No, The Election Wasn’t Rigged

Trent England and Tara Ross Tara Ross is the author of Enlightened Democracy: The Case for the Electoral College (2d ed. 2012) and a co-author of Under God: George Washington and the Question of Church and State (2008) (with Joseph C. Smith, Jr.). Her latest book, We Elect A President, was released in September 2016. As a lawyer and writer, Tara focuses on the intersection among law, public policy, and constitutional history. She often appears as a guest on a variety of talk shows nationwide to discuss these matters and regularly addresses civic, university, and legal audiences. Her work has been published in several law reviews and newspapers, including the National Law Journal, USA Today, the American Enterprise Online, National Review Online, WeeklyStandard.com, FoxNews.com, HumanEvents.com, The Washington Times, and the Texas Review of Law & Politics. Tara is a retired lawyer and a former Editor-in-Chief of the Texas Review of Law & Politics. She obtained her B.A. from Rice University and her J.D. from the University of Texas School of Law. Tara and her husband Adam reside in Dallas with their two children. Trent England serves as Vice President for Strategic Initiatives at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, where he also is the David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow for the Advancement of Liberty and directs the Center for the Constitution & Freedom and the Save Our States project. He is the National Coordinator for Liberty Foundation of America and an adjunct fellow of the Freedom Foundation. He hosts a radio program, The Trent England Show, from 7-9 a.m. every weekday on Oklahoma’s AM 1640, “The Eagle.” Trent is a contributor to two books—The Heritage Guide to the Constitution and One Nation Under Arrest: How Crazy Laws, Rogue Prosecutors, and Activist Judges Threaten Your Liberty. His writing has also appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, Washington Times, and other newspapers.
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“The election is absolutely being rigged…,” Donald Trump tweeted before the election, insisting “there is large scale voter fraud happening on and before election day.” Now, he’s won a victory that has shocked the nation—even flipping a state like Wisconsin, which hasn’t voted Republican since the Reagan years.

Let’s face it. The results on Election Day would not have been possible if the election were truly rigged.

Democratic elections rely on trust; thus, restoring confidence in them is vitally important. Citizens who lose faith in the process are unlikely to participate in it. And declining voter turnout further diminishes democratic legitimacy. Justified or not, doubts about election integrity degrade our democracy. If nothing else, hopefully the 2016 results will put to rest many concerns about rigged elections.

The constitutional process by which presidents are elected reduces the risks of fraud, as has just been forcefully demonstrated with Trump’s victory on Tuesday night. The process is decentralized, making it harder to coordinate an effort to steal the election. Because of the Electoral College, there is no national election but rather 51 separate elections in each state (plus D.C.).

Think of it this way: no presidential appointee in Washington, D.C. is in charge of the presidential election; no incumbent and no executive branch agency runs the process to select the nation’s next executive. The Constitution and federal statutes define the basic structure (such as deadlines) for federal elections. But state laws, local officials—and volunteers—do the rest.

This structure has practical consequences. For one thing, the people in their respective states get to make more choices about how to run their own elections. When policies diverge, people across the country can learn from these natural experiments. The states on the West Coast now vote almost entirely by mail. Other states have rejected shifting so much election administration to the U.S. Postal Service (and many private mailrooms), but every election provides another data set to examine.

Many other states have adopted laws requiring voters to show some kind of identification in order to cast a ballot. Polls show these security measures are popular with most voters, but liberal interest groups claim that they depress turnout and target minorities. Again, actual elections offer data to assess the claims. As it happens, turnout has often increased in states that enacted or strengthened voter ID laws and nearly all the statutes have withstood court challenges.

Even more important than allowing policy diversity and experimentation, the Electoral College reduces the risk of a rigged election by turning states into the equivalent of watertight compartments on an ocean liner. Fraud or mismanagement in one state is contained within that state. If the dead vote in Chicago, the effect is contained within the state of Illinois. This effect of the Electoral College likely prevented a stolen presidential election in 1876, when racist vote suppression benefitted Samuel Tilden at the expense of Rutherford B. Hayes. The disputes were contained within Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina, which allowed Congress to sort the matter out and put the right man—Hayes—in the White House.

Finally, the Electoral College makes it impossible to steal an election unless several factors fall into place simultaneously. First, the election must be close enough that only one or two altered state outcomes will change the final result. Second, at the state level, the margins in those states must also be very narrow. Very few presidential elections end up this hotly contested. The election of 2000 was one, since both the national electoral result and Florida’s vote tally were close. The election of 1960 was another: Relatively small shifts in Texas and Illinois would have given the election to Nixon.

Even assuming the election is this close, however, one final factor must fall into place: Dishonest actors must predict, in advance, which states will be decisive. No one knew ahead of time that a few hundred stolen votes in Florida would alter the 2000 election. The list of swing states is too long, and their polls tend to be more closely watched anyway.

Estimates of how much fraud occurs are, at best, a concoction of facts and beliefs about human nature or the nature of one’s political opponents. But whether one agrees with Trump’s allegations earlier this year or not, it turns out the state-by-state nature of presidential elections makes those contests far harder to rig.

Trent England is Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and the David & Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. Tara Ross is the author of Enlightened Democracy: The Case for the Electoral College. Her newest book, We Elect a President: The Story of Our Electoral College, presents an illustrated explanation of the system for children