Donald Trump

Many Americans Already Believe Our Elections Are Rigged

The only big difference with Trump is that the candidate is publicly joining them.


Donald Trump has been ruminating recently that the election could be rigged against him. His comments inspired The Washington Post's Dave Weigel to take a larger look at the notion that our vote counts are unreliable. I have a cameo in Weigel's story:

Walt Kelly

Since the 2000 election, which ended in a legal battle that stopped recounts of ballots in Florida, paranoia about the nation's election system has mushroomed. According to a Pew Research Center survey, just 48 percent of Americans were confident that "the votes across the country were accurately counted" in the 2004 election. After 2012, an election with a wider popular vote margin, that percentage fell to 31 percent. Among Republicans, it was 21 percent.

"The idea that the person who won the presidency did so illegitimately is not new," said Jesse Walker, the author of "The United States of Paranoia," a history of conspiracy theories. "What's new is the possibility of a possible loser in the presidential contest making an issue out of it. I can't think of another example in the last century."

Let me expand on that a bit. It is standard these days for a significant slice of the population to believe that the latest election was rigged and the president holds power illegitimately. This is true not just in the wake of a vote like 2000, when it would take just a little petty theft to alter the outcome, but after a vote that's not nearly narrow enough for that to be plausible. And if you don't think it was ballot-box stuffing that carried the day, you can still challenge the president's legitimacy some other way—say, by suggesting he's not a natural-born citizen and therefore is constitutionally ineligible for the job.

So we have lived a long time with a lot of Americans doubting that their rulers hold power lawfully. The only real difference here is the possibility that a defeated presidential hopeful will publicly join them. Usually these allegations have a more samizdat flavor. They circulate at the grassroots, get aired in the alternative press, maybe are mentioned by some backbenchers in Congress, but the candidate himself accepts his loss. Even Richard Nixon in 1960 and Al Gore in 2000—the losers who could make the most credible cases that they were robbed—conceded after the vote totals were announced in Nixon's case and after the Supreme Court stopped the Florida recount in Gore's.

Trump's comments have prompted a lot of hand-wringing about the possibility that we might not see a peaceful transfer of power. But expecting that requires you to expect two things that don't seem obviously likely to me. One is that if Trump loses, he will actually contest the results. To me it seems at least as likely that he's just preparing an excuse to salve his ego. His pal Roger Stone may be running his mouth about resisting the Clinton imperium—"the government will be shut down if they attempt to steal this and swear Hillary in"—but Roger Stone is capable of saying stuff like that about any election. Trump's more the guy who pretends he really succeeded as he declares bankruptcy and walks away.

And if Trump does try to make an issue out of it? Then we run into the other shaky expectation: that his complaints will have much resonance beyond the hardcore Trumpelos who were already sure to screech at any unfavorable results. If we're looking at a tight margin, that could happen. But at this point, it is—how shall I put this?—far from clear that the vote will be close.

In any event, let's keep our eye on the problem here. It isn't unhealthy for Americans to have doubts about the system. The trouble is the motivated reasoning that leads people to feel such doubts only when they're losing. That, and this idea that there once was some golden age of legitimacy that can be restored by backing an authoritarian peddling snake oil.

Bonus link: This week NPR ran a story headlined "Hacking An Election: Why It's Not As Far-Fetched As You Might Think." Hmm.

NEXT: Metaphor of the Day: UC-Berkeley Builds Escape Hatch for Chancellor

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  1. Trump’s not just making it an issue, he’s making it a pre-issue.

  2. Whether an election is rigged or not is quite easy to understand.

    If a democrat wins, its not rigged, if a republican wins it was.

    This is also true of elections that the democrats rig.

  3. What specifically has Trump claimed, pretend I haven’t read his statement because I’m lazy.

    1. “First of all, it [the primary season] was rigged, and I’m afraid the election is going to be rigged. I have to be honest. Because I think my side was rigged. If I didn’t win by massive landslides ? I mean, think of what we won in New York, Indiana, California 78 percent,” he said. “That’s with other people in the race, but think of it.”

      This isn’t the first time Trump has made such a suggestion. Last week during a rally in Iowa, Trump appeared to make the same suggestion.

