Trump’s Plan to Steal the Election: Should I Really be Worried?

GELFAND’S WORLD--Donald Trump believes that if the ballot count comes up against him, then the election must have been rigged. He refuses to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses. 

This is seriously deranged thinking. Normal people, even presidential candidates, have accepted reality when the returns came in. 

An article in the Atlantic considers how the Trump sickness can be combined with the machinations of his swing state Republican supporters. In summary, they could try to steal the 2020 election. It is an altogether chilling prediction. 

Atlantic writer Barton Gellman has provided this bombshell story. It’s admittedly speculative, but it explains a lot of different ways the Republicans could try to steal the presidential election. Read it here.  

Let me summarize a few main points. The Trump campaign can and possibly will attempt the following: 

Suppress the popular vote in several ways. 

Try to get individual state governments to steal their own presidential elections by appointing presidential electors in contradiction to the vote count. 

Try to force the issue of those disputed electoral votes in the U.S. congress, which is supposed to decide on disputed electoral slates and count the electoral votes. 

The fact that Trump and his supporters would like to suppress the popular vote is no secret. The Atlantic article cites evidence that the intent is there and that the Republicans are already at work on this project. We’re familiar with the attempts to hobble the U.S. Postal Service and the attempts by Florida to prevent felons from voting, but there are other plans afoot. In previous years, Republican-controlled states instituted requirements that votersbring official photo IDs with them to the polls. This by itself hasn’t been that effective, but it was an early warning of what the long term strategy was to be. 

But the likely Republican strategy goes further and could potentially be damaging to democracy itself. You can read the details of how it might be possible to legally steal a state’s presidential election result – suffice it to say that the state legislature could take onto itself the question of whether it’s election was fraudulent and specify by its own vote who the electors are to be. In other words, a Republican controlled state legislature in, let’s say, Florida could legislatively take away the right of the voters to choose Florida’s electors, and since Florida has a Republican governor (and a sleazy one at that), they might be able to steal the voters’ choice of who gets the electoral votes

Other swing states have Republican controlled legislatures and Democratic governors (N. Carolina, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania) and for those states, it is theoretically possible that the legislature and the governor could each appoint its own slate of electors, and both slates would be presented to the congress as its official count. Terms like recipe for chaos and Constitutional crisis don’t begin to describe what the outcome would be. 

The Gellman article is an attempt to summarize the work of the Transition Integrity Project (and others of like mind) who have carefully studied the Constitutional confusions that could occur between election day and the presidential inauguration. 

Here’s one part of the story: Donald Trump has been working up an argument that mail-in ballots are by their nature not to be trusted, and that we should only accept those votes that have been counted as of the end of election day. In other words, tens of millions of Democratic mail-in ballots should not be counted. 

Trump can then use this argument to try to get votes disqualified if they are mail-in ballots that took two weeks to be tabulated. That argument leads to all the rest of the trickery, resulting in everything being tied up, multiple lawsuits in multiple courts, and a Constitutional quandary facing the congress that literally has no official solution either in Constitutional law or in court precedent. The congress could be faced with competing slates of electors that would elect Biden on the one hand, or Trump on the other hand, or possibly no one at all. It’s not what the voters themselves would have chosen, but a carefully invented construct by people who don’t believe in democracy. 

As the author explains: 

“The worst case, however, is not that Trump rejects the election outcome. The worst case is that he uses his power to prevent a decisive outcome against him. If Trump sheds all restraint, and if his Republican allies play the parts he assigns them, he could obstruct the emergence of a legally unambiguous victory for Biden in the Electoral College and then in Congress. He could prevent the formation of consensus about whether there is any outcome at all. He could seize on that un­certainty to hold on to power.” 

The Crux of the Matter 

When Donald Trump suggests that an election can only come out against him if it is rigged, that is a particularly extreme sort of claim. Curiously, it is also a direct insult to the Republican legislators who run the swing states under consideration (which include, in addition to the above named, the state of Arizona). Trump is claiming, in effect, that those states and their elected statewide officers cannot run an election.

Would the legislature of North Carolina try to overturn a one percent Biden victory by claiming that their own counties cheated on the side of the Democrats, or that their election officials didn’t do a competent job in screening out ineligible voters? 

More to the point, can the Republican high command count on local election boards to either cheat or to acquiesce to charges that they ran a bad count? One counter-approach to the Trump tirades is to shame the locals and state legislatures. Some of them -- just by the laws of statistics – are going to have integrity. It’s important to get the honest lawmakers and poll workers and Secretaries of State to protest challenges to their integrity. 

