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Trump doesn't trust US vote counting. Do you?

A constant of undemocratic governments is elections that defy logic and belief. Vladimir Putin, for instance...

Posted: Nov 14, 2018 7:13 AM
Updated: Nov 14, 2018 7:13 AM

A constant of undemocratic governments is elections that defy logic and belief. Vladimir Putin, for instance, was re-elected earlier this year with more than 76% of the vote and more than 67% turnout.

That's a good solid result for the Russian President. Probably too good to be true. International election monitors said at the time that it was "overly controlled" and "lacked genuine competition." No US presidential candidate -- even in the most remarkable of landslides -- has ever gotten more than 61% of the popular vote, and no US election in more than 100 years has drawn 67% of the voting population.

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But President Donald Trump congratulated Putin on the win and wouldn't criticize the questionable results, which is odd given he's cried voter fraud both about the 2016 election that put him in the White House and the close results in Florida and Arizona during this month's midterms.

Far from offering congratulations to rival Democrats, Trump has spent more time challenging the results in individual races, complaining about fraud where there's no evidence any exists and instilling doubts about the integrity of the vote in people's minds, while their confidence in American elections had already been dropping.

There's no evidence in the US of widespread voter fraud, despite what Trump said of the last two elections; whereas in Russia this year there were actual videos of poll workers stuffing ballot boxes.

Americans are generally comfortable with the state of US elections. A Pew survey in October found 82% of Americans very or somewhat confident their votes in their communities would be counted as they intended in November.

They were a bit more leery of elections nationwide: 25% were very confident, 47% were somewhat confident, 21% were not too confident and 6% were not at all confident. But that's still a combined 72% of the country very or somewhat confident their votes would be counted as they intended.

But what's interesting is that while Americans are still broadly confident their own votes will be counted, they have become a lot less "very confident." Between 2008 and 2016 -- there is no Pew data for the elections in between -- the percentage of people answering "very confident" dropped 8 percentage points. It was over 60% in 2004 and has been under 50% the last two elections.

All of that was before Trump and Florida's Republican Gov. Rick Scott in particular started alleging fraud and theft by campaign officials, particularly in Florida, who were taking a long time to count votes. Or before Democrats, including Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, who is behind in vote counts, started challenging recount rules. In Florida, in particular, this election is turning into a legal mess.

Both Scott's bid for Senate and the governor's race to replace him are destined for recounts.

Trump was also crying fraud at the US Senate election in Arizona, where Republican Rep. Martha McSally led in votes after election night but has fallen behind as absentee votes were counted. McSally has since conceded the election, but Trump has not walked back his tweet implying voter fraud there. He has started to focus instead on pressuring the Democrats in Florida to concede.

Americans were more concerned in the Pew report about hacking of elections. Less than half (45%) were confident that US elections are secure from hacking or other technological threats. Just 8% said they were very confident US elections are secure in that way.

All of that Pew information, by the way, was from before the close races on Election Day led the President to accuse local officials in multiple states of fraud and trying to steal votes.

His allegations can only inflame what was already a partisan split. Another tidbit from Pew's report is that majorities of both Democrats (64%) and Republicans (56%) say the opposing party has little or no commitment to fair and accurate elections in the US.

The American form of democracy has plenty of issues. A patchwork of standards governing elections makes voting in Florida a very different thing from voting in California. The Electoral College is tilted toward rural states; the candidate with more votes has lost the presidency because of the Electoral College twice. Efforts to make it difficult for certain people to vote are viewed either as voter suppression or voter security, depending on one's political view.

The same monitors that were so critical of Russia's election noted that while the US elections were free, laws and practice conspire to disenfranchise millions of voters, like DC residents and people with criminal records. While their US Senate and governor's races remain in dispute, Florida voters' overwhelming decision to give voting rights back to more than a million felons could have serious implications in future years.

Trump voters back in 2016, when he was railing that the election was rigged against him, were more likely to tell Pew they had little or no confidence the election would be open and fair.

On the other side, Democrats held nothing back in their recent allegations of voter suppression against then-Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, a Republican who now leads Democrat Stacey Abrams in their bid to become governor.

Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election led the group Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization that ranks nations by political freedom, to downgrade its score of US freedoms from 89 to 86 on a scale of 100. The US is still among the 45% of countries it places in the "free" category, along with most of South America and Europe. Russia, China and most of Africa and the Middle East are classified as "not free."

None of that big picture stuff seems to matter to Trump as he tweets his grievances at local officials in Florida.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct the percentage of countries that Freedom House places in the "free" category to 45%.

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