Two Crazy Aspects of Trump’s Fraud Allegations

Granted, there are more than two. But from a political science/political history POV, these two stick out in my mind.

Speaking of electoral fraud, there are, of course, any number of insane, if not simply inane, elements of the narrative that has been spun by Trump and the fraud truther minions. A lot is nonsense like how can the guy who won “The most [votes] EVER for a sitting President!” lose? (Easy answer: if the challenger wins even more votes than the incumbent). Or, “No candidate has ever won both Florida and Ohio and lost.” (Except, of course, JFK did it in 1960–not to mention that there are multiple routes to 270, and several bypass Ohio and Florida). This doesn’t even get into issues of “massive dumps” or the ghost of Hugo Chávez.

Beyond those kind of things, two aspects of the allegations keep striking me.

First, if the fraud that Trump alleges happened, it would easily be the biggest and most significant electoral fraud of all time. I cannot think of anything that would rival it in a functional democratic state.*

I am not a historian of electoral fraud, but studying elections in a comparative sense leads one to encounter such things over time. I can think of no fraud at the scale of electing the national executive that has ever taken place in a functional democracy (either in terms of a president or fraudulently producing a legislative majority needed to elect a Prime Minister). Nor, for that matter, any such fraud of any consequence in such countries at any level. Indeed, the lack of substantive fraud is a foundational part of any definition of a functional democracy.

One can find some limited examples of local elections scandals (such as a Former Labour councillor jailed for election fraud in the UK) but nothing on a scale of stealing a presidency.**

One can look to quasi- and non-democracies for cases of stolen/wholly fraudulent elections. The ruling party of Mexico until democratization in 2000, the PRI, engaged in a number of tactics to remain in power to include ballot-box stuffing and various other techniques over decades. The most flagrant example, and the one most suited to this conversation, was in 1988 when the computers “crashed” as vote counting was underway and the results were fixed to conform to needed outcomes of the regime.

Another example of stealing a presidential election was in Colombia in 1970. There was a power-sharing agreement in place that required the alternation of the presidency between the two main parties. When a dissident candidate appeared to be winning, chicanery was employed to make sure the official candidate won.

We can also find blatant examples of militaries simply voiding an election, such as in Peru ins 1963.

But all these examples were in places that we would not have called fully democratic, and indeed most would have been categorized as fully authoritarian.

Second, it is absurd to think that a challenger could pull off a stolen election. To the degree to which we see such things, they are pulled off by incumbent regimes, since they have greater access to the mechanisms of election. If one is out of power, how does one get access to the voting apparatuses in such a way as to perpetrate massive fraud?

Think about it: electoral fraud, specifically massive fraud, is hard to pull off as a general matter. Indeed, my previous post indicates that minor fraud is hard to pull off. Truly massive fraud of the scale that team Trump is alleging has historically only been possible in cases like Mexico and Colombia noted above, wherein the incumbent regime had control of key parts of the state apparatus.

It is noteworthy that substantial parts of the jurisdictions that team Trump disputed are controlled by Republicans, the incumbent party.

Republicans control the national executive, and at least some significant amount of power in the six states that took the longest to be settled: AZ, GA, MI, NV, PA, and WI. It is important to note that state executives have overseen elections but under the guidance of state legislatures and the rulings of state courts (often with specific measures in place for this election).

Here’s a breakdown of partisan control of the governor’s office, both chambers of the state legislature, the secretary of state’s office, and the state supreme court (for those states with partisan elections for the court):

Georgia is the most striking here, as the entire state government is controlled by the incumbent party in the election. And yet, counts and recounts all clearly confirm a Biden win. I know many on the right consider Stacey Abrams a malevolent influence in Georgia with magical powers, but it is worth reminding them she is not the governor, nor the secretary of state. Indeed, she holds no position of power in state government.

Overall it cannot be stressed enough the degree to which Republicans controlled important levers of power in all these states. The notion that the challenging party and their allies would be able to perpetrate massive electoral fraud simply doesn’t track (unless, of course, one is willing to believe in conspiracy theories that rival a terrible sci-fi/spy movie).

The TL;DR is as follows:

  1. If Biden won via fraud, it would be the biggest such fraud of all time.
  2. If Biden won via fraud, it would be all the harder since he was the challenger and the incumbent party controlled important aspects of government in the states being contested by Team Trump.

But, of course, if you’ve read this far you probably don’t need to be convinced how truly absurd the allegations are.

*Before anyone snarks about how functional US democracy actually is, I will first readily allow it has multiple flaws. However, it has a functional electoral system and there is every reason to trust its basic results. I am thinking here of comparison between functional electoral democracies and clearly corrupt/authoritarian states where we would not trust their results in any event.

**In my poking around for examples, I did see several references to Corsica in the 1960s and subsequent banning of mail-in ballots there by France in 1975. This example shows up in several essays by anti-vote-by-mail types (for example). If you have to reach back that far, maybe that is evidence of the dearth of cases. It reminds me of people who write pieces about the threat of potential Islamic terrorism in Latin America, but the main example they conjure, time after time, is the bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1994.

FILED UNDER: 2020 Election, Democracy, Terrorism, The Presidency, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Kylopod says:

    A lot is nonsense like how can the guy who won “The most [votes] EVER for a sitting President!” lose? (Easy answer: if the challenger wins even more votes than the incumbent).

    Recently I decided to check whether this has ever happened before–and indeed it has. In 1932, Herbert Hoover won the most votes ever for a sitting president up to that point, despite losing to FDR in probably the biggest rout ever for a sitting president.

