The Danger of Believing in Stolen Elections

            Elections are unfair, no doubt about that. Some candidates have more money and the media is far from a level playing field. Election administrators bend and break the rules to help or hurt candidates. Voters take all these factors into consideration when they cast their ballots and make the best of a bad bargain.

            But a stolen election is more than a contest with rigged rules and biased coverage. A stolen election is when the person who lost the election is given the office. This happened in 2000 when the Supreme Court put the loser in the White House. (Don't take my word for this, read Down and Dirty: The Plot to Steal the Presidency by Jake Tapper [how do you think he got to be an anchor? by suppressing the findings of his own research] and Jeffrey Toobin's Too Close to Call.)

            But long before 2000, in 1960, Richard Nixon lost a close race to John F. Kennedy. Nixon was convinced that the election had been stolen from him by ballot box stuffing in Chicago by Mayor Richard Daley. Nixon was wrong. Kennedy won the election legitimately. If you're interested, you can read my article "Kennedy Won the 1960 Election Honestly" (

            What matters is that Nixon believed the 1960 election had been stolen from him. This belief prompted Nixon to see the 1968 "October Surprise" bombing halt as another ploy to steal the election from him, so he colluded with President Thieu of South Vietnam to sabotage the Johnson's diplomatic peace initiative. This is really treason, conducting an independent foreign policy that was costing American lives by prolonging the war in order to win an election. Then, once in the White House, Nixon's paranoia about non-existent political sabotage prompted him to make all the mistakes that led to Watergate. His guilty conscience about his collusion with Thieu to undermine Johnson's last minute peace initiative was what prompted him to resign. (Note: Watergate was just a kerfuffle. The real story turns out that Mark Felt, the Number 2 at the FBI, was the Deep Throat who leaked confidential FBI investigative information to Woodward and Bernstein at the Washington Post. Why was the FBI out to get Nixon? The right wing felt betrayed by Nixon's opening to China. Nixon had built his entire political career as a fervent anti-communist. Going to Beijing was too much for the White men at the FBI which was molded in J. Edgar Hoover's image. The controversy over James Comey's attempt to throw the 2016 election to Trump came as no surprise to those who remember Watergate.) 

            My bigger point is that Nixon's belief that the 1960 election was stolen from him caused him to make stupid paranoid counter-moves that led to Watergate, and then to resign which brought Cheney, Bush and Rumsfeld to power, the thieves of the 2000 election and the architects of the endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The 1988 Election

            In the wake of George H.W. Bush's victory in 1988, the Democrats decided that dirty tricks or unethical conduct were responsible for the defeat of Mike Dukakis, specifically the Willie Horton ad. Dukakis had been ahead in the polls until then.  They were wrong, of course. Dukakis never had a chance. Dukakis didn't even make it into the top 1/3 of the winning candidates for Governor of Massachusetts since World War II, so his campaign was doomed from the start. But remember, the Democratic field in 1988 was called "The Seven Dwarfs" after Senator Gary Hart dropped out.

            As a result of Democratic sour grapes, they sabotaged the nomination of John Tower to be Secretary of Defense.  Tower was accused of drinking too much and pinching women's behinds, a clear disqualification for a position at the head of an organization whose major function is killing people en masse. Tower's defeat was the first defeat of a newly elected president's cabinet nominee in American history. John Tower, who had served almost 24 years as the Senator from Texas and had a string of firsts (First Republican U.S. senator from Texas since Reconstruction; the first Republican elected to any statewide office in Texas since Reconstruction; and the first Republican from the former Confederacy ever to win a Senate seat by popular vote)  was widely considered to be the most knowledgeable Senator about defense procurement.