Make it into a question of personal integrity. 

In the past, the idea of a Constitutional crisis was supposed to lead to both sides closing ranks to protect the system as a whole. The idea is that you can always run again in the next election, but only if there is a next election. 

Things we all can do 

The Atlantic article, in pointing out the expected election night complaints from the Trump camp that vote counting should cease, offers a few immediate approaches. If Trump’s side only accepts the validity of votes actually cast in person at a polling place, then the rest of us should vote at the polls. Even I would agree that we’ve learned enough about the Covid-19 epidemic to be able to vote in person. Waiting in a single file line with 6 foot separations is not the same thing as being packed elbow to elbow in a bar during a biker rally. In a lot of states, we will be able to vote over a period of at least a week, and sometimes longer. 

The other thing we should be able to do is to match the right wing election day demonstrators with our own protectors. In different times and places (Orange County, Ca, New Jersey), the Republicans have sent men in uniform to polling places to intimidate voters – usually minority voters. They have threatened people that they could be arrested for voting, and so on. Residents of some neighborhoods don’t feel comfortable being confronted by police (and people who look like police) for any reason. 

Our approach therefore is to recruit our own groups to counteract the illegal acts of intimidation that the other side would like to be able to get away with. Trump is talking about recruiting a force of 50,000 so let’s recruit our own 200,000. It’s interesting that in recent dueling demonstrations in California, the anti-Trump people have been able to outnumber the pro-Trumpers. This may not be the case in every small town, but in lots of locations among swing states, it should be more than possible. 

In reading through the Atlantic article carefully, I find the speculations troubling but not totally inconceivable. I’ve seen enough lack of integrity and plain lack of truthfulness among the senatorial Republicans to last me a lifetime. It wouldn’t be completely unbelievable if most of the Republicans at the local level (I’m talking about the ones who are still active in the party) behaved in the same inexcusable way that their senatorial leaders have been showing. It’s possible. But I would like to think that enough people figure out that they are Americans and that the American system is worth preserving. And as we all understand, they can always come back for another shot in two years and four years. 

Perhaps the real danger to our democracy can be properly explored at the first presidential debate, now only 5 evenings away. This will be a chance to see if the moderator (of Fox News, but generally considered honorable) recognizes the true importance of  the event and of the election. 

There is one other possibility. Perhaps Donald Trump does understand the possibility of defeat, but thinks in his own demented way that you have to express unbridled confidence in front of your supporters. In this case, his refusal to acknowledge the possibility of defeat is just one more Trump lie. The problem for the rest of us is that we cannot trust in Trump’s innate dishonesty in this situation. 


As usual in California, we have initiatives on the ballot. They affect dialysis clinics and property taxes and whatever some rich consortium decided to quietly slip onto the ballot by buying signatures. We’re now starting to be deluged with television commercials both pro and con. 

Now here is the thing about those television spots, and I invite you to check for yourselves. The ads never actually tell you what the initiative actually does! I know that prop 15 will help our heroic healthcare workers who risk their lives over Covid-19 every day. Or else it will put small businesses out of existence and then come for you in your home. I have even seen a pro-15 ad immediately follow an anti-15 ad within the same 30 second block, and neither attempts to tell you what the initiative does. 

It must be an honored principle among political strategists that you never actually provide substantive facts about initiatives. You just find something that you can maybe get away with saying and hope that this is enough. 

There is an extremely well made set of ads that ostensibly support the rights of people to drive Uber and Lyft cars without getting fringe benefits. Somehow, all the spokespeople in the ads seem to think that it’s just fine being a sort of employee but not being treated like one. Dunno – maybe they are right and their cause is just, but I just don’t trust the people behind these ads. And it would be interesting to know (as the ads seem to be saying) that 4 out of 5 of the drivers really want to be independent contractors. And even if they do, is it just because the part time drivers (very part time, it would appear) are the only ones left in this gig? This is one where I truly don’t have solid data and would invite a little solid data in commentary. 

The slick mailers arriving by the half dozen aren’t any better this year either. There is a school board race down with dueling candidates who are being supported essentially on their support or opposition to charter schools. Needless to say, the mailers don’t get anywhere near that topic. Instead we have hit pieces. One candidate has no experience in the classroom and the other is supported by out of town billionaires. At least that’s what they say. Should I want to vote for somebody who stoops to this level of nastiness?


(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net)