Trump Thinks he has Stolen the Election: Here’s How, and Why it hasn’t worked
On September 30th I published “Trump Can’t Actually Steal the Election and Here’s Why,” in which I laid out his strategy for doing exactly what he’s now doing and how it can be countered. I was right on quite a few points, but there’s a few places where I was wrong and a few details that are important where I was right.
Before we get too far into this, Biden has won the election and come January 20th will be President. I wrote a piece yesterday in which I laid out how an American President is elected and more or less why this means Republicans can’t just mulligan democracy.
The general election is now over and aside from a pair of Senatorial runoffs in Georgia there is not really an opportunity for you to vote. I’m sorry to say, if you didn’t submit your ballot or vote in person on Nov. 3rd, you’ve missed your chance. However, there are some “ballot curing,” measures ongoing wherein voters are asked to confirm their vote or their signature. If you live in one of the swing states, particularly Georgia, you may be asked to confirm your ballot.
Technically, vote counting will continue until about November 20th when California’s last deadline for the receipt of mailed ballots falls. (Note: such ballots must have been postmarked by Nov. 3.) But most states including California have as of writing tallied sufficient ballots that they can reasonably or certainly predict the winner.
Let me briefly explain how that works. American elections count every ballot submitted unless that ballot is somehow disqualified. Say Biden had won every state by 80% and he had shown wide and insurmountable margins of victory on election night; the poll workers would still have sat there counting every last vote until there were none left to count or their state’s certification hammer fell.
But regardless of what the poll workers themselves are doing, the media is going to call results or projections if they have enough data to reasonably do so.
Let’s do some back of the envelope figuring here.
For most elections — yes, we had higher turnout this year which is great but I’m keeping the arithmetic simple to demonstrate a point — turnout is around 60–65% of eligible voters. So if you have a state with a million eligible voters you can expect that about 600k to 650k will vote. On election day — again, this year was an exception and I’ll get to that, but simple math — because we’ve automated so much of the count we can usually get about 90% of the votes tallied on the same day. So, that’s 540k to 585k votes. If the winner gets 60% of the votes the night of then there’s just not enough votes left for the other candidate to overtake them in overtime. Poll workers will continue to count, but regardless of the district a lead like that in a normal election where roughly 90% of the vote is tallied on the night of there’s just no overcoming that. Best case scenario for the runner up in this incredibly artificial scenario is a final tally of 276k to 299k votes which just isn’t enough to edge out the winner who took home those 324k to 351k votes
In a situation like this the media can make a reasonable projection. And in some cases they might figure in things like exit polls which have of late been notoriously bad even with various adjustments, but once you get to 90 to 95% of the expected count as long as you have a reasonable margin for victory you can project the winner with good to absolute certainty.
But this was not a normal election.
This is not — as Trump or his conspiracy peddling flunkies would have you believe — because of “illegal” votes. It was, in fact, due to Trump’s own incompetence and Republican insistence that votes not be counted until Election Day. Due to the pandemic, there were an unusually high number of votes cast via absentee ballot. Also, due to the highly divisive nature of recent American politics and unusual or wavy elections dating back to at least the year 2000,* turnout was rather high this year. In fact it’s the highest since 1900 with about 66.8% turnout totalling 149,507,729 and counting.
*It’s honestly a bit precious that I’m characterizing any US election as “normal,” but if we’re understanding normalcy as associated with moderatism or legislative cooperation between parties with the exception of perhaps McCarthyism and the Civil War we are in an increasingly abnormal political climate.
But crucially some 100 million of those nearly 150 million votes were cast before election day. And depending on the state, despite the fact that early votes are by definition “early,” they may not have been counted until after those cast on election day. ABC news, the day before the election reported that nearly 92 million absentee ballots had been requested and some 62 million already returned. That means some 42–62% of the total votes cast in the 2020 election were via absentee ballot and not necessarily part of the tally on election night.
This is pretty simple, but there’s a logical fallacy in here that the Trump administration is trying to exploit. If 90% of the vote is counted then excepting cases of a narrow margin a winner may be projected. In most elections 90% of the vote is usually tallied on election night or by the following morning. For most elections in most years where a considerably smaller proportion of the vote is cast by absentee ballot it is reasonable for media outlets to call the election the night of the election or the following morning. But because this year such a high proportion of the vote was cast by absentee ballot — including Trump’s own vote — the tallies on election night were not reflective of the actual vote and where margins were not significant, results could not be reasonably projected until absentee ballots were tallied.
