Opinion

PLAYING WITH FIRE

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There is a reptilian alien species that has sent individuals to Earth. They have taken on human bodies, making them indistinguishable from real humans. Their intent is to take over the Earth; the clues are there for those who know where to look. Oh, Donald Trump is one of them.

I use the above as an example of a story that some people might believe, though there is no concrete evidence. Thing is though, you can’t really disprove it. It could be true. However, just because it could be true doesn’t make it credible. That’s how I would also describe a recent story by local columnist John Hammer on Trump’s claims of massive voter fraud in the recent Presidential election. Hammer spends the column spinning theories as to why Trump is likely right. As a reminder, Trump claimed that millions of votes were cast illegally. To start, Hammer notes it’s unusual for the winner to claim that the election was unfair. He offers no explanation. But it’s not hard to figure out. Trump has made it clear that he is obsessed with being a “winner”. The fact that he lost the popular vote by millions puts an asterisk next to his victory that I imagine rankles him no end. But wait a minute, he just happens to know, without evidence of course, that millions of Clinton’s votes were cast illegally. In fact, just enough millions of votes such that Trump would actually have won not only the electoral vote, but the popular vote as well.

Supporters of Trump’s fabrication have noted that apparently millions of names of voters are registered in more than one state. They imply that this indicates widespread voter fraud. But there’s no evidence to that effect. We are a nation of transients. Millions of people move across state lines each year. I’m willing to wager that hardly any of them thought to notify the Board of Elections in the state they were leaving. I know I didn’t when I moved to North Carolina in 1981. So, at least temporarily, I was registered to vote in two states. I could have voted in person in North Carolina, and also filed an absentee ballot in the state I had left. But I didn’t, and evidence is slim, if at all, that any of the other millions of yearly transplants are voting in two states.

Hammer went on to assert that there is probably widespread voter fraud taking place locally. He cites the example of someone who was discovered to have voted twice a couple of years ago – once in early voting, then again on Election Day. This was a young man who was actively involved in local political campaigns. Hence he no doubt was well aware of legitimate voting procedures. Hammer concludes that therefore the double vote had to be intentional. This is faulty logic. Hammer’s premise is that if someone has extensive experience in an area, then they should always perform perfectly. If they make a mistake it must be on purpose. If this were true then Hammer is a fraudulent columnist because there are frequent writing mistakes in his columns that a person of his experience would know are wrong. By the way, I don’t mean to single out Hammer in this regard. It’s rare to read an article in any newspaper that doesn’t contain some writing mistake… including mine for sure! My point is experienced people regularly make errors. It doesn’t mean a mistake is intentional.

In the example Hammer used, the person he namelessly referred to is Fahiym Hanna (Mr. Hanna told me he doesn’t mind if I use his name). That year Hanna happened to be downtown walking by an election site and saw the Vote Early signs. Since he had some spare time he went in and voted. Then on Election Day he did what he’d done for years: namely, he handed out campaign literature outside his precinct voting site and then he went inside and voted. Election officials discovered the double vote the next morning and contacted him. His second vote was disqualified. For his part, Hanna was embarrassed over his mistake but also impressed with how quickly the error was discovered. He mentioned the irony that he’d been wearing an “I Voted Early” sticker. If only he’d looked in a mirror and seen the sticker he would have remembered that he had already voted. Hanna says the real problem is voter participation, not voter fraud. Anyway, despite Hammer’s assertion, there was no fraud here, just an absent-minded mistake that election officials quickly corrected.

I spoke with Charlie Collicutt, Director of the Guilford County Board of Elections. I asked for his assessment of fraudulent voting in Guilford County in recent years. His comments included the following:

  • In this past election procedures caught 6 voters who went to the polls twice. The cases were referred to the State Board of Elections. The State has trained investigators, the County doesn’t.
  • There were protests filed alleging illegal out-of-state voting. These were all dismissed for lack of evidence.
  • There were protests filed that felons had illegally voted. There is evidence this may have happened on a small scale.
  • It is possible that someone might cast an extra vote by posing as someone else. However, there is no evidence this has actually happened.
  • Our voting system is one of Risk and Reward. The reward is you get to vote; the risk is if you cast a vote illegally and get caught, you can be charged with a felony.
  • When you register to vote the form asks for your previous address. If you’ve moved from another state, North Carolina will attempt to inform your previous state that you have reregistered. Some states communicate this information better than others. There is no National Voter Database.
  • Since 2012 there have been renewed efforts to audit after the fact for double voting. Evidence of double voting is “very slim”.

It seems to me that the problem our democracy faces is not from unproven allegations of voter fraud, but rather from the real and systematic voter suppression being undertaken across the country. It worries me that Hammer and others are lending credence to Trump’s unsubstantiated allegations that strike at the heart of our democracy. They are playing with fire. One of the definitions of “demagogue” in Merriam-Webster is “A leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power.” Trump’s life has been one of accumulating wealth, influence and fame. He has worked actively to discredit our electoral process, our elected officials, our intelligence agencies and the news media. He implies we should trust only him. And he tells us time and again that we have major problems that only he can fix. This is a Man who would be King. When Trump makes unfounded claims that strike at the heart of our democracy, he needs to be disavowed. When that person is an egomaniac who holds great power and aspires to even greater power, we play along at our own peril.

Landau’s column appears the last Wednesday of the month.

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