Trump Can’t Actually Steal the Election and Here’s Why

He will try, but if you vote, he will almost definitely fail

One shouldn’t be putting makeup on an ape, but at least this time it’s even.

If last night’s debate were a train being conducted by Chris Wallace then Trump pulled him off of the controls, beat him bloody, and proceeded to derail the train at high speeds. I know that was a bit of a ways to go for the train-wreck metaphor, but I also feel that we witnessed Chris Wallace being psychologically tortured for an hour and a half.

There was not a lot of substance to take from this debate. In 2016 I described the first debate especially as a pretty good speech intermittently interrupted with fart sounds. Hillary Clinton knew Trump was going to interrupt her when he shouldn’t be and so she just ignored the hell out of him and kept on talking. It was an effective strategy. She dominated.

Biden did pull himself together in this debate, and if we got any actual information or policy talk from either of the candidates we got it from him. But — perhaps because of his stutter or perhaps because men just aren’t used to being rudely interrupted all of the time — he did not perform as well as Hillary Clinton.

There’s some talk among newscasters and pundits that the interruption tactic was strategic because Biden has a stutter. I very much doubt that’s true. One must remember throughout all of this that regardless of his contestations to the contrary Trump is not at all “smart,” — and yes Trump, I do want to talk, “smart,” — and never really has been. Trump just isn’t tactical. He lacks the brain function to have and execute a strategy. He was interrupting for the same reason a wasp stings. It’s just his nature.

When we’re talking about Trump’s plan to steal the election we’re more accurately talking about William Barr and Mitch McConnell’s plan. Trump is told things and he goes with the last thing he hears. He doesn’t plan and he doesn’t have a grasp of either the system or other humans enough to create or follow a plan. And this is why he tipped his hand last night.

The plan, as it were, has roughly five steps to it: suppress voting and lower confidence in the election, stop voting tallies swiftly after polls close on election day, litigate losses, encourage unrest and violence, and refuse to concede.

Before I get too far into this, the easiest way to trump Trump is by voting. I created a little spreadsheet where you can check your state’s deadlines as well as a voting plan which you can copy, print off, and then use as you please. The first registration deadlines start falling Oct. 4th, and while many states do have online registration it is not all so to avoid disappointment register now.

You can go to iwillvote.com to check your voter registration and for most states you can register through that site or at least get the appropriate form. There’s tons of helpful information including an election protection hotline (1–866–687–8683) and a guide on voting rights available at vote.org.

If you are voting from abroad and this includes if you sort of got stuck somewhere away from your normal address due to the pandemic or if you are an American citizen born abroad who has never lived in the US, you can vote via votefromabroad.org. Voters abroad both military and civilian may fill out a Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB) which is basically a backup vote. It’s only counted if your actual ballot never shows up so you don’t have to worry about accidently voting twice. If your proper ballot shows up that will be counted and your FWAB discarded, but if your ballot does not appear and you are registered as an overseas voter your county clerk will use your FWAB to count your vote.

Note: The FWAB is exclusive to voters casting their vote outside of the US.

If you’re abroad and need clarification for registering or returning your ballot there is a Global Voter Assistance hotline via Zoom which you can use to talk to volunteers who will help you with whatever you need. I’m on there on Sunday evenings (EDT).

Once you have registered and sent in your ballot many states offer tracking services that will help you determine if you need to take any further steps. Simply google search “track my ballot [your state].” If you’re having issues with voting that you cannot resolve through any of these links or methods contact your Local Election Official (LEO) whose phone number and email should be available on your county clerk’s website. They are currently overwhelmed, but it is their job to make sure you can exercise your right to vote, and if you’re having an issue there’s likely other voters who have the same problem, so don’t be shy about contacting them.

Regardless of all the ongoing political machinations and ploys by Republicans in the Senate and even in local elected seats if enough of you get your votes in, they cannot steal this election regardless of how hard they try.

So let’s get into the methodology.

Tactic One: Voter Suppression

In the pre-debate talking head bonanza I was watching one of the commentators mentioned that in this election some 2% of votes are already cast. That’s not a huge amount numerically (although I’m guesstimating it will likely be about two to three million), but it means Trump has largely missed his window to suppress those votes and there’s fewer people who can actually be deterred by these suppression tactics.

