John Oliver discusses problems plaguing the 2020 election.

John Oliver Perfectly Breaks Down Everything Donald Trump Is Doing to Steal the Election

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For months, Donald Trump has been going all out trying to convince his base that the upcoming presidential election will be rife with voter fraud and that mail-in voting is not just unreliable, but a Democratic plot to steal votes.

In reality, Trump has been setting the stage to delegitimize the election in case he loses. We’ve covered this many, many times before, and in the last episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver breaks it all down, laying out all the ways in which Trump is trying to undermine the election, from his constant lies about the security of mail-in voting to his intimidation tactics to his insistence that results must be in on election night itself—an absolutely impossible demand in the COVID-19 era.

Oliver brings up Trump’s “army” of unofficial poll watchers, who Trump is still, as recently as today, rallying to show up at polling places as a clear intimidation tactic.

While both parties can and do employ actual poll watchers, Oliver notes that this has long been a tool of the right to suppress voter turnout. In the 1980s, the GOP formed a fake “National Ballot Security Task Force” made up of armed off-duty police officers sporting visible revolvers and arm bands, who patrolled majority-POC precincts. Democrats sued and Republicans signed a “consent decree” promising not to engage in that kind of blatant voter intimidation in the future. But a judge lifted that decree in 2018, just before Trump started encouraging his supporters to, as Oliver puts it, go out and play “Ballot Batman.”

So Trump and the GOP are trying to keep (certain) people from voting in person, but they’re also working to delegitimize the mail-in voting process. Trump has been making baseless claims about Democrats’ plans to throw away Republicans’ ballots, and he’s come up with a few anecdotal examples, which he’s mentioned on Twitter and also rattled off during last week’s presidential debate: ballots, he says, have been found in “creeks” and “wastepaper baskets,” and in Democrat-majority areas, he says people are receiving two ballots.

Oliver and his team traced all those stories back to their roots, and wouldn’t you know it, none of them are worth being held up as examples of actual fraud. There was some mail found in a ditch (or, I suppose, a creek as Trump has made it in his mind) in Wisconsin that didn’t actually include any absentee ballots as was initially reported. Separately, a USPS temp worker accidentally threw out nine ballots (in a “wastepaper basket”) after having been on the job for only three days. His supervisors reported his mistake immediately on the local, state, and federal level.

In Fairfax County, Virginia, some voters did, in fact, accidentally receive two ballots. That’s not great but it’s also not a very effective way to try to rig an election if you buy into Trump’s conspiracy theory, since ballots are matched to individual voters, so even if someone received two ballots and tried to cast both, only one would be counted.

Oliver gets into a lot more, including the multi-hour lines at polling places in Democrat and BIPOC areas and the incredible number of absentee ballots that end up being rejected in every election due to user error. But to me, the most terrifying issue Oliver gets into (and which we have discussed here in the past) is the prediction of what election night is going to look like next month.

This year is already seeing an unprecedented number of votes cast by mail, but according to polling, mail-in voting is much more common among Democrat voters, with more Republicans saying they plan to vote in person. Because this huge number of mail-in ballots cannot possibly be counted by the end of Election Day itself, it’s very likely that Trump will appear to be ahead on November 3rd, with a “blue shift” coming in later. Trump is already framing this likely possibility as a conspiracy theory and demanding the winner be decided that night.

In all likelihood, we might not have accurate results for weeks after Election Day. That’s going to be hard to accept for a populace that’s painfully obsessed with the immediacy of social media and the New York Times’ election needle, and it’s going to be even harder with Trump insisting the process be needlessly and impossibly rushed.

Oliver does have some suggestions for what we can all do to help the system run as smoothly as possible, starting with making a voting plan. You can find your state’s voting guidelines at Decide if you’re going to vote in person or by mail and if your schedule, health, and local guidelines allow, consider voting early in person in order to keep lines shorter on Election Day.

“Now, if you want to vote by mail, that’s great too,” Oliver says. “But, we should be trying to flatten the voting curve to take the pressure off the system. So request your ballot as early as possible, read all the instructions, and send it back or drop it off as soon as you’ve filled it in.” (Also be sure to make sure you fill out your ballot correctly and that your signature matches your voter application!) 46 states also have ways to track your ballot, so look into that as well.

“The really important thing to remember is, this election is already very different from all those before it, so we all need to be on top of not only our own voting plans, but making sure our friends and family are on top of theirs as well,” Oliver says. We absolutely cannot just sit back and trust that the system will work smoothly and that Trump will accept the results no matter what. It’s just not going to work out that way.

(image: screengrab)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.