The 2016 presidential election will be mental for many things, yet one of the many unusual was the repetitive claims, by leader in both parties, the the choice was “rigged.” we now recognize that numerous of this accusations were promoted by Russian hackers intent on aggravating divisions in between and within the political parties and also fomenting distrust in the democratic system.

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But as citizens we may have been better able to see v the disinformation spewed out had actually anyone asked the straightforward question: “How?” Or, “What go it median to rig one election?”

Stealing votes

The very first and many straightforward method to “rig” an choice is come arrange come steal votes. Over there is a long and also storied background of poll stealing in American elections. In most states voter registration regulations weren’t enacted until the center of the 19th century and also even castle didn’t prevent chicanery in ~ the polls. One renowned tactic of the big-city political devices was to poll the graveyards. Castle would obtain a team of human being who go from precinct come precinct voting in the surname of people who had died and also were tho on the rolls. This to be pretty basic to carry out in the days prior to computer modern technology could upgrade voter rolls.

The list of other means you deserve to commit electoral fraud is lengthy. Voter intimidation, poll buying, disinformation, confound or misleading ballots, ballot stuffing, mis-recording that votes, devastation of ballots, tampering through voting machines, and voter impersonation are simply a few. But these days, poll are carefully monitored. Voter rolls space still imperfect however they are much more up to date than ever and also states have laws offering for obligated recounts (where the vote is an extremely narrow) or optional recounts (where a candidate think something has actually gone wrong and agrees come pay because that a recount.)

The two major political parties and the major candidates gain “lawyered up” before election day. Both sides have actually teams ready to walk to court in ~ the slightest hint the something is wrong. For this reason if any type of of the many projects in 2016 had been steal votes wouldn’t we have actually heard about it? were the numerous lawyers on each side stupid or sleep at the switch? i will not ~ they have actually gone to court? Or asked for recounts?

After the basic election, and also in accordance v the law, recounts were requested in only 5 states. In Wisconsin and also Nevada the recounts to be completed and showed just minor changes. In Pennsylvania the recount never happened and in Michigan a partial recount didn’t show that the outcomes there would have actually changed.

After the inauguration, president Trump’s board of directors on election Integrity was created to look into Trump’s dubious insurance claim that Hillary winner the well-known vote v the votes that illegal immigrants. For this reason far, the has produced nothing to assistance that claim and also a an excellent deal that resistance indigenous state choice officials of both parties.

The presidential primaries went turn off without extensive proof of vote irregularities together well. In 2016 there were much more than fourty presidential primaries and also hotly challenged races in both parties. The Bernie Sanders campaign considered asking for recounts after small losses in Kentucky and also Missouri however didn’t. Top top the Republican side, Ted Cruz, the only candidate who ever came close to Trump, considered a recount in Missouri where he narrowly shed to Trump however in the finish did not seek it. In states that didn’t use primaries, caucuses were hosted to select delegates. Some of these were rather raucous, specifically those in Iowa and Nevada, through charges that cheating made in both parties. And also yet, credentials challenges were not filed in either situation at one of two people convention.

Rigging the system

The second way to “rig” an choice is to produce a mechanism that functions in donate of one candidate or one form of candidate. The general election to be “rigged,” if girlfriend will, more than 200 years ago when the establishing Fathers composed it right into the constitution and, by offering each state (no matter exactly how small) a congressman and two senators, gave tiny states an ext clout than big states. They have actually the same clout in the Electoral College.


Of course, candidates or political next could shot and readjust how the electors space awarded. A few years ago, someone suggested that California compensation electors to candidates top top the basis of who won the congressional district rather of on that won the state. That wouldn’t it is in a bad idea if the were used nationally. Yet if it were only done in California the would advantage Republicans over Democrats because they would pick off some electoral votes the end of that very big state and also deny democracy a winner-take-all outcome.

Nomination gyeongju are, however, not spanned by the Constitution. They room under the exclude, discretion the the politics parties and also they have changed greatly over the years. However, in current years, the nomination device is conquered by state-run primaries therefore the potential come “rig” a season for a candidate is limited. Nonetheless, as I detail in my book Primary Politics, presidential candidates can shot to produce a favorable system.

First, castle can create a favorable succession of contests. Chairman Jimmy Carter provided his influence with his fellow southern governors to create a southerly super Tuesday (which still exists today). This gave him an early delegate lead in a long fight versus Senator Ted Kennedy. Ronald Reagan’s project created the beforehand South Carolina major so that he can beat Texas Governor man Connally (the just southerner in the race) early, get him the end of the race and also sweep the other southern states.

Candidates have the right to also shot to get favorable rule under i m sorry delegates have the right to be awarded come presidential main winners. In the 1984 democratic contest Walter Mondale’s campaign fought to maintain a specific kind of major (called the loophole primary) in Illinois and Florida which ended up helping Mondale to a far-ranging delegate edge over his young challenger Gary Hart. Year later brand-new York City market Rudi Giuliani, running for the Republican nomination, realized the he would carry out well in new Jersey, a neighboring state. So with the assist of his pendant his campaign managed come change new Jersey to a winner-take-all state.

In 2016 there to be very small evidence that candidates in either party regulated to “rig” the system. The sequence of says is virtually identical come what it remained in 2012. The at an early stage states, Iowa, new Hampshire, Nevada and also South Carolina remained the same. Big states like California continued to be pretty much in the same ar as well. Together for developing favorable delegate allocation rules, democracy no longer have actually the alternative of changing those rules. Since 1992 all says award autonomous convention delegates in the very same way. Top top the Republican side, there is no evidence that any kind of of the candidates had actually the political stamin or field of expertise to influence how states vested delegates. In all, the nomination systems in both parties in 2016 looked really much choose the nomination solution in both parties in 2012.

Tilting the playing field

A final means to “rig” the system is to give a candidate an advantage or disadvantage in some component of the device not related to the elections themselves. Just before the democratic Convention, Wikileaks exit hacked emails indigenous the democratic National Committee revealing that party staffers go not prefer Bernie and also were saying ways to beat him. Yet there to be no evidence that party officials acted on their preferences in ways that would influence the fight because that delegates. (One can only imagine what staffers at the Republican nationwide Committee to be saying about Donald Trump as he won primary after primary, upsetting the Republican establishment!) And, together we now understand from Donna Brazile’s expose, the Clinton campaign took over the DNC long prior to she won the nomination—paying the receipt in return for manage over staffing. Questionable together that was there is no proof that party officials walk anything that can be interpreted as interfering in the primary process.

About the closest to “rigging” the Democrats came was to schedule couple of debates and also to schedule castle at bad times. This was probably not good for Bernie Sanders yet it seems to fall somewhat quick of “rigging” the system.

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Accusations about the electoral system being “rigged” should be taken seriously due to the fact that they cut to the heart of ours democracy. But the following time Russian trolls start fostering this line we should stop and also ask the basics: What, when, why and where?

At the democratic Convention critical summer a very earnest Bernie Sanders delegate said me that Hillary had stolen the election. I responded somewhat skeptically the she had won an ext than 3 million an ext votes than Sanders. Later on in the evening ns relayed this conversation come a seasoned politician who replied (tongue in cheek) “Damn! If she can steal 3 million votes she have to be president!”

Elaine C. Kamarck is a senior Fellow at the Institution and author of Primary Politics: whatever You should Know around How America Nominates its Presidential Candidates. She is a superdelegate come the democratic convention.