But let’s go through it.

The big thing Trump is trying to poo-poo is mail-in ballots. He told a lot of lies last night and he’s been telling a lot of lies. Trump falsely claimed that “unsolicited ballots,” are being sent out and sold and harvested and on and on. This is not true. To be totally honest, I’m not even sure what he’s talking about. I think his deal is that he’s mad that several states (California, Colorado, DC, Hawaii, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Washington) are just automatically conducting their entire election by mail and sending out ballots to every registered voter. But several of those states already did that anyway and they’re not just sending out random ballots to all post boxes or something. They’re sending one single ballot to each registered voter. Probably his issue with this is that of those nine states and DC he only realistically has a chance of winning one, maybe two of them and they total 119 Electoral College votes.

He had a lot of other whoppers last night, but the upshot is if you live in one of those nine states or DC, just follow your county’s instructions on how to vote and return your ballot, call your LEO if you’re confused, and get your vote in. There’s nothing fraudulent about your vote and you’re best off just ignoring Trump and voting as early as you can.

What I really REALLY want to stress though is Election Day is Nov. 3rd. It is NOT, as Trump tried to insinuate last night, later and while in some cases your vote may still be accepted as long as it is postmarked by Nov. 3rd that is not a chance you want to take. The very second you get your ballot fill it out, do whatever signing and origami your county clerk requires, and then send that sucker back.

The reason Trump is trying to confuse the process for absentee ballot voting is because he’s going to lose this election, but most of the people who have requested ballots are registered with the Democratic Party and many states with early voting and liberal absentee voting policies lean Democratic.

When you vote absentee unless you call in to a hotline for help or get specific clarification from your LEO you have to sort out where to sign and whether or not you need a security envelope and so forth on your own. So while I would like to imagine that most county clerks are going to understand human error, there is a vulnerability for Republicans and Trump to exploit simply by trying to confuse voters.

Tactic Two: Slow and Stop Voting Tallies

There’s another crucial weakness with absentee voting that Trump is trying to exploit. Absentee ballots take time to tabulate. It can be more than a week before all the votes are counted and in the California 2016 Democratic primary it took over a month. In person voting is tallied pretty quickly because it can be done as the voter votes by machine or in real-time by hand. But absentee voting even if the ballot includes a QR code requires opening the envelope, verifying the signature, and flattening the ballot. If there are discrepancies the LEO will want to try to contact the voter to resolve them and this also takes time.

The simple fix for this is for states and county clerks to just start tallying up the vote as the ballots start coming in. And in nineteen states they can do that. But these are not all the same states in which absentee balloting is a simple straightforward process. California, my state where my ballot has already been accepted by my county clerk, does not count the votes upon receipt. The tabulation in California begins a week or more before election day.

Pennsylvania and Wisconsin both of which had questionable final tallies in 2016 and contributed to Trump’s ability to hold the Electoral College even after losing the election do not start counting until Election Day.

And the reason for this is pretty straightforward. Many in person voters are likely to be Republicans particularly in swing states. Regardless of whether voting is conducted by absentee ballot or in person the higher the population the longer tabulation will take. Trump does better in low density areas which will have their counts in considerably earlier than urban centres and areas with significant absentee voting. This means that even if Biden wins by a landslide the evening of Nov. 3rd there is likely to be a “red mirage.”

The likely scenario is that round about midnight Nov. 3rd or 1am Nov. 4th the election will look close or may even seem to be a Republican win. But this has happened in every election in my living memory. It always looks red at first and then the blue takes over as poll workers in more populated areas start to catch up.

Trump and his cronies are going to try to stop counts as early as possible because it will be simply impossible to count all the votes from more heavily populated areas as fast as it will be from the one or two counties that Trump still has locked down.

This is so backwards, but basically it’s much faster to count to ten than one hundred. So if the first ten votes of those hundred are red it may look like a GOP win. But if the other ninety are blue it’s clearly not. If you stop counting at ten and just go, “oh it will take too long and look how many are already red,” then you won’t have an accurate picture of what that count actually was. Sample size too small and all that.

