Opinion: The plan to steal the 2024 presidential election


Published: 04-04-2022 6:00 AM

Jonathan P. Baird lives in Wilmot.

You might think that if some political partisans had a plan to steal a presidential election, it would be kept top secret. That is not the case with the Republican Party. Their plan to steal the 2024 presidential election could not be more public.

Writer Ari Berman has accurately summarized, “Ahead of the midterms, Republicans have launched a full-scale assault on the election system. Fueled by the Big Lie, this attack relies upon a multi-pronged strategy of gerrymandering, voter suppression and the takeover of election positions by ideologues who allege the 2020 election was stolen.”

Because more has been written about gerrymandering and voter suppression, I want to focus on election subversion. That subversion is far more organized than is generally known. The plan comes out of lessons learned by Trump’s unsuccessful coup attempt in 2020-2021.

The Republicans are advancing a Big Lie alliance to take control of the presidential election process in key battleground states. They did not have the operatives in place in 2020 to overturn the result although Trump certainly tried. The plan is to put into place “Stop the Steal” authoritarians who will oversee how elections are run and votes are counted. These pro-Trump forces believe, without evidence, that Trump was cheated out of a 2020 election win.

In deciding the 2024 election, Republicans will deem the election “legitimate” if the Republican candidate wins. If the Democratic candidate wins, Republicans will deem the election “illegitimate.” Republicans will allege voter fraud if they are on the losing end just as Trump did in 2020.

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The big difference is that this time around the Republicans plan to seize control of vital electoral positions. At least 11 Big Lie advocates are running for Attorney General in 10 states.  21 Big Lie advocates are running for Secretary of State in 18 states. The Republicans are also fielding 51 Big Lie supporter candidates who are running for governor in 24 states. These are people who wanted to certify Trump as president in 2020 even though he lost.

If Big Lie supporters were willing to install Trump into power before, is there any reason to believe they wouldn’t do it again? They’re running for office on a pledge to do it.

There’s actually a coalition of America First Secretary of State candidates including candidates in key swing states. We have Jody Hice in Georgia, Mark Finchem in Arizona and Kristina Karano in Michigan. They have all received the coveted Trump endorsement. It would appear that only the most slavish devotees get the nod.

Here is the most disturbing scenario: if the Democratic candidate wins the popular vote in a battleground state, the pro-Trump forces are prepared to replace electors chosen by the populace with electors hand-picked by legislators, as state legislators control the rules for choosing electors. This is hardly that far-fetched. 147 House Republicans voted to invalidate Biden’s election last time.

Part of the problem we are facing is weakness in the Electoral Count Act of 1887 which governs how Congress counts presidential electors. Last time, Trump tried to get state officials to change the results in states Biden won. Then he tried to get Vice President Mike Pence to reject key states’ elector slates.

Legal scholar Matthew Seligman has written extensively about the anti-democratic dangers that currently exist. Seligman writes that the risk that most threatens the 2024 presidential election is what he has called the Swing State Governor’s Gambit. Say the Republicans win the House in 2024. In a close election, rogue Republican governors could send a Republican slate of electors for certification even if the Democrats won the vote. The pretext would again be voter fraud.

Under the Electoral Count Act, both the House and Senate must object to a slate of electors to invalidate it. If the Republicans controlled one chamber, the slate of electors would still eke through the fray. No doubt there would be court challenges but it is impossible to predict the outcome. Possibly the Court would punt, say it is a political question, and not intervene. On the other hand, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court might entertain the independent state legislative doctrine which could allow state legislatures to replace the voters in choosing electors. Such a process could make the loser the winner.

After the 2020 election, the need for reforming the Electoral Count Act should be obvious. Not even getting into the Electoral College which is its own can of worms, it must be clarified that the vice president doesn’t decide elections. The popular vote must be honored in the states. Again, this should be obvious but even Democrats have underestimated the potential for bad faith manipulation.

I fear the Democrats are sleepwalking toward disaster and the end of American democracy where they could be a permanent minority. They seem stuck in some past paradigm, underestimating how many Republicans have fallen for the Trump propaganda. A sense of urgency is lacking and there is fatalism about losing the mid-terms.  The Democrats are pretending normalcy.

What is truly sad though is what has happened to the Republican Party. Maybe they want to win too much but they do not see the harm they are doing by sabotaging democracy. Democracy needs political parties that will accept the will of the voters. One side cannot always obtain its desired outcome. Accepting loss is part of the process.

Too many Republicans have fallen prey to disinformation. Conspiracy theories are their currency whether birtherism, QAnon or the Big Lie. There is also a self-righteous tendency on the right to see themselves as the only real Americans. Too many Republicans are too ready to resort to violence.

This is not a "both sides are doing it” matter. The Republicans are guilty of an asymmetric polarization. It may be though that the threat to democracy in 2024 will come more from amoral lawyers than from violent insurrectionists. Lawyers who are bad faith manipulators could and would justify the losing side winning.

On January 6, 2021, Mitch McConnell said, “If the election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral. We’d never see the whole nation accept an election again. Every four years would be a scramble for power at any cost.”

I don’t usually agree with Mitch McConnell but with this statement, I agree.