    Why it hasn’t happened since then (until now) probably has to do with the presence or absence of third-party candidates. Between Hoover and Trump, only two presidents lost reelection–Carter and Bush Senior. In both cases there was a significant third-party candidate–John Anderson and Ross Perot, respectively. This reduced the vote totals of the major-party candidates.

    In other words, Trump was the first president since Hoover to lose reelection without a significant third-party candidate in the race. (We can debate what constitutes “significant,” but the 1.8% of the vote that went to third parties in 2020 was a lot lower than in 1980 or 1992, or even 2000 or 2016.) I do think there’s a tendency that when an incumbent is perceived as weak, it tends to attract third-party candidates (I think even 1948 falls in that category, even though Truman ended up winning reelection). I’m not sure why 1932 was an exception, but it’s clear that in 2020 the public–both the pro-Trump and anti-Trump crowds–was in no mood for third parties.

  2. drj says:

    If Biden won via fraud, it would be the biggest such fraud of all time.

    This is hardly unique. For instance, it is also pretty much an article of faith among the right wing that global warming is a deliberate liberal/Chinese hoax.

    And then there is the notion that so-called “cultural Marxists” are promoting multiculturalism and mass immigration to deliberately undermine Western societies (because that’s what Marxists do).

    In both cases, we’re talking about global conspiracies involving (at least) tens of thousands of people over the course of the last five decades or so. And nobody ever spilled the beans. It’s Illuminati and lizard people-level stuff.

    The thing is, as long as it’s something that people want to believe, it is almost irrelevant whether it’s ridiculous or not.

    The only other thing it takes is some intellectual cover (e.g. some idiot Senator showing a snowball to disprove global warming) and a large percentage of the population would buy the most unlikely and outrageous arguments to support their pre-held beliefs.

    The “Biden/Deep State Electoral Fraud of 2020” is hardly an outlier in this regard.

  3. Michael Cain says:

    If Biden won via fraud, it would be all the harder since he was the challenger and the incumbent party controlled important aspects of government in the states being contested by Team Trump.

    The conspiracy theorists don’t claim theft at the state level, they claim it at the city level. Not Michigan, but Detroit. Not Pennsylvania, but Philadelphia. Not Wisconsin, but Milwaukee and Madison. Somehow the Democratic officials in those cities were able to manufacture huge numbers of votes for Biden. And do it in such a fashion that it is undetectable in any audits the state officials might conduct.

  4. Kathy says:

    The ruling party of Mexico until democratization in 2000, the PRI, engaged in a number of tactics to remain in power to include ballot-box stuffing and various other techniques over decades.

    Technically it started in the early 90s, when opposition parties were able to get people elected to Congress and governorships. In 1997 Mexico City elected a mayor and legislature for the first time*, and PRD and PAN candidates took the lion’s share of the latter, with Cardenas of the PRD winning the former.

    It may even be the 94 presidential election was clean and the PRI’s Zedillo won fair and square. there was much sympathy for him after the earlier PRI candidate, Colosio, was murdered in a campaign event.

    *Prior to 1997, Mexico City’s mayor was appointed by the president, as the capital is, like DC, a federal district rather than a state; though it always has had representation in Congress (hard to deny that to the country’s most populous city).

  5. @Kathy: I just didn’t get into a side discourse on this. I would argue that 2000 is the line of demarcation (as does most of the lit). However, I agree you can mark the beginning of democratization with 1994, which was arguably the first free and fair presidential election (although the PRI still had a bit of an inside track) and agree that the reform in the late 90s were all part of democratization (including the items you note).

    I would argue that after the problems with 1988 the game was on in terms of democratization, with a more repressive authoritarian regime not being a real option.

  6. @Michael Cain: They claim a lot of things, to be fair.

  7. Moosebreath says:

    @Michael Cain:

    “Not Pennsylvania, but Philadelphia.”

    A claim made even stranger by Biden coming out of Philadelphia with a smaller margin than Hillary did:

    “Biden got about 3% more Philadelphia votes than Clinton in 2016. Trump increased his city total by 22%.

    Overall, Biden won the city by 471,050 votes, or 4,227 fewer than Clinton did. Trump’s improvement was his largest gain in net votes in any county.”

    Rather, it was the suburbs, which Trump said was going to save him, that broker for Biden:

    “If you’re looking for what changed compared with 2016, nowhere comes close to the suburbs.

    The four collar counties around Philadelphia all saw the Democratic margin increase by five digits — from a 14,646-vote gain for Biden in Bucks County to a net gain of 40,700 votes in Montgomery County.

    “If Philly didn’t perform up to all expectations for Democrats, the suburbs did,” Borick said.

    Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh and its suburbs, also saw a five-digit increase in the Democrats’ margin.”

  8. Moosebreath says:

    “broker” should be “broke”

    (oh, for an edit button)

  9. gVOR08 says:

    All true. But, as you note, totally unconvincing to the GOP base. Maybe we should try a different tack. Maybe we should emphasize how all encompassing the plot would have to be. So deep into society that the only way to stay safe is to stay out of sight. If they vote in the GA runoffs, or ever vote Republican anywhere again, we’ll know, and we’ll disappear them into a FEMA camp.

  10. John Schwarz says:

    With all the changes to voting this election only a forensic audit of the major cities of the five states in question will quell the rage building in honest Americans. Not a recount, not signature verification. I live in Pennsylvania and voter is was passed back in 2012 and naturally is not in effect even today even though the U.S. Supreme Court declared voter is constitutional in 2008. The democrats pushing thru these changes in this election demand an extraordinary effort to verify the election integrity an maintain trust in government.

  11. John says:

    This was a good read, though…