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Why Trump’s statements on mail-in ballots, election results are ‘extremely problematic’

Amid President Trump’s refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election, new scrutiny is being applied to the security and integrity of American voting. Kathleen Hall Jamieson is director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, and she joins Judy Woodruff to discuss Trump’s “deeply problematic” statements and what they say about U.S. democracy.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now, to discuss the security of our election, and the president's failure to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, I'm joined by Kathleen Hall Jamieson. She's the director of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center.

    Kathleen Hall Jamieson, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    Before we get to that, I do want to follow up on Miles O'Brien's reporting just now.

    And, by the way, President Trump again denigrating mail-in balloting — voting. He called it a whole big scam today.

    Tell us, in brief, what is your sense of the reliability of mail-in voting historically in this country?

  • Kathleen Hall Jamieson:

    The academic evidence is clear.

    The amount of problematic voting is so extraordinarily small that, barring an extraordinarily unusual circumstance, an election will not be so close that any of that could make any difference.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, let's move on to talk about what President Trump has been saying the last few days, casting doubt, raising questions about whether he would accept the results of the election if he loses.

    How would you sum up — and he's been making these statements just in the last day or so. But how would you sum up what he's said over the time of his entire presidency?

  • Kathleen Hall Jamieson:

    The assumption that, if the president were to lose, it would mean that the election is rigged was an extremely problematic statement, as well as the statement in 2016 that suggested that he would wait to see whether or not he should concede.

    But there is also another element that's problematic in his chain of statements across time. And that's the statement that says: "In cases more political than it should be, and this is the outcome, it's important to have a ninth justice."

    That assumes that we can't trust the independence of the judiciary, that the justices don't follow the Constitution and the law, that the four justices nominated by Republican presidents would side automatically, regardless of the law and the Constitution, with the Republican, and those dominated by a Democrat would automatically side with Joe Biden, and that the ninth justice nominated by the president presumably would automatically side with the president.

    That calls into question another of the fundamental assumptions we make about our system of government. It's checks and balances that are protected us across time. It's the ingenuity of the founders that gave us three branches.

    And those are the two branches that are there to protect us from executive overreach.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Have we ever before, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, heard a president connect the number of justices on the court in connection with whether or not his own reelection may be accepted and may have to end up in court? Have we ever seen this kind of connection drawn by a president?

  • Kathleen Hall Jamieson:

    No, we have not.

    And because it was the Supreme Court that guided us through the 2000 outcome, which, as you know, was an extraordinarily close outcome, we have in our history the ability to say to nations across the world, when it was extraordinarily close, our three branches of government worked.

    Our constitutional checks and balances structure and our willingness to grant the independence of the judiciary made it possible for the country to accept the outcome. But never did anyone call into play the assumption — bring up the possibility that there would not be a peaceful transfer of power.

    Al Gore, who had actually called to congratulate then the assumed president-elect Bush, withdrew that concession, waited through the process, and, as soon as the outcome was decided clearly by the Supreme Court, he acknowledged that in a concession speech, and we had the peaceful transition.

    And we could say to the world, under that problematic, difficult circumstance, an extremely close election, decided over a difficult period of time, our system worked.

    The nations across the world are looking to us now and, I assume, wondering if all these years, when we have said free and fair elections, persons' votes actually count, and peaceful transfer of power, if Vladimir Putin isn't just laughing, saying, this is a propaganda coup for Russia, all the statements it's made across time saying, the U.S. actually isn't founded on any of that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I know that's something you have done a lot of reporting on.

    But, just finally, why does it matter? I mean, what is the harm done if the president himself is the one who is saying, well, I'm not sure I'm going to accept the results, we have to see what happens? Why does that matter?

  • Kathleen Hall Jamieson:

    We need to have confidence that the process of campaigning and the process then of voting as a result, and observing the campaign, and calling on your experiences, your partisan dispositions, and casting a vote is going to yield an outcome that is determined by we, the people, and by our electoral system, including the Electoral College structure.

    And to the extent that someone suggests there's something else at play, that is, the ability of a president potentially to decide whether the election is free and fair, whether it's been rigged or not, calls into question the suppositions of our system of government.

    That is deeply problematic.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we should point out that a number of Republicans, even those who typically are right there at the side of the president, were today saying, as far as they're concerned, there will be a peaceful transfer.

    Kathleen Hall Jamieson, thank you so much.

  • Kathleen Hall Jamieson:

    You're welcome.

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