When exiting the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was asked by citizens what type of government they had just created. He responded simply, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
As I predicted, Donald Trump has led America into a dire constitutional crisis. Joe Biden has won the election, but for the first time in American history, the sitting President is stubbornly refusing to concede, claiming mass voter fraud and dragging the country deep into conspiracy territory that promises to further divide an already deeply polarized nation. For those of you who may be on the fence, who may think that Trump is on to something, that perhaps the election was “stolen,” let’s break it down in detail.
Understanding How Trump Lost
Before beginning, it is important for Americans to understand what happened in this election, and why it took so long to count the votes to conclude a Biden victory. First, remember that even in normal election years, votes are usually not fully tabulated on election night (it took about 3 weeks to count votes in 2016, for example). Instead, just enough votes are tabulated to make a forecast of who wins the presidency.
This year had record-breaking voter turnout…meaning there were simply more votes to count. But more importantly, unlike in prior elections, many states eased voting by mail requirements to reduce the risk of Covid-19 infection at the polls (we will get into detail on this later on). Votes received by mail take longer to count because they have to arrive in the mail, be removed from their envelopes, and processed. Finally, because of Trump’s rhetoric over the summer where he questioned voting by mail (while the Democrats actively encouraged it,) the composition of those ballots was harder to forecast than in years past.
All of this meant delayed counts and even more delayed forecasts. Nonetheless, it is now beyond any level of reasonable doubt that Joe Biden won the election.
In short, it did not take longer to call this election because of fraud, it took longer because there were more votes, a greater percentage of those votes were mailed in and took longer to count, and the composition of those votes was less predictable making the election harder to forecast earlier.
Deconstructing Trump’s Voter Fraud Claims
We can spend all day deconstructing the particulars of voting by mail, but it boils to down this: Trump has long stated that voting by mail (also known as voting absentee) is fine, safe, and NOT subject to voter fraud. There is no distinction between absentee voting and “mail in voting,” the process is the same, states just differ in their terminology.
In that processes, which has remained largely uncontested for over 150 years, a registered voter requests a ballot by mail, receives the ballot, upon which they may cast their vote and mail it back to the election authorities.
Universal Mail In Voting
What Trump has derided is known as “universal mail in voting.” This process, he claims, is subject to fraud. This process does differ a bit: instead of a voter requesting a ballot first, registered voters are automatically sent one by their local election authority.
As I detailed here, five states have been doing universal mail in voting for years without issue (including in 2016 when Trump had no problem with it), and only four more states joined them this year due to the pandemic.
So while Trump may claim that this type of election system is subject to fraud, the fact is the vast majority of states did not do universal mail in voting this year anyway. In fact, only one of the states that Trump’s campaign is currently suing (Nevada) used universal mail in voting.
Even if somehow Trump could prove election fraud in Nevada, and even if this fraud was on a scale large enough to secure a Trump victory in the state, Trump would only gain six electoral votes….far too few to change the outcome of the election. Therefore, the notion that Trump won this election “by a lot,” per the Tweet below, is patently false.
In short, Trump has stated that he is fine with voting by mail as long as it uses the traditional “absentee” ballot process. The vast majority of US states held their elections in Trump’s favored fashion. Only one of battleground states states did not (Nevada). Even then, if Trump did somehow win that state, he still lost the election.
It Was Always Going To Be This Way
We don’t have to get into the nitty gritty of election procedures to know that Trump is grasping at straws to remain in office. We know this, because Trump told us repeatedly that this is exactly what he was going to do.
While it is certainly possible to prove election fraud after the fact, it is impossible to forecast it, yet that is precisely what Trump has done. This year, at the Republican National Convention, Trump told us that there are only two outcomes to the election, he wins…or the other side cheated.
Think about that for a second. He left zero percent probability of losing the election legitimately. Trump said this multiple times, he was very clear: he would contest the election (if he lost)….long before a single vote has been cast. He was always going to do this.