      “Now we have one left, one left, one left,” he said, referring to his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. “And in theory, in theory it should be the easiest, but it’s a rigged system. It’s a totally rigged system. The elections are rigged.”

      1. First of all, it [the primary season] was rigged

        That the Dem primary was rigged has been shown pretty conclusively. I have little doubt that the RNC was doing similar things to #NeverTrump.

        Whether the general is rigged or not depends on values of “rigged”. Here’s a local story where the two cities that matter in AZ are refusing to enforce election laws outlawing a practice that is rife with fraud:

        The top election officials in Pima and Maricopa counties say they will not enforce a new state law that makes “ballot harvesting” a crime.

        “We’re not police,” said Pima County Elections Director Brad Nelson.

        “People bring early ballots to us, we’re going to process them like we always have,” said Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell. And that means whether someone brings in their own ballot ? or a basket full of them.

        Potentially more significant, both Nelson and Purcell said they will not take down the names of those who show up with multiple ballots.

        The law that takes effect Saturday makes it a felony, punishable by a year in state prison, to knowingly collect blank or filled-out early ballots from another person.…..92c17.html

        1. “I’ve been told the way they do it is they collect the ballots early, they put them in a microwave with a bowl of water, steam them open, take the ballots,” he said. “If they like the way it’s voted they put them back in. If they don’t like the way it’s voted, they lose that ballot.”


        2. “Hey, look over here, a basket full of ballots!”

          1. That’s pretty much literally how Al Franken won his first election to the senate.

        3. I think it’s kind of funny how we have a voter ID law, but then super lenient early voting rules. It kinda defeats the purpose of the ID rule.

          Regarding “ballot harvesting”, what’s to stop someone from collecting them and dropping them in the mail? How would they ever get caught that way?

          1. Early voting and absentee ballots are huge security holes in any ballot security scheme. You could eliminate the risk of fraud up until the ballots are put in the ballot box by going back to a slightly tighter version of ye olde voting:

            (1) No early voting.

            (2) Absentee ballots have to be picked up in person upon showing photo ID (even in ye olde days, you could get them by mail, if memory serves).

            (3) Photo IDs at the polls on election day.

            Naturally, these dare I say common sense reforms are violently opposed by the Dems.

            1. Absentee ballots have to be picked up in person upon showing photo ID (even in ye olde days, you could get them by mail, if memory serves).

              I recall that too. IIRC you had to sign an affidavit that you were incapable of going to the polling place.

              And our early voting screwed up the GOP primary. Rubio got ~15% of the vote even though he dropped out a week before election day.

  4. Jesse quoting Weigel, who quotes Jesse?

    I have reason to believe these posts are rigged.

    1. Roast pig…

      Post rig…

      Something sketchy is definitely going on here.

  5. Now who’s being naive, Kay?

  6. So just so I’m clear: it’s okay to say the Russians are rigging the election without any actual evidence but it’s not okay to say there is voter fraud with only a little evidence.

    1. But Cyrillic character sets!!!!

  7. So the 2004 Washington Governor’s race – with 120% of King’s county voting Democrat – wasn’t rigged?

  8. Sanders supporters …latched onto internal emails between staff members at the Democratic National Committee, in which they speculated about a Clinton nomination even before the primaries were over.

    That’s all those emails really said, you see. I’m glad he summarized it so neatly.

  9. Elections are rigged at many turns. Laws and institutions surrounding elections are set up to favor the TEAM BE RULED duopoly and hinder opposition parties, both legally and informally. Parties play psyops and dirty tricks to lure, cajole, or intimidate voters. Then of course there are mischievous after-the-fact vote manipulations by hardcore partisans or rent-seekers.

    Of course even without all of that, zero-sum democracy is a shitty system of government.

    1. This. A representative govt is, by definition, a system where a small group of people wield 100% of the political power. It’s absurd to suggest such a system would not favor the incumbents and their organizations and cronies.

  10. I remember when they introduced the electronic voting machines in Georgia. The Republican votes took a big jump, leading to some speculation that the machines were rigged. Given the influx of predominately Republican immigrants to the state over the previous 30 years, it was suspicious that the Dems had managed to keep winning so many elections – and a closer look at the numbers suggested the sea change came not from rigged-Republican voting machines but from fair voting machines dead people couldn’t figure out how to vote Democrat on.

