The Art of the Steal: Trump Claims Voter Fraud

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The Art of the Steal: Trump Claims Voter Fraud

Trump recently claimed that widespread voter fraud was at play in the last election. The President stated that he would employ a full court press; yes, he would discover the source of the sinister conspiracies which are doubtless behind his losing the popular vote, and perhaps much of his dignity as well.

Today the President tweeted:

I will be asking for a major investigation into VOTER FRAUD, including those registered to vote in two states, those who are illegal and even, those registered to vote who are dead (and many for a long time), Depending on results, we will strengthen up voting procedures!

Trump is making what Bloomberg News called, gently, an “unsubstantiated claim” that colossal skullduggery played a hand in the 2016 presidential contest. Details were not forthcoming. With him, they never are.

It is rare that a sitting, adult president casts aspersions on the machinery which has lifted him to supreme power, but this is the nature of the Trump hypebeast; whatever it is, there will never be enough of it. Never ever ever.

Two dollars-worth of any political science class, or roughly a minute of reflection, would establish how freakishly unlikely stealing an election is. To do so, you would have to engage in a multi-level conspiracy of such vast and doubtful proportions, that finding the last digit of pi is more likely.


What would stealing a presidential election in 2016 require? Three words: Dark Phoenix powers. Realistically speaking—why not—the night is young—you’re talking about an army and several billion dollars easy, at minimum. That’s assuming nobody talks, and there’s zero evidence to leak back to you. The people who would theoretically fund such an adventure, why would they do so? To take over the Republic, right? But taking over the Republic is much cheaper, and less stressful, if you just buy off Congressmen and Senators. Unlike rigging an election, buying candidates is regrettably legal.

Reckoning the ratio of profit to political effort is like sleeping during the sermon: it’s easy if you try. So I did.

According to Barbalato and Stringer in Yes! magazine, the average cost of a winning campaign for a House seat is $1,567,379. That’s what the average member raises in an election. A Senate seat, which lasts six years and represents a whole state, is approximately $11,474,362. We don’t want to buy the whole Legislative Branch, because we don’t need all of them.

To have a veto-proof Congress, you need 290 members in the House, and 67 Senators. Once you have those, the President matters a lot less. You can buy a controlling share in the House for $454.5 million and the Senate for $768.7 million. That’s a grand total of $1.22 billion. I know, I know, right about now you’re looking at your budget and maybe you’re thinking “This item sounds expensive,” but remember, Mr. and Mrs. America, what you’re getting for the bargain.

Suppose you wave my carefully-collected calculations aside and are perversely dedicated to this election-stealing plan of yours because you hanker to burn money and probably go to jail. Very well: where do you exert your efforts? Philip Bump wrote about just this scenario in the Post:

But it’s important to remember that you can’t predict which state will be key. If you’re going to rig the vote, you need to do it in a number of places at once — which increases the risk, complexity and number of people involved. Adding a thousand votes in Florida would have made the difference, but that’s only because George W. Bush won enough votes in other states to get him close to 270. You need to be able to predict the results in every swing state, or you need to rig votes across a broad geography. That’s far harder than it seems at first blush.

Nobody in their right mind, who spent time and sweat to accumulate resources, would invest their treasure in an impossible task, when there is an easier way to get what you want. If you’re desperate to steal elections and campaign finance doesn’t suit your fancy, then you behave like the North Carolina GOP and strike African-American voters from the rolls, or gerrymander the hell out of the maps. There are legal, terrible ways of moving the system to your benefit.

When I read about election tampering, I think of all the online geniuses of conspiracy, who are forever announcing the military is about to seize power. Why would they? They already can use the government to get what they want and need. So can the one percent. There are already ways to move the levers of power. There are so many ways.


But suppose a foolish billionaire inherits money and no sense, and wants to fund voter fraud and collusion, just on the scale no modern democracy has ever seen. All right, how do they do it? This is a federal republic, made up of a crazed yee-haw patchwork of political issues and interests. It’s all part of life’s rich tapestry. You would have to spread your efforts across the whole country. Because both parties are paranoid about the other faction, the process is strikingly transparent. I was a poll watcher in Chicago back in 2000, during the Presidential election. Voting places are open, public forums, staffed by willing locals, who are watched by designated representatives of the party, and good-government groups. You have no idea of the Houdini shenanigans it would take to bamboozle the public will.