In fact, in both of his elections, Trump began calling the election fraudulent at the very moment he was behind in polling. But the perpetrators and mechanisms of the alleged fraud have not been consistent and appear to evolve depending on Trump’s circumstances.
Late in the 2016 election, Trump told us that the election was fraudulent, but only when it appeared that Hillary Clinton was sure to win. Yet, when he did Trump ended up winning, he immediately accepted those “fraudulent” results.
If indeed that election was fraudulent, with “millions” of votes illegally cast, as Trump claimed, he had four years to investigate and prove his case. He has not. He had four years to work to secure future elections. He did not.
As I mentioned earlier, five states did “universal mail in voting” in 2016 (and all states allowed voting by mail in 2016 as well) but there was not a peep about mail in “fraud” from Trump that year. No, in that year it was millions of illegal votes cast by non-citizens, among a litany of other claims.
It should also be noted that Trump did set up a commission to investigate voting by non-citizens after taking office, but after 11 months of investigating they found no evidence of voter fraud, and the commission was quietly disbanded.
This year again, Trump began crying election fraud at the very moment he began falling behind Biden in the polls. But this time the perpetrators changed. No longer was it illegal votes cast by non-citizens. No, this time Trump tweeted that “millions” of fake ballots would be printed by foreign countries.
Read this tweet and think about it for a second. The President made an authoritative statement about foreign election interference on an immense and unprecedented scale, yet provided not a modicum of evidence to back it up.
Surely the FBI, CIA, and other government security organs, not least including other Republicans in Congress itself, would be up in arms and would love to see and present the evidence to the American people. Yet….nothing. Trump never revisited this statement, switching to more vague claims of voter fraud that didn’t require evidence as the election drew nearer.
Fraud Allegations Continue to Evolve
Since the election itself, Trump has continued to cry voter fraud, but predictably, the perpetrators and mechanisms of the “scandal” continue to change.
Trump falsely claimed that his election observers were not allowed to oversee the Pennsylvania vote counting process, but Trump’s own lawyers have admitted otherwise.
In another lawsuit, he shifts away from claims of mail in fraud entirely, instead claiming that the in-person voting machines in Arizona were rigged against him.
As the desperation grows, the breadth of the conspiracy has had to grow with it. Now it is not only the “Democrats” that have ‘stolen’ the election from him. Trump is now implicating technology companies for ‘censoring’ him, pollsters, doctors, pharma companies, and the media as well, as all having conspired against him.
To any reasonable person, it would by clear by now, Trump was always going to challenge this election (if he lost), whether there was evidence of fraud or not. Votes cast by mail are merely a convenient target this year (more on that below).
In short, at the expense of the worlds oldest democracy, and to the detriment of the nation’s future, Trump appears to be tossing allegations at the wall hoping for something….anything….to stick. But why?
The Orange Jumpsuit
There may be a reason that Trump is so intent on staying in the White House. The President and his associates are facing no fewer than a dozen separate investigations, including one by the State of New York for financial crimes. These charges cannot realistically be brought against a sitting President. Indeed, this might explain why Trump has refused to produce his tax returns, and continues to fight their release in court, despite years of promising that he would make them public.
While Trump is able to pardon Federal crimes (and Trump can resign and have Pence pardon him for Federal crimes) he cannot pardon state crimes. Trump may need this election: the longer that he is President, the longer he can put off legal consequences. With a second term, Trump could conceivably stay in office long enough to outlast the relevant New York State’s statute of limitations. Trump can run out the clock and make himself immune to further prosecution.
In short, while we know for sure that Trump will never allow his ego to be injured by admitting defeat, his refusal to concede the election may be more about self preservation. Either way, Trump needs the presidency for himself, not for you, and certainly not for the good of the nation.