            Tower's rejection was doubly galling given the tradition of Senatorial courtesy. The Senate was often described as a "gentleman's club" where senators treated each other with respect regardless of their differing political opinions. The defeat of Tower was a disaster because Dick Cheney became Secretary of Defense. Tower, as Secretary of Defense, with President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker, the three top foreign policy positions in government: President, Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense, would have been the only enlisted man in the decision-making hierarchy. Bush and Baker, both the products of elite prep schools and Ivy League universities, could have used from leavening from a public high school educated enlisted Navy man who had served as a Boatswain's Mate on an LCS (Landing Craft Support) in the Pacific during World War II. Dick Cheney, by contrast, was an Ivy League dropout and draft dodger during the Vietnam War. The nonstop wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria are the result of these war mongering elites' control of American foreign policy. 

            Without the misguided belief in the stolen elections of 1960 and 1988, none of these people would have ever come to power to steal the 2000 election and to open the door to the election of Donald Trump.


Undermining Confidence in Democracy - Trump's Claim of Massive Vote Fraud in the 2016 Election

            President Trump rose to national political prominence on the back of the birther movement, the allegations that President Obama was not eligible to be president because "he was born in Kenya." Trump gave these absurd and clearly false allegations legitimacy and, by implication, gave credence to the millions of racists who felt, in their hearts, that no one could really vote for a Black person for president, so Obama's election must have been the result of massive election fraud.

            The Republicans signed on to this narrative by passing, state by state, increasingly stringent voter identification requirements: photo ID's, skewed against students, the poor and the elderly; proof of citizenship, attacks on same day registration, reduced early voting opportunities and hours. The racist Supreme Court, on the heels of its awarding the presidency to George W. Bush, upheld these stricter voter registration requirements, thereby lending legitimacy to the claims of voter fraud, but without any proof. Absent in these arguments is any discussion of what was previously required to cast a ballot. Before these changes, voters were still required to sign their names TWICE when voting at the polls. Polling places are geographic locations serving about a thousand voters who live nearby. The poll workers usually also live in the election district or nearby and know the voters by sight and often by name, because they usually live in the same neighborhood and shop in the same stores.

            So, the only purpose to these stringent voter identification requirements and allegations of fraud is to make it difficult to vote and to undermine people's confidence in democracy and get them to accept authoritarian or dictatorial government. Logically, the allegations of voter fraud can be disproved just by looking at the turnout. Even in the hotly contested 2016 presidential election, almost 4 out of every 10 eligible voters did not cast ballots. There were variations, of course, from a high turnout of 75% in Minnesota to a low of 43% in Hawaii. The turnout in non-presidential races is even lower.

            The people who allege voter fraud are asking us to believe that in elections where a minimum of 40% of people who are ELIGIBLE don't vote, that there are millions and millions of people who are ineligible clamoring to break the law and cast ballots. The argument is ridiculous, especially for people who work in politics and know how difficult it is to persuade legitimate voters to go to the polls.

            This drumbeat of "your vote doesn't matter" and "your vote doesn't count" and media coverage of polls rather than of the candidates and their positions, the negative campaigning, the rigged rules that require candidates to raise massive amounts of money are all designed to keep independent voters at home and to undermine people's faith in the legitimacy of elections so they will accept the loss of their rights. All the more power and profit to the media and the incumbents who do not then need to meet the needs of the non-voters.

            The best you can say about Trump, who lost the popular vote by almost 3 million votes, is that his claims of voter fraud are a tactic to try and legitimize a mandate for his program that he does not have. At worst, you can say that Trump is trying to take the United States into a dictatorship through the back door. New Jersey has already perfected the means of disenfranchising voters without their knowledge. But rest assured, little good comes from elections where leaders lack a mandate or where leaders act like the election was not legitimate so they can do whatever they want or can get away with. A good example is Governor Chris Christie, who spent the Fourth of July weekend at his official beach house on Long Beach Island that was closed to the public because of a budget dispute and Christie shut the park. Do you think he was chosen in a democratic election, a man who publicly displays his being above the law? Don't be absurd.

Return to Institute of Election Analysis Home Page

Contact: Joshua Leinsdorf