In his desperation to keep this state in play for the general election, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has insulted Pennsylvania voters by calling them cheats.
"We're going to watch Pennsylvania. Go down to certain areas and watch and study and make sure other people don't come in and vote five times," he said at an Aug. 12 rally in Altoona. "If you do that, we're not going to lose. The only way we can lose, in my opinion - I really mean this, Pennsylvania - is if cheating goes on."
The allegation is not only unfounded; it's dangerous. Imagine the chaos and disenfranchisement if Trump's volunteers show up in certain areas of the state to make sure voters feel so intimidated that some may turn around and go home instead of exercising their voting rights.
The law allows parties to have trained observers at polling places, but Trump's motives appear nefarious. A trail of Trump's previous insults and insensitive remarks suggest the certain places he wants watched are in black and Latino neighborhoods where polls show he is losing.
Trump's intimidation tactics are a reminder of how African Americans in the South were discouraged from voting prior to the civil rights era. New Jersey Republicans in 1981 hired off-duty police and sheriff's deputies to show up armed and in uniform in Trenton and Newark's black neighborhoods to preserve "ballot security." Democrats sued and won a federal court order stopping the practice.
More recently; Republican-controlled legislatures in several states, including Pennsylvania, passed voter-ID and other laws that would effectively diminish the minority vote. Pennsylvania's law was struck down by a Commonwealth Court judge in 2014; and this year federal courts in Texas, South Carolina, and North Dakota voided discriminatory voter-ID laws.
Proponents of voter-ID laws mimic Trump's reasoning in saying they are needed to prevent voter fraud. But they have yet to provide adequate evidence to prove their case. Voter impersonation at the polls is rare. In fact, Pennsylvania could not cite a single incident of it ever occurring in the state when it tried to defend its voter-ID law.
Trump's suggestions that the presidential election might be "rigged" or subject to voter fraud are signs that he fears losing, and that he is already trying to invent excuses for his possible defeat. But it's wrong for him to portray Pennsylvania voters as cheats in an attempt to draw attention away from his own inadequacies as a candidate.