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Donald Trump falsely accused Democrats of trying to “steal” Tuesday’s special election in California amid the Covid-19 pandemic by adding a polling place in one of the most diverse sections of a district.
But the county actually added the polling location at the request of the area’s Republican mayor.
In a move that could foreshadow his approach to November’s presidential election, Trump said Democrats were deliberately adding one of the few polling locations over the weekend in Lancaster, a city North of Los Angeles, where it was likely to benefit Democratic voters. “They are trying to steal another election. It’s all rigged out there. These votes must not count. SCAM!,” he tweeted.
Dems are trying to steal the Mike Garcia Congressional Race in California. Republicans, get out and VOTE for your terrific candidate, ASAP!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 11, 2020
The election is expected to take place largely by mail, common in California, and the state mailed a ballot to all registered voters in the district. Still, there will be some opportunity for in-person voting. But though Democrats complained that the lack of a polling location in Lancaster would harm minority voters, officials added the additional location after R Rex Parris, the city’s Republican mayor, requested it.
Though he thinks it’s dangerous to vote in person during the Covid-19 pandemic, Parris told the Guardian he made the request after realizing a nearby city had two polling locations, while his city had none. While he believes elections can be rigged and understood why it might have appeared that way to Trump, he said adding the polling location was not a Democratic power grab.
“I gotta take the rap. I called them up and said I want a vote center, so they gave it to me,” he said.
The California accusations underscore how the president could take advantage of the way voting procedures are rapidly changing in response to Covid-19 and question the legitimacy of election results in November.
While Trump has long railed, without evidence, that elections are tainted by voter fraud, the increased focus on vote-by-mail amid the pandemic could offer a new thread for him to pull on to undermine confidence in elections this year. Several studies have shown voter fraud is not a widespread problem.
“Given that the president has been making unsubstantiated voter fraud comments for years, I expect that these comments will continue,” said Richard Hasen, a professor of election law at the University of California, Irvine. “The comments are very worrisome because they increase the chances that the president’s supporters would not accept the election results as legitimate should he lose in November.”
Hasen and other experts helped author a report last month offering guidance on how to shore up confidence in the results of the 2020 election. The recommendations include getting states to develop emergency contingency plans well in advance and educating the public that election results might not be available on election night as officials count mailed-in ballots.
Democrats and Republicans are already fighting over how aggressively to expand efforts to vote by mail in November, but the fight over the availability of in-person voting is likely to continue to be an explosive issue. Faced with poll worker shortages and concerns about in-person gathering, election officials have severely cut back in-person voting. Parties and campaigns are likely to aggressively fight over which polling places close and where the new ones are placed.
“All of those changes allow for someone frankly who wants to undermine our faith in the election system to say ‘look at what they’re doing to you. This is a corrupt system,’” said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.
“Certainly whenever there’s a change in how we vote I think it can be unsettling for people, and they can question whether or not they can have faith in the system, and President Trump has seized that opening.”