Missing the Point
There is one aspect of all of this that seems to have escaped media discussion entirely, but it worth remembering. Surveys are very clear, Democrats, in general, fear the coronavirus more than Republicans do, and the division is quite stark. When asked, 52% of Democrats were “very worried” about contracting Covid-19, compared to just 18% of Republicans.
The fact is, Democrats were going to be more hesitant to go to polls this year, unwilling to stand in line, touch voting machines, and use pens that thousands of others had touched for fear of contracting the virus. It is for this reason that votes sent in by mail tend to tilt for Joe Biden.
Therefore, Trump’s legal efforts to throw out mailed votes, at the very least, amounts to mass voter suppression on the part of the Trump campaign. While everyone is fixated on the voter “fraud” allegations, no one is paying any attention to the voter suppression that Trump’s measures necessarily entail.
Remember, Trump was filing lawsuits for months running up to the election, seeking to reduce the availability and ease of voting by mail. This was a direct effort to suppress the Democratic vote, as it might have dissuaded some Democratic voters from participating in this election at all, likely handing Trump an easy win.
In short, while the world is focused on Trump’s fraud claims, we are forgetting why he targeted voting by mail in the first place. Democrats were going to dominate this vote category and Trump is directly attempting to suppress their voice. Trump’s claims that these votes are “illegal” has no basis in fact, and this claim is itself the only true fraud in this election.
Let’s Be Very Precise
It would be incorrect to state that there are not voting irregularities in each and every election. With tens of millions of votes cast, is it realistic to expect absolute perfection? The vast majority of these irregularities are due to mistakes on the part of the voter or election staff, not due to fraud.
Voter fraud is exceedingly rare because it requires an intent to deceive, but it would be false to say it doesn’t happen either. But I hope that Americans realize that it is not enough to have isolated incidents of voter fraud, and this does not justify Trump’s refusal to concede.
As I pointed out here, for voter fraud to alter the outcome of the election, it needs to be on a mass scale (tens of thousands of votes at least) and it needs to be systemic (meaning overwhelmingly pointed in one direction). In this election, just as in 2016, there is no evidence of that.
Trump’s goal now will be locate and highlight all voting irregularities and label them “fraud” to bolster his claims that the election was ‘stolen’ from him. He will absolutely find them, because we have them in every election. He will do this because a lie is more palatable when it is wrapped inside the truth. But a lie wrapped in truth is still a lie.
In short, voting irregularities and fraud are real, but extremely rare. Their existence alone does not mean that they affected the outcome of the election, but Trump will use these isolated cases to sow division, create confusion, and instill doubt in the minds of millions.
“A republic, if you can keep it….”
Benjamin Franklin’s brief words embody the difficulty of keeping a democracy. Democracy requires that we must compromise when we win, and we must learn to accept defeat when we lose. The moment that we lose sight of those basic norms is the moment that democracy itself dies.
You may have wanted Trump to win this election. You may be angry, frustrated, and understandably upset by seeing Joe Biden take the podium. But the fact of the matter is this: there is no mass systemic voter fraud against Trump. Trump has clearly been sowing discord, confusion, and division for months, purposely laying the groundwork for a contested election that was always going to happen.
What Trump is doing is engaging in a mass voter suppression campaign that is being cloaked behind the pretense of countering fraud. This is not opinion, it’s fact.
Biden has secured the electoral college with 306 electoral votes. This is more electoral votes than Trump won in 2016. Trump himself declared his win a historic “landslide” victory. Biden also won with about 5.1 million more votes, and won battleground states by larger margins that Trump did in 2016.
Yet Trump’s Democratic challenger, Hillary Clinton, admitted her defeat and conceded the election. She swallowed her pride and bitter disappointment, but she did it for the good of the nation. She kept the Republic.
For all of his ‘Make America Great Again’ rhetoric, when the rubber met the road, Trump and his allies have proven themselves incapable of understanding the very norms that made America great in the first place. They have not kept the Republic, and while Biden has won this election, America, I am sorry to say, has forever lost.