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Doug Mills, The New York Times / In a two-picture combo, President Donald Trump, left, and former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, face off in their first presidential debate in Cleveland on Tuesday.

How many more lies must we hear? How many more times will we have to see the president of our country refuse to condemn white supremacists or Proud Boys "militia" vigilantes? How many clips of speeches or debates or briefings must we endure of Donald Trump misleading Americans about everything from coronavirus to climate change to mail-in ballots?

If you watched even five minutes of last week's debate — and it wasn't a debate, it was a debacle — between Joe Biden and Trump, you know this country must in November rid itself of a completely unfit and unhinged president.

Trump showed himself again to be a rambling bully and troll with no plan for the pandemic, no plan for rebuilding the economy, no plan for health care, no plan for slowing climate change, no plan for anything save inciting his base to re-elect him or protect him in office — even if he loses.

Asked by the debate moderator, Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, whether he would be willing to publicly denounce white supremacists, the president first feigned confusion, then said: "Proud Boys, stand back. And stand by. But I'll tell you what, somebody's got to do something about antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem. This is a left-wing problem."

Proud Boys, stand by.

The male-only extremist group known for its gun-toting street violence and intimidation immediately celebrated on social media. They picked up "STAND BACK AND STAND BY as a new slogan, enshrining it on meme after meme, including one depicting Trump in one of the Proud Boys' signature polo shirts.

But that was far from Trump's only dog whistle in what resembled a 90-minute arm-waving reading of his Twitter feed. Nor was it the only signaling he used for Proud Boys and their ilk. Trump provided viewers the distinct impression that he believes he and his vigilantes can bully and intimidate voters.

The Michigan chapter of the Proud Boys, one of those that made memes of Trump's quote, recently urged its followers on social media to become "poll challengers" on Election Day. Can't you picture them at your polling place, smirking as they fondle their assault rifles? Trump — incredulously — repeated that message onstage.

"I'm urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully. Because that's what has to happen. I am urging them to do it Today there was a big problem. In Philadelphia, they went in to watch. They're called poll watchers — a very safe, very nice thing. They were thrown out. They weren't allowed to watch. You know why? Because bad things happen in Philadelphia. Bad things."

In fact, Philadelphia officials in the first day of early voting did turn away at least one person who said she was hired by the Trump campaign as a watcher. She was not allowed to observe because she had not registered as a poll worker or poll watcher, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

We call Trump's claims and behavior unhinged, but make no mistake: We're also calling them deliberate.

Trump is increasingly using his platform to try to bully us into believing that our laws don't apply to him and to scare us into thinking our ballots won't be counted.

But in America, we elect our leaders. We are a democracy, and Trump is not a king. His false assertions will succeed only if voters fall prey to his intimidation tactics and decide not to cast their ballot. Every vote matters. And if in November the people say Trump must go, he will have to go.

Vanita Gupta, the president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and former head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, reminded us last week in a Washington Post op-ed that our nation has a system of voting that no president controls.

"A sitting president wields no direct power when it comes to how Americans vote. In nearly every state, local boards of election count the ballots. State election authorities verify these counts. Governors or secretaries of state certify that the final tally is correct. The Electoral College does not depend on the president accepting the results. And a new Congress in January counts the tally transparently. There are firewalls that separate this process from the president — firewalls he has no power to override."

In addition, each state has security measures to ensure that votes cast are counted, whether they're cast by mail or in person. Ballots stay in the hands of local officials — whether cast at a polling location or filled out at a voter's kitchen table. This chain of custody ensures that local officials designated by state law to certify election results are the only ones who have access to the original ballots.

These measures are not new; neither is voting by mail, Gupta wrote. "Our armed forces first voted by mail during the Civil War, and states as different as Oregon and Utah are among those that conduct elections by mail fairly and effectively."

This also was part of Joe Biden's closing debate statement.

Thoroughly outperforming Trump the TV star, Biden looked straight into the camera and into our living rooms and said directly to all of us: "Show up and vote. You will determine the outcome of this election. Vote, vote, vote. If you're able to vote early in your state, vote early. If you're able to vote in person, vote in person. Vote whatever way is the best way for you because you will — he cannot stop you from being able to —determine the outcome of this election."

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