Trump falsely claims his election was stolen — but what happens if one is?

In the early morning hours of Nov. 4, 2020, then-President Trump began speculating that votes were stolen from him in certain counties and states. He has only amplified these false claims since giving the White House over to President Biden.

To be sure, some counties and states discovered voting “irregularities.” But the question was to prove whether those irregularities rose to a level where the outcome in a certain locale could be challenged, or even reversed. (Answer: They didn’t) The burden of proof fell to Trump and his supporters, and they failed a number of times to prove their contentions — embarrassingly so, considering Trump put forth Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell as the faces of his defense team.

That said, the charges, countercharges and deeply polarized political atmosphere have caused the thought to cross my mind — as I’m sure it has for other Americans: “What would happen if, with some future election, it were proven that a presidential candidate and his team managed to successfully ‘steal’ an election but were found out after taking office?”

Some may want to deny it purely for partisan reasons, but the fact of the matter is that electronic voting, mail-in ballots and “harvested” ballots can potentially be manipulated. Even without those, voter fraud is as old as the voting process itself.

At the moment, I am re-reading what I consider to be one of the greatest political memoirs of all time: “A Political Education” by Harry McPherson. 

In full disclosure, I had the honor of working with McPherson in the late 1990s when he was a partner at the law firm Verner Liipfert Bernhard McPherson & Hand, then one of Washington’s most powerful law firms, which was not surprising when you stop to consider that, at the time, it employed former Senate majority leaders Bob Dole and George Mitchell and former governors Ann Richards of Texas and Jim Blanchard of Michigan.     

Before he became a partner, McPherson started off his political life in 1956 as a proud liberal Democrat working for then-Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson. During that time, McPherson morphed into one of the best political minds and political writers in the history of U.S. politics. Although partisan, he was incredibly honest and honorable; he called the shots as he saw them. His book should be required reading for anyone serving on Capitol Hill or in the White House.

In the book, McPherson gives a thumbnail sketch of those who populated the U.S. Senate in 1956. Speaking of then-Sen. Dennis Chavez of New Mexico, he related a funny but relevant anecdote:  An Associated Press reporter was said to have phoned a county clerk in the middle of Chavez’s political territory on an election night to ask, “How many votes does Sen. Chavez have in your county?” The clerk, believing he was talking to a friend of Chavez, replied: “How many votes does he need?” 

Again, I say all that to emphasize that it always has been the case that votes can appear or disappear in mysterious ways. So, what if enough of them “appeared” or “disappeared” to alter the legitimate results of a presidential election? 

Well, the Constitution does address this issue. Although “experts” may have different interpretations of Article II of the Constitution, it still comes down to this: When the Electoral College certifies a winner, that’s it — no do-overs.

To be sure, the history of American presidential elections is rife with controversy. At various times, a number of voters thought the administrations of John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, John F. Kennedy, George W. Bush, Donald Trump and now Joe Biden were “illegitimate” in one way or another. For those outraged by those elections, it came down to: “You can cry me a river, but we are getting back to the business of governing the nation.”

Still, what if one day irrefutable proof surfaced that a presidential election was “stolen”? Some experts and scholars believe if this happened, the evidence could be turned over to the House for possible impeachment. But then, the House might impeach, and the Senate might not convict. Or, the House might impeach and the Senate convicts, but then what happens? The guilty president might be removed, but what if the vice president also was involved in the theft of the election?

At a time when it seemingly has become easier for votes to be manipulated or “lost” — in Harris County, Texas, for example, 10,000 votes were discovered uncounted during the March 1 primary — and our nation has become so politically polarized, common sense screams out for an amendment to the Constitution to address this potential nightmare scenario.

Of course, we could go back to a strict system of voting in person, with paper ballots, which apparently was more difficult to game, but I fear that option is gone. We have what we have and we’re likely to have accusations and threats intensify in coming elections. Let’s amend the Constitution.

Douglas MacKinnon, a political and communications consultant, was a writer in the White House for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and former special assistant for policy and communications at the Pentagon during the last three years of the Bush administration.

Tags 2020 presidential election Article Two of the United States Constitution Donald Trump Electoral fraud Joe Biden Rudy Giuliani Sidney Powell

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