It is particularly notable, and I did make note of it in my pre-election article on this subject that Pennsylvania and Wisconsin which were instrumental in both the 2016 and this Presidential election were barred from starting their vote tallies until election day.
In my pre-election article I wrote that Republicans were engaged in voter suppression of particularly absentee ballots because most absentee ballots were distributed in blue leaning states and a higher proportion of Democratic voters had requested them, and that one of their methods to turn this election to their favour would be to delay tallying of absentee ballots in an effort to create the illusion of a Republican victory early on and perhaps even avoid counting them at all.
Legally this is not really something Trump and the Republicans can get away with, but it’s also not something you as the average citizen can do anything about at the moment. As for “Tactic One: Voter Suppression,” if you voted you overcame Trump’s first means of stealing the election. “Tactic Two: Slow and Stop Voting Tallies,” is not really possible because the states — not the federal government or a given political Party — will determine how their votes are tabulated. It’s at this point a battle for public opinion rather than anything else and as the public has already voted, it’s somewhat irrelevant.
This brings us into things Trump and his administration or campaign are doing at present.
The third tactic I predicted — although Trump repeated this “plan” in public repeatedly, so I cannot really claim prescience — is litigiousness. He planned to challenge Democratic wins in court and claim voter fraud. He’s doing this right now and depending on your mileage they range from pathetic and amusing to hypocritical and deeply disturbing.
For the average citizen there’s not a lot you personally can do about this. Unless you’re one of the lawyers or judges on this case and are in a position to either resign from the case or throw it out of court basically all you can do is sit back and hope that the courts remain rational and don’t try to overturn democracy.
It’s pretty clear at this point that there has not been — despite QAnon claims to the contrary — significant voter fraud or election tampering. In the US in our modern history voter fraud is incredibly rare. Additionally, in the rare instances voter fraud is committed it is more or less a toss-up whether it’s committed by a Democrat or a Republican. Because the penalties for voter fraud greatly outweigh the likely benefits it’s a pretty rare crime. But when it is committed there’s basically an equal chance that the perpetrator is from the Republican Party as there is that they are from the Democratic Party.
But most of these cases are going straight to the garbage pile for lack of evidence or in some cases even lack of lawyers willing to perjure themselves. They’re not a terrible danger because neither the Biden campaign nor the various state level Democrats that Trump loves to hate have actually broken the law or even done anything less than transparent. Additionally, as things stand as of writing Biden has 279 Electoral College votes. With the addition of Georgia and Arizona his total is likely to swell to 306. Biden only needed 270 meaning that Trump’s legal team would have to flip 36 votes or at minimum Michigan and Pennsylvania. And it’s just not possible.
In Michigan Biden leads by 148,645 general votes and in Pennsylvania his lead is 53, 898 with more than 98% of the total vote counted. At most Trump can hope to overturn a few hundred ballots, but he cannot destroy leads that big.
In an earlier version of this article I claimed — per the quoted text — below that I had been wrong about there being violence and rioting during or following the election. That is because until the evening of November 15th there hadn’t really been. Now however I most unfortunately can move this prediction of mine out of the wrong column and into the right one.
The details are still hazy but the “Proud Boys,” which is a violent white supremacist group apparently made up of out of shape cowards from what the video showed me, showed up to the tiny little march the Trump campaign organized for it’s pity party in Washington DC. And I am sorry that I cannot be less emotive here but you’re about to find out why.
It was one of the larger groups Trump’s ever managed to assemble, but while his press secretary lied about it being some million strong it definitely was not even close. But anyway, there were counter protesters there because that’s how the First Amendment works. Some of these counter protesters were women. One of these women is a journalist. So anyways three the “Proud Boys” violently attacked the counter protestors without provocation and stabbed three of them. At least one of the people these cowards stabbed was a female journalist.
Anyway, one of the “Proud Boys” was wearing a hoodie with “Stand Back and Stand By” printed or embroidered on the back, so my hope is that Trump will be found criminally liable for inciting this.
