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Let all votes be counted in Florida, Arizona

November 13, 2018

President Donald Trump’s fact-free attacks on the vote counts in Florida and Arizona are damaging and must stop.

Lashing out on Twitter, Trump said Monday that an “honest vote count” was no longer possible in Florida, where totals for Republican candidates in the Senate and gubernatorial races have been shrinking since election night. He said earlier that votes in Arizona, where a Democratic Senate candidate has taken the lead, were appearing “out of the wilderness.”

Both accusations display a breathtaking ignorance of the voting process and a willingness to disenfranchise the votes of thousands whose ballots have not yet been counted.

In Florida, Trump is demanding that the state literally freeze the count and simply declare Republicans Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis the winners — never mind the votes of Americans overseas and deployed military.

The vast majority of elections result in winners being declared on election night, with losers conceding. The ballot counting, however, continues. That’s why election results are not official until a canvassing board has certified that a vote tally is complete and accurate.

That gives time for mailed ballots, provisional votes and a review of problematic ballots. In very close elections, those can provide a crucial margin, as Minnesotans well know. The state’s epic 2008 Senate race was decided by a mere 312 votes, months after ballots had been cast and only after a prolonged court battle.

However tedious the process, though, it remains a pillar of democracy that each and every ballot is counted. Votes cast by military members overseas have just as much validity as those cast in person. To suggest otherwise, as Trump has done, is to undercut yet another democratic institution.

This is another instance where Trump’s rhetoric has emboldened others to take actions they otherwise might not have sought. Senate candidate Scott, in apparent disbelief that Florida voters might have rejected him, asked that law enforcement officials impound voting machines and ballots in Democratic-leaning counties.

Florida’s law enforcement commissioner, Rick Swearingen, rejected the request on the very sensible basis that Scott had presented no evidence to back up his allegations. The Florida Department of State similarly has said there is no evidence of criminal behavior regarding election results. And on Monday, a Florida judge ruled that there was no evidence of voter fraud and that Broward County, a particular object of Republican discontent, should be allowed to complete its count.

Close elections happen. That does not mean one side is “stealing” the election. If anything, the situations in Florida, Arizona and Georgia point to the need for even greater vigilance on election procedures that protect the vote, rather than suppress or discount it. There has been little evidence of deliberate voter fraud in the United States, despite regular GOP accusations. There has, however, been ample evidence of voter suppression.

Aging voting machines, paperless ballots that provide no evidence trail, selective closure of polling centers, purging of voter rolls and other tactics to game the outcomes of elections must cease.

Americans need to be confident that the votes they cast will be counted, and that the rule of law will prevail over autocratic dictates.

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