    Funniest part about it is how quickly the AJC, which had long supported the right of Tom Murphy to run the lege as he pleased, including re-drawing district maps as he saw fit, suddenly woke up to the dangers of unrestrained majority party rule and started championing impartial re-districting and bi-partisan compromise.

  11. I really cannot understand why this Trump utterance is particularly controversial. The Democrats believe that the elections are rigged if voters are required to produce a photo ID before they can vote. The Dems may not use the word “rigged”, but they use other expressions that mean exactly the same. If a part of the population is “disenfranchised” because they don’t have IDs, then of course the elections are rigged.

    1. Bernie Sanders ran his entire campaign (and really, most of his life) claiming that the ENTIRE SYSTEM IS RIGGED.

      1. The funny thing about it is, for (against) him IMO, in this contest, the system *was* rigged. I don’t think anything short of assassination would’ve prevented Clinton from being coronated nominated to lead the party. Even then, I’m not certain an assassination wouldn’t have brought about a hair-brained executive switcheroo a la “Weekend at Hillary’s” or Dave.

      2. “I wore an onion in my belt, as was the style in those days. A yellow onion, not a white one, on account of the ENTIRE SYSTEM WAS RIGGED.”

        1. We didn’t need different types of onions back then. Now there’s an obscene amount! And no one can get any onions anymore, because there are too many!

    2. ^This

  12. But at this point, it is?how shall I put this??far from clear that the vote will be close.

    So both Jesse and Nick (in the Penn J. interview) have come right out and said that Hilary is gonna win.

    Are they both just going by poll data?

    1. Is gut feeling not enough?

    2. But polling is super-trustworthy.

      Don’t tell me you suspect media organizations like this to actually be biased about the potential outcomes?? Ugh. You must be one of those Birther-types.

    3. They’re both planning to vote for Hillary multiple times while they tell us about how our elections aren’t the least bit rigged.

      1. Keep on keepin’ on.

        1. When Daddy doesn’t win, I assume he will go into a full meltdown.

    4. So both Jesse and Nick (in the Penn J. interview) have come right out and said that Hilary is gonna win.

      I have?

      1. You’re a reason writer, Jesse.

        Reason writer = worthless proggie = Hillary voter


        1. This seems like a different sort of error. How does someone read “it is far from clear that the vote will be close” as “Clinton will definitely win”?

          1. As a reason writer, you are by definition in the tank for Hillary. I’m not exactly sure how or when it happened, but there you have it.

            1. I’m not exactly sure how or when it happened, but there you have it.

              Duh, it was in 2008 when every single member of the staff voted for Obama 3 times apiece and then took group photos of themselves at Obama rallies holding signs saying, “DNC 4-EVAH BABY”

              Do you remember nothing??

              1. I was out sick that day.

          2. How does someone read “it is far from clear that the vote will be close” as “Clinton will definitely win”?

            the “warning of forthcoming epic-understatement” implicit in ” – “how shall I put this? – “” may have had something to do with it.

            You give people an inch, they take a mile.

            1. the “warning of forthcoming epic-understatement” implicit in ” – “how shall I put this? – “” may have had something to do with it.

              That says something about what I think the probabilities are right now. It’s not a statement that Clinton is sure to win.

              1. Don’t try to make sense of it. That way lies madness. Just accept that a growing segment of the commentariat believes you’re a lousy shill for Hillary. Maybe it will make a chapter in your new book.

                1. The book can be called What The Fuck Is Wrong With You People, Jesus Christ: Reflections on the Hit and Run Commentariat.

                  1. Would buy two copies.

                    1. If you preorder it on Amazon right now, it comes with a vial of Virginia Postrel’s tears.

              2. the “warning of forthcoming epic-understatement” implicit in ” – “how shall I put this? – “” may have had something to do with it.

                I did sort of read it that way. My fault.

                That says something about what I think the probabilities are right now. It’s not a statement that Clinton is sure to win.

                Jesse, my apologies for inferring something you didn’t necessarily imply.

                … and as for my opinions on the Reason staff being “Hilary shills”, I don’t believe that, and personally don’t really care who they vote for.

