Fight to Vote

The Paradox of Preparing for an Election That May or May Not Be Rigged

The Paradox of Preparing for an Election That May or May Not Be Rigged

This post first appeared on The Kings Necktie

Preventing the peaceful transfer of power is the most fundamental sin against democracy, and we are staring it in the face.

President Trump is deliberately undermining the integrity of the election, starving the Postal Service to hobble the vote, fomenting violence in the streets, and generally precipitating a constitutional crisis that has experts deeply worried about civil war and even the potential breakup of the United States. Last week, Barton Gellman, in a widely circulated piece in The Atlantic, summed it up well:

Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum (the 79 days between Election Day and the Inauguration) and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.

Donald Trump has spent the last two years doing everything he can to undermine confidence in the election so as to prepare the public to accept his claim it was fraudulent, and thereby assert his “right” to remain in power. This unprecedented, disgraceful, profoundly dangerous campaign is a ploy right out of the tinpot dictator’s playbook, and something no modern president has ever tried, not even Nixon.

In the worst case scenario, he may even be able to skew the count to support his claim…..and if he does, we will be in the awkward position of having to say the precise thing that Trump is saying now: “The election was fixed!”


Unlike Trump, I will not say that the only way the other side can win is by cheating. It is possible, if unlikely based on the current numbers, that Trump could somehow win legitimately. I am aware there are millions of Americans who eagerly support him. People could be lying to the pollsters, the turnout could be unexpected, Jim Comey could issue another public statement, and so on.

But right now the numbers suggest that Biden is likely to win. If on the night of November 3rd and in the weeks that follow it appears that he has not, we will need to see highly credible, airtight proof to that end. Of course, Trump doesn’t need a definitive mathematical victory when mere confusion may be sufficient.

Here’s David Farris, writing in The Week:

It would unfold like this: The election result is closer than expected, and the ultimate winner remains unknown on election night, with millions of mail-in ballots to be counted in the decisive swing states. Trump declares victory when the (incomplete) election night count favors him, and then launches legal maneuvering to force states to stop counting mail-in ballots, papered over with some feeble pretext about the fraud the president himself keeps encouraging his own supporters to commit. Thanks to post-2010 gerrymandering, Republicans control both houses of the state legislature in nearly every contested state, and the president would presumably direct them to pass laws certifying Trump’s slate of electors, even if updated counts show Democratic candidate Joe Biden ahead. Et voila, a second Trump term.

Farris goes on to note the unlikelihood that Republicans will be able to carry out this scheme successfully.

Irrespective of the GOP’s odds of success, the real outrage is that are trying it at all—openly, and brazenly—and that so few Americans can even muster a shrug of the shoulders. That is how beaten down, numb, and cynical we have become. At the same time, Trump and the GOP are engaged in an aggressive campaign to monkeywrench the vote themselves. The 2020 presidential election will be the first in 40 years to take place without a federal judge requiring the Republican National Committee to seek approval in advance for any ‘ballot security’ operations at the polls.

The order had its origins in the New Jersey gubernatorial election of 1981. According to the district court’s opinion in Democratic National Committee v. Republican National Committee, the RNC allegedly tried to intimidate voters by hiring off-duty law-enforcement officers as members of a “National Ballot Security Task Force,” some of them armed and carrying two-way radios. According to the plaintiffs, they stopped and questioned voters in minority neighborhoods, blocked voters from entering the polls, forcibly restrained poll workers, challenged people’s eligibility to vote, warned of criminal charges for casting an illegal ballot, and generally did their best to frighten voters away from the polls. The power of these methods relied on well-founded fears among people of color about contact with police.—David Farris

…This year, with a judge no longer watching, the Republicans are recruiting 50,000 volunteers in 15 contested states to monitor polling places and challenge voters they deem suspicious-looking.

In late 2019, a senior lieutenant in the Trump re¬election campaign named Justin Clark gave a private talk to an audience of Republican lawyers in Wisconsin that was surreptitiously recorded and later leaked. Clark spoke about the importance of “EDO”— Election Day operations—gleeful that “first and foremost is the consent decree’s gone,” which he went on to describe as a “huge, huge, huge, huge deal.”

He has since been made deputy campaign manager.


Gellman’s piece caused a collective panic in the left:. Heather Cox Richardson reports that it was slated for the November issue, but rushed into print early:

Amidst the flurry of concern over The Atlantic piece, a reporter this afternoon asked Trump if he would commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election. “Well, we’re going to have to see what happens.”

In response to this shocking rejection of the basic principles of our government, Adam Schiff (D-CA), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, tweeted, “This is how democracy dies.” He said: “This is a moment that I would say to any Republican of good conscience working in the administration, it is time for you to resign.” But only one Republican, Mitt Romney (R-UT), condemned Trump’s comments as “both unthinkable and unacceptable.”

As Gellman writes, “We have no precedent or procedure to end this election if Biden seems to carry the Electoral College but Trump refuses to concede. We will have to invent one.”

The views expressed in this post are the author’s alone, and presented here to offer a variety of perspectives to our readers. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Robert Edwards

Robert Edwards was formerly an infantry and intelligence officer in the US Army and a captain in the 82nd Airborne in Iraq during the first Gulf War. A graduate of Stanford’s masters program in documentary, his films include Land of the Blind starring Ralph Fiennes and Donald Sutherland, One More Timestarring Christopher Walken, and the feature documentary The Last Laugh for PBS. He won a Nicholl Fellowship from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and has written for directors including Bennett Miller, Mark Romanek, and Mike Newell. He blogs at  The King’s Necktie.