Before the election even happens, the public electorate is glared at hawk-wise by an army of pollsters, professional political writers, pundits of every sort. Not that this alone should fill you with relief—we saw how accurate those insightful souls were back in November. The point is that there are hundreds of eyes involved at every step of the process. Political science and polling can be wrong, as we saw in the case of Trump, but it’s not fatally, eternally wrong.

Whenever a contested election happens and one side barely ekes out a win, the other party (and their powerful and wealthy supporters) spend hours, days, sometimes weeks and months trying to find the slightest weakness in the winner’s chain mail. The wingnut meme about stolen elections is an old, sad one.

Dave Weigel covered this back in August for the Post:

In reality, voter fraud is rare. A 2014 study by Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School, found just 31 possible instances of fraud over 14 years of elections with a total of 1 billion votes cast. The low Republican vote in some urban centers squares with the low support black voters gave GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign in 2012.


“The best facts we can gather to assess the magnitude of the alleged problem of voter fraud show that, although millions of people cast ballots every year, almost no one knowingly and willfully casts an illegal vote in the United States today,” Lorraine Minnite writes in her book, “The Myth of Voter Fraud.”

In a 2014 article, Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt, a scholar who studies voting, wrote that “I’ve found about 31 different incidents (some of which involve multiple ballots) since 2000, anywhere in the country. ... To put this in perspective, the 31 incidents below come in the context of general, primary, special, and municipal elections from 2000 through 2014. In general and primary elections alone, more than 1 billion ballots were cast in that period.”

Richard L. Hasen, a law and poli-sci professor writing for Slate, goes even further:

The truth is, though, that not only does zero evidence exist that this sort of fraud has taken place on any regular basis, but multiple voting simply cannot happen in any practical sense on a scale to influence a presidential election. To vote five, 10, or 15 times one would have to either register five, 10, or 15 times in different jurisdictions or with false names or go five, 10, or 15 times to polling places claiming to be someone else whose name is on the voter rolls, in the hopes that this person has not already voted and you would not get caught. And to do this on a scale for a presidential election, in a place such as Pennsylvania with millions of voters, you would need to pay tens of thousands of people, all without any way of verifying how they voted. What a stupid way to try to steal an election! That’s why in preparing my 2012 book, The Voting Wars, I could not find a single instance anywhere in the U.S. from the 1980s onward where massive impersonation fraud was used to try to steal an election.

Votes in America are held in public buildings, no dark corridors, no David-Lynchian-dungeons, or trap doors. Everyday citizens, not commissars or police sergeants, watch the balloting. Before the day of judgment, the equipment is tested in a public place with representatives from the three important interested parties (Republicans, Democrats, good government groups) watching. After testing, the equipment is locked away, keys kept separately. The ballot counting is ogled obsessively by everyone who’s anyone. Records requiring ID and address are kept; there is a detailed list that is retained.


This will not appeal to the conspiracy crowd: facts never do. And it won’t appeal to Trump, because the truth doesn’t matter to him.

However much the muchness, it will never fulfill the Orangeman. He will never win by the number of votes he emotionally needs. There is no magic count which will replace the love of Manhattan, which Donald Trump still so desperately wants. Michael D’Antonio’s biography of our Orange President was titled “Never Enough,” and that’s exactly right.

Donald is a teetotaler, but I suspect if he had ever appeared drunk in public, he would both insist that he could handle his booze, but also that his blood alcohol content was roughly half. This is the paradox of Trumpness: you can both win yugely and be cheated bigly, at the same time. How can this coexist? We’re in rope-of-sand territory here. It just dizzies the mind: I’ve never seen anything like it. Trump wants to be both a winner and cheated simultaneously. It’s the reaction of a victor who is envious of the sympathy that the vanquished get, so they want to win that too.

It shocks me, and I speak as someone who grew up in Texas, a state filled with public boasts of huge greatness. Of course, the difference is that the claims of Texas are true, and Trump is, thank God, not a Texan. He is, unfortunately, the President, which is basically the Texas of politicians.

If only the electoral system he decries was as supple to conspiracy as he claims, and he was back to shilling steaks and exaggerating his golf score! Whatever else you may say about the mythical men in the smoky back room, they have the good taste to stay off of Twitter. Running a country usually occludes ruining it; but the Orangeman may have it both ways before it’s done. Who says you can’t have it all?

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