In our society, it is a deeply cherished and First Amendment right that you are allowed to say (almost) anything you want. That’s called an opinion, and people are free to share them with any and all alike. However, in order to move an opinion to a fact, this has typically required the production of evidence and information that can be critically examined and determined to be true. President Donald Trump has turned this long-standing and completely understandable norm on its head in two important ways. First, he asserts that his opinions are fact simply because he is saying them — and — second, he fails to provide actual evidence for what he is claiming. Unfortunately, we are seeing this play out yet again in the widely held belief that there was significant election fraud.

This should not come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention. The Washington Post’s Fact Checker estimates that Trump had made at least 25,000 false or misleading claims during his tenure as president (that works out to roughly 18 false statements per day, head and shoulders above any other president in history).

Don’t trust or like The Washington Post? You can use your own eyes and ears : from the discredited (and Trump acknowledged) “birther” controversy where he claimed that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States, to disagreements (despite clear photographic proof) over the size of his inauguration crowd, to promising that his “beautiful health care plan” was just two weeks away (ummm, not so much) and his many statements that the coronavirus would “magically disappear” (no need to say anything further here).

To be clear, I can understand why people may have voted for Trump because of strong pro-life values, wanting conservative judges, fearing violence associated with protests or believing that certain immigration, free-trade or environmental policies adversely impacted them. What I don’t understand is why so many people believe anything that he says about voter fraud and a “stolen election.”

It appears transparent to me that he and his allies are actually the ones who are trying to steal the election.

Numerous credible sources have concluded that there is no evidence of significant election fraud, and no credible source has concluded otherwise. This is a question of fact, not of values.

I recommend CISA’s “Rumor Control” webpage (cisa.gov/rumorcontrol), an official U.S. government site for explaining how, when taken out of context, apparently suspicious activity can have quite innocuous causes. From YouTube videos and breathless breaking news reports of supposed burning of ballots to dead people voting, I keep hoping that cognitive dissonance will finally kick in and people will go, “Hmmm, what I was told last time wasn’t true (nor the time before that), maybe I should be a little more skeptical when the next questionable story comes my way.”

While people are certainly free to have and voice their opinions about voter fraud, it is extremely dangerous in this particular situation. Election officials are receiving death threats, and we may see violence in the upcoming weeks. Future efforts to prevent phantom fraud risk imposing policies that make it harder for millions of Americans to participate in our democracy. It sows divisiveness among the American people, risks further politicization of the election process and makes it more likely that people will commit future fraud to “even the score.” By undermining public trust in the democratic process, it makes people less likely to vote in future elections and makes nondemocratic systems of government appear more attractive.

Bruce Abernethy is a Bend city councilor and lives in Bend. This opinion is his own.

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