By MARSHA MERCER
Ah, Labor Day, the last unofficial weekend of summer, the return of pumpkin spice latte and start of the sprint to the presidential campaign finish line.
We can hope.
Election Day is less than two months away, but like everything else in 2020, election night may not be what it usually is: the end of the election.
There’s a growing consensus Americans need to get ready for a long goodbye to this election.
“We may have to prepare for election week or even election month,” Democrat Elaine Kamarck of the Brookings Institution wrote. “There will be more absentee ballots than ever before and it will take longer to count them.”
“This election will feature days – possibly weeks – of indecision, which invites chaos, and chaos invites greater division,” Republican Karl Rove wrote in The Wall Street Journal.
Traditionally, the presidential candidate ahead on Labor Day could expect to carry the election. No more. In 2016, Labor Day polls showed Hillary Clinton running ahead of Donald Trump, but Clinton learned the bitter lesson that winning the popular vote is no guarantee of an Electoral College victory.
This Labor Day, former Vice President Joe Biden leads President Trump by 7 points – 49.4% Biden to 42.3% for Trump -- in the latest Real Clear Politics average of national polls. But polls are tightening in battleground states.
Meanwhile, Trump is again provoking distrust in the electoral process. As he did four years ago, Trump claims the election may be fraudulent and rigged against him.
“The only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged,” Trump says.
That’s nonsense. He can lose fair and square, but will he accept defeat?
Trump says the election will be rife with fraud because of mail-in voting. It’s true more voters than ever will be casting ballots by mail because of COVID-19, but mail-in ballots are not new and need not be risky.
One in every four Americans cast their ballots by mail in the last two federal elections. In Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington, mail balloting is the primary method of voting – and reports of fraud remain “infinitesimally small,” reports the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, a nonpartisan law and policy organization.
“It is still more likely for an American to be struck by lightning than to commit mail voter fraud,” the Brennan Center says.
But Trump wants to up the confusion ante. He urged voters to try to vote twice – absentee and in person – even though it’s illegal to vote more than once in an election.
“Let them send it in and let them go vote,” Trump said Wednesday in Wilmington, N.C. “And if the system is as good as they say it is, then obviously they won’t be able to vote” in person.
“Today, President Trump outrageously encouraged NCians to break the law in order to help him sow chaos in our election,” state Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat, tweeted.
“Make sure you vote, but do NOT vote twice! I will do everything in my power to make sure the will of the people is upheld in November,” Stein said.
Biden Wednesday accused Trump of “trying to delegitimize” election results and urged people to “vote as early as you are permitted.”
By now, most Americans see Trump’s claims of voter fraud as an attempt to fire up his base to vote in person while egging Biden voters to stay home. Why bother to vote if the election is rigged?
Trump’s steady drumbeat casting doubt on the election results could have consequences beyond Election Day. There are signs the winner of the presidential contest – whoever it is – will be considered illegitimate by a good chunk of voters.
Some 28% of Biden voters and 19% of Trump voters say they’re not ready to accept the result if the other guy wins, according to a new USA Today-Suffolk University poll.
The last thing we need is more distrust and division, so do what you can to make your vote count. If you don’t want to risk your health by voting in person Nov. 3, vote early or request and send in your mail ballot early.
©2020 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.