Fortunately I was largely incorrect about unrest on Election Day and thereafter. QAnon made it’s weird threats but given that most of them are deluded, science denying, keyboard warriors, I should have realized that they weren’t going to be a problem as far as violence was concerned. Even the white supremacist groups seem to be splintering at this point.
I won’t say that we need not worry about the Trump campaign trying to encourage unrest because we’re still more than two months shy of the Biden administration taking office and there’s plenty of time for Trump to mess things up further. But it is a relief to know that there were not large scale riots or any mass casualty events. I actually wrote, “I am expecting a lot of domestic terror to go down on election night,” and I am just incredibly relieved to say I was wrong about that.
And this is actually something the average citizen can easily help with. Don’t get into physical altercations. If you choose to march do so peacefully and safely. And if you have a relative or former friend who has joined QAnon or is showing other signs of being radicalized let them know that you insist on facts and reality over conspiracies, but that once they’re ready to reform that you’ll be there for them. Again, as I’ve said before it’s their responsibility not to be awful and you do not need to bend over backwards for them, but if you can be their lifeline back to a saner and gentler reality that’s really a great service.
Edit: Unfortunately I spoke too soon. As of the evening of November 15th there have been what the New York Times is describing as “clashes,” between peaceful protestors and violent extremists like the “Proud Boys,” who support the current regime. Hopefully, there will not be too many more of these flair-ups but at least in the twitter video the peaceful protestors just walked away.
Sadly, my last prediction, that Trump would refuse to concede was right on the money. And he and his administration did actually do a few things that I did not expect and probably could not have anticipated.
Once again, before I get too into this — and there’s not much to get into anyway — let me be clear that Trump’s refusal to concede and his various actions are annoying and embarrassing, but they won’t stop the transition, overturn the election or even really damage our democracy or nation. He’s already done his worst so the damage he might have otherwise inflicted with these actions is long done. It’s a sucker punch, but we’ve been sucker punched before.
There’s a tiny little section of the federal US government known as the General Services Administration or GSA that exists in part to facilitate transitions. Trump has a loyalist, Emily Murphy, installed in that position and has instructed her not to cooperate. This means that the Biden transition team cannot access funds and office space meant for the transition of power and they cannot work or communicate with anyone currently in government. Sort of. I’m a little foggy on whether that’s just a precaution the Biden team is taking in anticipation of future lawsuits or if it’s formally enshrined in law.
This is not truly a hashtag big deal because Biden and Harris and everybody on their team are very well connected and in communication with the scads and oodles of people that Trump has fired or pushed to resign during his criminal Presidency.
What could amount to a big deal possibly is the firings at the Pentagon. It was widely reported that Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper had a letter of resignation ready and has since left his position and that several of the topmost positions in the Department of Defence are held by Trump loyalists. That sounds scary, but I’m not actually convinced it amounts to much.
There’s this public idea that members of the military must either obey commands given by their superiors or resign. That’s true, unless the order is illegal. So for a horrible example if a military captain orders the execution of an innocent child and it is carried out by say a non-com then that is murder and possibly a war crime. “I was only following orders,” is not now and really has never been a valid defence. Members of the armed forces may and even must disobey unreasonable and illegal orders.
Basically what I’m saying is that if Trump’s idea was to stage a military coup he’s going to be terribly surprised at how it pans out.
More realistically he might have thought he could use this to avoid being hauled out by the seat of his pants or thought that he could scare the public. In regards to the former, that won’t work because all those people serve at the pleasure of the President and can be kicked out as of January 20th at noon and if they do attempt to overturn our constitutional democracy the legal penalties may be quite high. The latter is more realistic, but also within your control.
Pompeo further suggested that the transition would be from the first Trump term to the second. But again, this is sound and fury. Pompeo clearly seemed agitated when he made that comment, but once again, his power and position are reliant entirely on Trump’s. All he’s doing at this point is torpedoing his own career.
All of this is irritating particularly given that we’re trying to get rid of a fraudster who has never won a single election is his entire life but thinks he’s entitled to a second Presidential term, but world leaders are already issuing congratulatory messages to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. This is absolutely happening and despite Trump’s absurdist tantrums, there’s no stopping it.