It’s said that Donald Trump is no more than a polling error away from defeating Hillary Clinton on Tuesday. Since the FBI’s James Comey intervened in the election by reminding everyone about her email woes not two weeks ago, Clinton has, by FiveThirtyEight’s estimation, dropped from a relatively safe lead of six points nationwide to under three points (almost half that, according to RealClearPolitics). At state level is where it really matters, of course, and where nationally Clinton appears to have stabilized, polls show the race is always tightening in Clinton’s so-called firewall states; New Hampshire is now realistically gettable for Trump, while Pennsylvania and Colorado can’t be counted out either. One thing that should really have Democrats nervous, however, is the curiously high number of voters who remain undecided. As yet, we don’t know which way one in 20 will vote.
According to FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver, all this means Clinton winning by her current projected margin is “still a medium-sized if.” There’s reason to be positive. We might be able to ascertain little about the final result from it, but early voting has generally been good for Clinton. With turnout of Latino voters way up, the Democratic nominee looks stronger than expected in North Carolina, Nevada and Florida (where Latino turnout is up more than 150% by some accounts). Perhaps smelling a loss, this has prompted Trump to return to his favorite topic: election rigging.
Carrying out voter fraud in the US is almost impossible (as we saw when an Iowan Trump supporter was recently caught trying to vote twice), but it’s something Trump has all the same been talking seriously about since August. Whenever he’s dipped in the polls, Trump has insisted to his followers that Democrats could steal the election for Clinton. Now, seeing a possible insurmountable lead for Clinton in Nevada, Trump is claiming the sudden surge in Latinos voting in the state is not a sign that those voters are responding to the anti-Hispanic rhetoric he’s been peddling since literally day one, but that Democrats are fixing the vote in the region.
As usual, there’s no evidence for it; we only have Trump’s word. On the other hand, we do have evidence that Trump and the Republican Party really are trying to rig this election. Lots of it.
About those undecideds: Trump’s team know they have a repellent candidate on their hands. They see that, to the average voter uncertain about which side to go for, status quo (ie, Clinton) might look like the more appealing option. Recognizing that he will be too toxic for a lot of on-the-fence voters, the Trump plan hasn’t been about trying to bring undecideds on-side, but rather to ensure they stay home on election day. Trump campaign officials have discussed having a “voter suppression operation” openly, almost proudly. Currently—aided by strategists with a history of encouraging voter fraud—the Trump team is using targeted advertising to drive down the number of white liberal, female and African-American voters in the country.
That’s just one method of suppressing the vote. Others are more drastic.
Strict voter ID laws, elimination of same-day registration, elimination of early voting: In almost every Republican-held state, restrictive voter laws have lately been passed to tackle fraud that borders on non-existent and which affect minorities and the poor—more likely to vote Democrat—most of all. It doesn’t matter so much to the Democrat’s chances in this election that deep red Alabama and Indiana have restrictive voter laws (though of course it still matters enormously to the people there who are being denied their right to vote), but in competitive states like North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin, tactical voter suppression could end up mattering a great deal.
The level of documented attempted disenfranchisement of certain voters by Republican officials this election is staggering. We know that in North Carolina, thousands of mostly black Democrats have been illegally purged from voter rolls, while a federal court recently observed that Republicans in the state were attempting to disenfranchise minority voters with ”“surgical precision. We know that in Ohio, two million (mostly low-income, black and Democrat) voters were illegally purged, many of whom have not since been reinstated, while a judge was forced to warn the Trump campaign off intimidating voters at the polls (it wasn’t long before the judge’s court order was lifted). And we know that in Wisconsin, a strict voter ID law was actually designed to help the GOP candidate win on November 8, and that a federal court ordered the state to stop suppressing the vote in a way that could prevent hundreds of thousands from casting a ballot this year.
This is hard evidence, and it suggests that Trump’s side is rigging this election—not Clinton’s, as he so often claims. But because of the nature of the world we now live in, probably few of Trump’s acolytes will ever hear about it, much less believe it. As nonsensical as it may seem inside the liberal bubble, many Trumpeteers really have been convinced that their man is an underdog, facing an establishment that’s preparing to cheat its way to victory. In reality, however, the one candidate who has been shouting the loudest is the only one who stands to benefit from election fixing. This could be a close election—what if it helps him win?