Tactic Three: Argue Losses in Court

It looks like Trump’s going to lose and lose “bigly.” But keep in mind that he lost in 2016 as well. In this election all he needs to do is keep either Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, or Pennsylvania out of Biden’s hands and he can throw the election into question.

Based on what 538 is saying I think this is the most likely electoral map if we assume everything is above board and Trump does not try to cheat. (source)

Even best case scenario as above the major proportion of Electoral College votes that Biden needs to put him over the top are only leaning in his direction. Many of these states that I’ve listed as leaning are pretty close. They do consistently favour Biden, but it’s not a sure thing.

And because it’s not a sure thing and because Trump and his stooges have already done things like try to dismantle the USPS, threaten violence, endorse the Proud Boys and on and on and on it’s fairly reasonable to assume that they will challenge vote counts any and everywhere they can. If they have an early lead anywhere they will try to get judges to stop the count.

This is not paranoid speculation — Republicans have literally said that’s what’s going to happen. At the Supreme Court Level both McConnell and Graham have intimated that the election will be decided by the Supreme Court and that’s why they want to put Miss Fetish Lifestyle in there as soon as possible. During the debate Trump randomly started talking about how many judges he had appointed to federal courts. Again, Trump’s very stupid but he’s probably being given at least some details of how the fix is in. Him blurting out the thing about appointing judges was likely a synaptic misfire that comes up every time he starts worrying about losing the election.

The best way to counteract this is to vote early and in person where possible. In places there are laws which prevent a recount when the vote does not fall within certain margins. If at no point it’s close, then Trump can’t challenge it.

Tactic Four: Encourage Unrest

During the debate Trump was asked to denounce white supremacist domestic terrorists like the Proud Boys. Instead he had a little temper tantrum and then told the Proud Boys to “stand by.” He also encouraged his supporters to go harass voters at the polls. Well, he called it “poll watching,” but it is a form of voter suppression that has been illegal — although in places restrictions are unfortunately being lifted — and can turn violent.

Vote.org has a hotline you can call if you see this sort of behaviour at your polling place or if any of your rights are being violated. It’s important to keep in mind that Trump can only win through terrorism and cheating. You have a right to vote and voting will not incur any form of penalties. If you are unsure whether or not you are legally allowed to vote you need only ask your LEO. But basically, as long as you are a citizen of the United States over eighteen years and have not been convicted of a felony, you can vote. Depending on your state and your status even if you have been convicted of a felony, you may still be able to vote. Just ask.

During the debates Trump also threatened to use the military and law enforcement against US citizens if he didn’t win. It was subtle for him but he basically named a bunch of military and law enforcement individuals and departments and claimed he had their support. Several of them have come forward and flat out stated that no, they do not support him, but the military people he named can’t actually do that by law. It’s possible that some ex-military do actually support him and have said so, and it’s possible that some individuals in the armed forces will still vote for him even after he called them idiots, but they can’t say that publicly and if he lost the election he wouldn’t be able to call on them to stage a coup.

I am expecting a lot of domestic terror to go down on election night which is all the more reason to get your voting done early. But, I will remind everyone that terrorism is illegal, cowardly, stupid, and desperate. There are also Democratic lawyers standing by to make sure that if white supremacist terrorists do manage to shut down a polling place or something, that voting will be appropriately extended. Vote early and know your rights.

Tactic Five: Refuse to Concede

This one probably angers me the most, but it’s going to be the most delicious to watch fail.

Because of the way we’re voting this year even if Biden has a landslide win we will not have conclusive results on Nov. 3rd. It’s simply not going to happen. We might have an inkling late on Election Night, possibly the day after, but we will not know with any certainty at best until a good week after. We are not going to have the traditional concession speech, the congratulatory phone call, the rallying acceptance speech and all the other typical trappings of our democracy.

If Trump weren’t a goddamn lunatic we might just have had those things late but nothing says, “sanity,” like 200,000 Americans dead from a largely preventable illness.