                I do think that objectivity in reporting is important, and for the most part I do get that here more that other news sources.

                1. Jesse, my apologies for inferring something you didn’t necessarily imply.

                  No problem.

          3. The way I read that, in context, implied that you think “at this point” it looks like Trump will lose big.

          4. How does someone read “it is far from clear that the vote will be close” as “Clinton will definitely win”?

            You’re predicting a landslide, yes?

            Since Hillary got a bump after the convention and now hold the lead, I don’t think its too much of a stretch to say you are predicting a Hillary landslide. Absent some analysis of why, whoever wins, will win in a landslide, of course.

            1. Its all penumbras and stuff, but “Its far from clear that X” is often a euphemism (I know, I know) for “it is clear that Y”.

              If you meant “Its way too early to say that the vote will be close”, I would agree.

      2. I have?


        Personally, I found this to be pretty Hillarious.

        (What typo?)

        1. Here’s a good example for you, Jesse.

          1. So, what’s the definition of a ‘Trumpelo’?

            I actually posted this in light of what I said above about Bernie. It’s entirely possible to not like a candidate one iota and still feel that they got the shaft from a rigged political process.

            If Jesse’s free to dismiss a portion of the electorate as Trumpelos or call them names without question and declare that democracy still works, why is calling him a shill or otherwise (falsely) assigning motives to his statements foul play?

            1. So, what’s the definition of a ‘Trumpelo’?

              Anyone who isn’t a vocal supporter of Hillary?

  13. …this idea that there once was some golden age of legitimacy…

    Like I said yesterday in the other thread about this, there probably hasn’t been a single election in history that include some amount of voter fraud, whether by outright stuffing of ballot boxes, or people voting twice in different precincts (or even the same precinct). The only question is how blatant the fraud is and whether or not it actually was enough to swing an election.

    1. The only question is how blatant the fraud is and whether or not it actually was enough to swing an election.

      It is odd that Dems win the vast majority of elections that are within the margin of fraud.

  14. IMHO, this is yet another sign of the death of the Republic. Growing up (I’m 50), I never heard of these kinds of stories. The integrity of the conduct of elections was beyond repute. This is America damn it, not some Soviet Union satellite.

    This is foundational kind of stuff. If there is no integrity in elections, how can there be any legitimacy in the laws passed by those elected under the cloud of such electoral misconduct?

    1. Did you not hear about it because it wasn’t happening, or because there were three TV networks and the newspaper editors lunched with local party bosses?

      1. It was definitely happening, but it’s worth considering that (some might as say, as with religion) people’s loss of faith in democracy will have impacts in of itself, whether or not that faith was warranted.

        1. Institutions fall away when they are no longer useful. Hopefully people will see through a few of the more useless ones (like democracy, religion, marriage etc.) and move on to something better.

          1. Unfortunately studies (real studies by real scientists) show that religious experience is hard wired into an area in the brain. So that will probably stick around, but it would be nice to see the others go.

            1. Personal religious experience is one thing, whether it’s biologically sourced or not; self-perpetuating religious institutions are quite another.

              1. OK, I can go with that.

              2. Yeah I was referring to the end of institutional organized religion, not the end of religious experiences brought about by meditation or peyote or Christina Hendricks’ cleavage.

                1. Christina Hendricks’ cleavage

                  Om mani padme hummmmm

    2. Ummm, it has been pretty well known for decades now that Nixon should have won the election in 1960, but Mayor Daley, some of Sinatra’s mafioso friends, and some of LBJ’s Texas cronies stole it for Kennedy.

    3. I never heard of these kinds of stories.

      JFK’s election by a rather surprising late return from Chicago (again, if memory serves) doesn’t count?

  15. There are now rumors about Republicans trying to hold some sort of intervention, trying to get his family to reign him in, and even considering what might happen if he bows out of the race (Johnson and Weld are right over there, guys!). That could easily all be BS, but either way, rigged probably isn’t the right word – Republicans just seem scared shitless (about two weeks too late).

