Donald Trump, falling behind in the polls, with his campaign imploding around him, now says the election is “rigged.” He refuses to say whether he will accept the verdict of the voters. Just as he tried to undermine the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s presidency with the malicious and false “birther” issue, now he’s gearing up to assail the legitimacy of Hillary Clinton’s presidency with the “rigged election” issue. In fact, his charges directly contradict the truth.
We know what a “rigged” electoral system looks like. At the founding of this country, the electoral system was rigged: Only rich, white landowners could vote. Slaves, native Americans, women and white men without property were denied the right to vote. That was a system rigged to protect those with property from the threat of democracy. When the Civil War ended slavery, the Southern states created poll taxes, white primaries, grandfather clauses, literacy tests and other barriers to voting, all of it reinforced by violence and intimidation. That was a system rigged to enforce segregation and protect it from the threat of democracy.
Today, facing an emerging majority reform coalition that gave Barack Obama a majority of all votes in 2008 and 2012, Republican governors have passed measures that require voting IDs, cut back on early voting days, eliminate same-day registration, limit the number and hours of voting places in minority districts, gerrymander election districts or, like Texas, accept a gun registration ID but not a student registration ID. That is a system rigged to hold on to the status quo and protect it from the threat of democracy.
Today, money floods our politics. In Citizens United v. FEC and other decisions, a conservative gang of five on the Supreme Court legitimated corporate financing, dark money and unlimited donations. The two-party bias of our electoral system undermines third-party efforts. The lack of free media and public financing makes big money more important. Elections held on Tuesdays make voting harder for workers on the clock. This is a system rigged to protect the interests of the few from the threat of the many.
This election isn’t rigged against Trump. If anything, it is rigged in his favor. We have a separate and unequal electoral system in which each state creates its own rules. In many states, partisans have their thumb on the scale — as in Florida in 2000 or Ohio in 2004. And today Republicans hold the governorship and both houses of the legislature in 23 states. Democrats only control seven. Those who rule set the rules, and in at least 23 states, they are creating a system that benefits Republicans and their presidential nominee.
This system is a disgrace. We need a constitutional amendment that guarantees citizens the right to vote, something that is not now in the Constitution. Congress would have the clear authority to create a unified voting system with minimum commonsense standards. Then we need an aroused citizenry that demands that Congress act to curb the role of big money in politics. We deserve a unified, national electoral system that guarantees every citizen a protected right to vote, the most fundamental right of all in a democracy. If Trump were talking about these realities, maybe he’d deserve a hearing. Instead, he’s braying about the same media that helped him reach where he is today. In the end, he sounds simply like a loser, whining about the inescapable reality that his brand of divisive and hateful politics will be rejected by most voters at the polls.