The last few weeks have had little precedent in the history of American democracy. President Donald Trump repeatedly warned that the election will be full of fraud, and he refused to pledge to leave office peacefully if he loses. Just last week, the Department of Justice added to concerns about election meddling when it partially reversed its long-standing policy of noninterference in elections. The change gives prosecutors more leeway to take public action against federal employees accused or “suspected” of being involved in election fraud, while Trump publicly urged his attorney general to take action against his political opponents.
There is real reason to be concerned about presidential interference in this fall’s election, although perhaps less than people think. As the Brennan Center’s Michael Waldman and Wendy Weiser noted in a recent op-ed, there are checks in the American electoral system that are designed to thwart this kind of interference. After all, states run our elections, not the president.
But Trump’s recent controversial statements have overshadowed two other election-related threats that are still very much with us: COVID-19 and potential cyberattacks against our election infrastructure. Either of these threats could greatly strengthen the hand of a president looking to interfere in the election. Chaos at the polls, failures of the mail voting system, problems reporting results—all of these would serve the interests of someone looking to undermine confidence and challenge the results of an election.