking point from the White House now is that Donald Trump will accept the outcome of a “free and fair” election. Which is supposed to be reassuring, or at least, it’s supposed to get the news outlets to repeat it. Which they have. But of course, the definition of free and fair is entirely left with Trump, and on Thursday he once again made it clear that what makes an election fair is easily defined. It’s fair … if he wins.
This is what a day in Trump’s “fairness” looks like. Just after noon, Trump tweeted that vote-by-mail ballots “in my home state of Florida” had just started going out, and urged his supporters to immediately request one, fill it out, and send it in. But in the afternoon, Trump’s quest to undermine the same system he was urging his supporters to use turned on Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. There, the Justice Department claims to have found exactly the kind of devastating fraud that Trump has been saying happens all the time with mail in ballots—Trump ballots discarded in a dumpster. Only … everything about this story is a lot fishier than anything lying under old cans of protester tuna.
The subject of Trump’s outrage is nine (that would be 9) military ballots that were apparently found discarded. Seven of the ballots appear to have been cast for Trump, two others were sealed by county officials before the FBI could announce their selection … and exactly why is the FBI reporting on the choice made on a ballot? In any case, some other materials were found, including a couple of envelops that had held mail-in ballots.
In short, this appears that someone went digging through the dumpster used by the Luzerne County elections board and discovered discarded ballots. These ballots may have been discarded because they were duplicates, or because they did not match a known voter registration, or because they failed a signature match, or because they were improperly failed out. These ballots may actually have been counted. However, it seems extremely likely that the votes were handled and tallied, or not tallied, according to law. The only thing the county election board may have done wrong is to improperly handle the discarded ballots. We don’t know.
However, there are a few things we do know. Luzerne County is controlled by a county council, which is majority Republican. Trump won Luzerne County by 5% in 2016. The number of discarded votes located represents about 0.01% of those cast in the last election. There appear to be military or overseas ballots, meaning this was the only option available to those voters. The timing of this notice suggests this has nothing to do with the general election, and likely represents votes that came in during the primary. They may well be votes that arrived too late to be counted in the primary, because of exactly the kind of deadlines Trump and his allies are attempting to tighten.
On Friday morning, one county worker suggested that the papers were actually ballots that arrived from overseas in envelops that looked almost identical to those used for ballot requests. Not understanding what they were, the envelops were opened, which resulted in the ballots being spoiled.
Two other things are also obvious: There is absolutely no possible way this was part of some scheme to diminish Trump’s vote; and Trump is so desperate to find something that looks like mail-in-ballot fraud, that he has seized on this tiny nothingburger and is attempting to treat it as if it means something. All he’s managing to do with this, is illustrate how impossible it is to find anything that looks like genuine fraud in the system.
One thing that Trump’s repeated complaints about vote by mail has achieved is succeed in suppressing his own vote. As an ABC News poll shows, 78% of Trump supporters now believe that vote by mail leads to fraud. Since Trump voters in 2016 skewed older, that means that Trump will need a lot of voters who haven’t been to their polling station in years to shuffle out and find it mid-pandemic. They’ll have to do this, because Trump has made them doubt the system they’ve used to vote through multiple cycles.
That effect can be seen even before the votes are counted. For example, the high percentage of retirees in Florida generate the bulk of vote-by-mail requests in that state. In previous cycles, Republicans have made up the majority of those votes. As of today, 1.5 million Republicans have requested a mail-in ballot in Florida. However, 2.2 million Democrats have also requested a vote-by-mail ballot. There’s a very real chance that Trump will lose Florida both at the ballot box and in mail-in votes.
After he fled New York where he’s lived his whole life after being caught running a fake charity and cheating on his taxes … that seems fair.