How Donald Trump’s bizarre voter-watch effort could get the GOP in trouble
I think it is highly likely that Trump is echoing from a perhaps dim memory the New Jersey intimidation campaign: it’s the sort of thing that would strike him as clever and showy, and he certainly would have heard of it: New Jersey is right there.
Philip Bump reports in the Washington Post, making it perfectly clear that Trump is way in over his head:
After telling an audience in Altoona, Pa., that he would seek their help in policing the polls in November to root out voter fraud — something thateven the state of Pennsylvania has noted doesn’t exist in any meaningful way — Donald Trump’s campaign nationalized the effort on Saturday morning. Now eager Trump backers can go to Trump’s website and sign up to be “a Trump Election Observer.” Do so, and you get an email thanking you for volunteering and assuring you that the campaign will “do everything we are legally allowed to do to stop crooked Hillary from rigging this election.”
There are any number of problems with this, again starting with the fact that the frequency of in-person voter fraud in elections is lower than getting five numbers right in the Powerball. But there’s a potentially bigger legal problem noted by election law expert Rick Hasen of the University of California at Irvine: Trump’s unnecessary effort could be violating a prohibition against voter intimidation that applies to the Republican Party.
In 1981, the Republican Party rolled out a voter-integrity effort in New Jersey that mirrors what Trump demanded in Altoona. As described in a legal ruling about the prohibition:
The RNC allegedly created a voter challenge list by mailing sample ballots to individuals in precincts with a high percentage of racial or ethnic minority registered voters and, then, including individuals whose postcards were returned as undeliverable on a list of voters to challenge at the polls. The RNC also allegedly enlisted the help of off-duty sheriffs and police officers to intimidate voters by standing at polling places in minority precincts during voting with “National Ballot Security Task Force” armbands. Some of the officers allegedly wore firearms in a visible manner.
(Trump in Altoona: “We have to call up law enforcement. And we have to have the sheriffs and the police chiefs and everybody watching. … The only way they can beat it in my opinion — and I mean this 100 percent — if in certain sections of the state they cheat, okay?”)
The Democrats sued, and in 1982, the two parties agreed to a system under which the Republican National Committee agreed to refrain from a number of tactics that could be used to intimidate voters. That consent decree, as it is called, has been modified a number of times, often in response to efforts to challenge the ability of Democratic voters to vote, occasionally targeting black voters specifically.
In his blog post, Hasen points specifically to the fifth prohibition in the decree, Part E, which keeps the party from “undertaking any ballot security activities in polling places or election districts where the racial or ethnic composition of such districts is a factor in the decision to conduct, or the actual conduct of, such activities there and where a purpose or significant effect of such activities is to deter qualified voters from voting.” Trump’s pointed reference to how voters in “certain sections of the state” were likely to cheat was almost certainly a reference to a debunked claimthat the vote was rigged in predominantly black parts of Philadelphia.
We spoke with Hasen by phone on Saturday morning, and he . . .
I bet there are buckets of flop sweat pouring not from Trump, but from those supporting him, who gave up a lot in hopes of a payoff whose chances drop with every utterance Trump makes. Like today’s Tweet, blogged earlier today. The man simply has no awareness of the content, which to him seems beside the point: it’s all in the rhythm and the flow of attacks and headlines and stupid denial with more headlines, and then complete denial with more headlines. I think he’s taken it out as many as four iterations, as in the Obama and Clinton founded ISIS thing: utter crap when he said it, but journalismed to death. And Katrina Pierson’s bland statement that the US was not in Afghanistan until Obama invaded: Obama took the US into Afghanistan.
And it’s a great meme, since it almost compels one to repeat it, as I just did. If you look as this election as a meme struggle in a jungle of memes, all evolving to beat the band, this sort of tactic makes sense: it is a strongly reproducing meme, since it is so absolutely, outrageously false: a complete, utter, baldfaced lie.
So like looky-loos, people write about it, and in describing it, perpetuates it: rapid-fire meme reproduction. In action, right here.
Still, it is an amazing statement, isn’t it? From the spokesperson of a man who might actually become president. Don’t you get a sense that there is something deeply wrong with the US that this is happening? That would make sense: Trump as a symptom showing that somewhere along the way we got off track. Just thinking in meme terms.
UPDATE: Though meme evolution does give an interesting way of looking at what is happening before our very eyes, and it can also be observed in other contexts, my recommendation would be that, if you’ve not talked about it, don’t. It’s a neat idea that provides a “least-causes” explanation for what we see, but until you’ve chewed the idea over for a while and looked for (and found) instances, it does sound wacky: like a kind of cartoon science. But I think he was really onto something, and he gave convincing reasons (Darwinian first principles) for what what happens should hape according to meme evolution. But you see what I mean about wacky.