This isn’t really a problem. It’s bad to be sure, but while Trump seems to believe he’s owed favours from the various judges he’s appointed they evidently disagree. He’ll refuse to concede and try to take things to court. In places he’ll be refused simply because he can’t meet the bare minimum requirements for the case to be heard and in other cases he will just lose. He may actually win one or two of his cases but they are unlikely to tip the entirety of the election. He will continue this battle and try to steal Electoral College votes in various peri-legal to entirely illegal ways at which point we come to a bit of a crossroads.

The most likely scenario is that despite all his whinging, Trump will lose both the Electoral College and the popular vote. When that happens it’s game over. Biden will start assembling his cabinet including (crucially) a new Attorney General and the newly elected Senate will be sworn in January 5, 2021. The Secret Service answer to the Attorney General, but they answer to the acting Attorney General. So while there has been concern that William Barr might order the Secret Service to keep Trump in the Presidency past the expiry of his term at noon on January 20, 2021, his own authority expires with his President’s. If Biden wins the Electoral College on December 14th then the Secret Service knows to follow William Barr’s orders up to noon, January 20th, but thereafter they follow orders from Biden’s AG.

But okay, let’s pretend that bad stuff happens and the Electoral College ties or somehow can’t vote. In that case the House of Representatives votes on the next President. Given the character of this current class Biden will win that as well. Harris may have a harder go of it in the Senate if her election is held before the new class is sworn in. But even if Biden were elected President by the House of Representatives and Pence were selected by the Senate, Biden could simply insist Pence step aside after the new Senate was assembled and then nominate Harris as his replacement.

Even if the election is sent into such a colossal tailspin that we miss the old Congress by the time we would call on them to decide the President and Vice President and the results for the Congressional and Senate elections are uncertain the temporary President is likely to be a Democrat because where there are Senate seats up for election this year there are enough Democratic governors that would appoint Democratic Senators to those seats causing the Senate to go blue and the President pro tempore to be Patrick Leahy or Diane Feinstein. The full and far more nuanced explanation for this is in one of these podcasts. Enjoy. (Also: hahahahahahahahahaha.)

So, Trump can refuse to concede if he wants and yes, that is bad for our democracy because we have a tradition of peaceful transitions, but on the other hand at this point we have so much evidence against him that once properly dealt with, his blight on our history can be relatively well erased. He was never properly elected President — he is and always will be illegitimate — and so his refusal to concede doesn’t ultimately matter. If he tries to prevent Biden’s inauguration or if he tries to remain in office past January 20th, he’ll just be hauled straight out and be at the mercy of the new Attorney General.

Honestly, I’m kind of hoping it does actually come to that because then we’ll all be treated to an image of Trump being hauled out by the Secret Service kicking and screaming like the massive toddler he is.

We’re going to have to put up with a lot of crap between now and January 20th. Trump’s going to lie, his cronies are going to try to manipulate things, there will probably be unrest, and we aren’t even likely to know the results of the election by Thanksgiving. (Although, imagine the turkey jokes if we do.) But, despite having four years to wreck our democracy and institutions, things are actually looking positive.

He did a lot of damage and Biden and Harris are going to have a lot of cleaning up to do — I’d make a joke about a bull in a china shop but then I’d have to talk about Minoan culture and probably there would be a dick joke in there … it’s just not worth it. But anyways, we’re going to get out of this. We’re still a country of laws and if we can take anything positive away from this — provided I’m not speaking too soon — Trump laid bare even for the least wary among us just how much a threat white supremacy is to our way of life. Yeah, it’s going to be a lot of work gluing particularly our traditions back together, but we now all clearly know exactly who and what the enemy to American democracy is.

If you’ve already voted and have confirmation that your vote is in, congratulations and thank you. You’ve done your part.

If you’ve sent in your ballot but haven’t had confirmation yet chase it, but also thank you for voting.

If you’re voting early thank you in advance.

And if you are voting on November 3rd also thank you, but be prepared for a line.

As long as everyone votes, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

Doctor of Palaeopathology, rage-prone optimist, stealth berserker, opera enthusiast, and insatiable consumer of academic journals.

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