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The Trump Debate Fallout

  • October 01, 2020

I basically spent five months on this story, four of them pretty much full time, just diving into court records and government documents and talking to people — and talking and talking and talking.

What most surprised me was the continuity of the players and the breadth of the effort to prove that voter fraud is so widespread that it’s a threat to the fabric of the democracy when it simply is not. Everywhere I looked, there was someone who was involved in some other, earlier effort involved in pushing this voter-fraud idea to gain partisan advantage, from the pre-Trump era.

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But then there is the level to which Trump jumped on the bandwagon and directed the full resources of the federal government to get behind the effort — touching the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, the Postal Service and even, it would seem, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. My eyes popped out of my head when I learned that the C.D.C. had quietly dropped its clear endorsement of mail-in ballots in the summer.

As you describe it, the never-completed recount in Florida in 2000 — when supporters of George W. Bush led the so-called Brooks Brothers riot, helping to prevent a number of ballots in Miami-Dade County from ever being counted — was a kind of turning point in the modern era of voter-fraud politics. What did that incident show to Republican operatives, in terms of what might be possible when it comes to using fraud claims as a political tool?

I’d always been fascinated with the Brooks Brothers riot, how a bunch of Republican operatives in pleated khakis stormed the Miami-Dade counting room and actually managed to stop canvassers from tallying votes that had not been registered — votes that would have, on balance, gone to Al Gore over Bush.

As I started reporting this story, I went back to the old clips and video and noticed what they were chanting: “Stop the fraud.” They were effectively arguing that the counting board, which had moved to a more private room to do its work, was hiding because it was committing fraud. There was no evidence whatsoever to support the charge. It was made up. The board stopped counting and didn’t pick it back up before the Supreme Court weighed in and Bush was named the winner (his margin was 537 votes).

A lot of factors were involved in Bush’s win. But the Brooks Brothers riot had an important lesson in it — you can do a lot in the name of fraud in a chaotic, contested-election situation, which we may very well be headed for this year; it can very well help determine the outcome of an election.

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