    1. Scared? Furious may be a better word. As bad as Trump is, a majority of Americans still think he is more honest than Hillary Clinton. And Clinton has — what? — the second highest negative rating of any major party’s presidential candidate ever? The GOP could have won this election easily if it had nominated any sentient human being with a modicum of tact as its candidate, and I think party insiders know it.

      1. The GOP should just go all in on Johnson, and say hes the only republican in the race.

    2. Only TWO weeks? They’ve been scared shitless for ta least 8 months.

  16. He’s trying to weasel out of the debates with Clinton because he knows he’ll be completely demolished. Thus he is trying to claim that the debate schedule was ‘rigged’ and that’s his excuse for not participating. He hinted the other day that that’s why Bernie lost – because of the debate schedule (“deal with the devil”). Yes, really.

  17. People who think the elections are rigged don’t really think the elections are rigged. They just say that as their excuse for not voting. Because they are low-skill and low-education people and know they don’t really have the god-given right to express themselves in the age of automation. So a candidate that runs on ‘the system is rigged’ is bound to lose because on election day their loserkins will ‘forget’ to vote or more likely will say they’re going out to vote and instead hit up Wendy’s for the new bacon thing that looks a hell of a lot bigger on the picture.

    1. John reads souls better.


      1. AddictionMyth is starting to echo Tony. The troll singularity approacheth!

        1. Is that when trolls are suddenly cool and everyone wants to sit at their table?

          1. Revealing response is revealing.

        2. What if, and this might be too far out there, what if all the trolls are multiple personalities living inside John?! The trolls that no longer show up were successfully eliminated using the Siamese Burn, but the counter still reads something like 45…

          1. -1 Bo Cara, Esq.

  18. The elections aren’t rigged, anyone who wants to compete with the Democrats and Republicans simply has to circulate a petition, get lots of signatures, and then with the money left over they can buy a box of Doritos where they can watch the election returns on TV!

  19. What most people don’t recognize is that the two party system IS the rigging.
    It’s a duopoly, even worse than an oligopoly. You get two choices, and only two choices, and those two choices collude to make sure no matter which one you pick, policies will be pretty much the same. And they maintain their power by presenting themselves as polar extremes so that you MUST vote for one of them to prevent the other from winning.

    1. In other words, they aren’t rigged so the Democrats win, or so the Republicans win. They are rigged so that EITHER Democrats OR Republicans will always win. Pick one. It’s a binary choice. That’s how it’s rigged.

      1. Yup. We need to eliminate elections and utilize selection instead, with a much larger number of representatives. Each states delegation of randomly chosen reps can also choose two senators.

        1. And a one term limit for reps, since it’s implausible a person would serve more than one absent shenanigans.

  20. If Mr. Trump worried half this much about how he constantly screws up his OWN chances of election by opening his mouth and sticking both feet in it, he’d have a chance.

    The man makes Dan Quayle look like a genius.

  21. i get paid over ?79.91 per hour working from home with 2 kids at home. I never thought I’d be able to do it but my best friend earns over ?9185 a month doing this and she convinced me to try. The potential with this is endless. Heres what I’ve been doing,……


  22. Elections. For the love of God, if you don’t hear anything else I say for the rest of the evening, listen to this.
    Elections are no longer free. They are staged theater, designed to maintain the illusion of representative governance and to enrich the political class. This is despotism. If after this mess that we just went through, if you do not understand this, you are beyond hope. My God.

    And then you have election fraud on top of it. Here in Colorado ten counties had voter turnout in excess of the total adult population of the [county]. Not just the registered voters ? the total adult population of the county, excuse me, the county. And what did Romney do? Roll over. How can you not see this? How can you not understand? Do not talk to me anymore about elections. There are no elections. There are no more free elections. Just stand over that dead horse and beat it ? it is never going to get up. For the love of God.

    I’m sorry, but there comes a certain point where you have got to pull your head out of your ass and deal with reality. You cannot just keep going on with this over and over and over again, saying, “Well if I just give somebody some money and I put some signs in my yard I’m doing enough?”

    No, you’re not doing enough. You’re not doing enough at all. Not even close. In fact, if you’re participating in this, you’re part of the problem.”…..s-i-tried/

  23. Simple question: Is the will to win by any means necessary there? We’re now talking open corruption – cheered on by both teams. How can you not believe it?

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