Lessons From America — How To Steal An Election

Boris Johnson and Donald Trump

For copyright see their individual Wikipedia entries

We’re a democracy, right? Everyone has the right to have a say, right? We should be able to protest (a subject for another article) and we should be able to vote. In America, there are several amendments to the constitution forbidding the depriving of certain groups of their right to vote, but somehow that is not seen as inferring that everyone not specifically excluded in the constitution does have the right to vote.

Whether they believe that certain groups of people would not vote what they consider to be responsibly, or that only the rich are in God’s favor (the poor being defective in character), they are white Supremacists, or simply only want people like them to vote because they would have the same values, they’d mostly prefer white property-owning males to be the only ones to vote, an attitude that has existed since the start of modern democracy.

In America, depriving people who are not likely to vote for them of their vote is serious business for the Republican Party. I’m not saying that some Democrats don’t do it too — so much power and money is involved that there is a lot of incentive to cheat. Republicans do it more because (a) they are the party backed by rich corporations and billionaires who want to see their taxes and regulations cut, and (b) they know they won’t win elections honestly by promising to cut taxes and regulations for the rich, to the detriment of the rest of us.

Attempts to steal elections have escalated in recent years, as demographics turn against the Republicans. Other countries would do well not to go down the same slippery slope, and to watch out for attempts to try any of these plays.


Gerrymandering is where those in power in a constituency choose the boundaries for electoral districts in such a way that most of their opponents’ voters are grouped into a few districts that they can win, while the remaining (most) districts contain a majority of voters for their side. That way they win most electoral districts even though they may be in the minority in the constituency as a whole. Wikipedia has a good article on gerrymandering. In other words, the politicians choose the voters and not vice versa.

In the U.S., boundaries are reviewed every 10 years after the census. In the UK the process is less automatic — current boundaries date from 2010 and the next review is due in 2023.

Voter Intimidation

Voter Intimidation is a tactic that has long been used to prevent people from going to the polls, or even registering to vote. Despite laws against it (some of which vary from place to place, for example whether guns may be brought to the polls), it still goes on.


One way of misdirecting voters is to put up a candidate with the same or a similar name to your opponent’s, to confuse people and get them to fail to vote for your opponent. This was done in Florida in 2020

Another tactic is to misdirect people as to the time and place to vote. This was done using robocalls in Flint, Michigan in 2020. Even Donald Trump got in on the act.

Another trick, this time used in California, is to put up false ballot boxes. Since they are not secure, who knows what happens to the ballots?

Wedge issues

Another way to swing the vote is to use wedge issues. Where ballot measures can be submitted by the public, politicians can circumvent the ruling party by submitting measures specifically designed to attract their own voters. A popular one is marijuana legalisation. Issues that get people riled up also work, like abortion. If you can get your people out to the polls to vote on such issues, they are likely to vote for the rest of your slate. Of course, you try not to attract or rile up the opposition. Traditional and social media can be used for this, for example ads targeted at the opposition saying that both parties are the same (so they become too apathetic to vote).

Using the media

It’s no coincidence that the UK, Australia and American governments all went hard right (America took a step back, but is still poised on the brink). Rupert Murdoch’s media empire has been drowning out left wing media for decades. Because the Republicans and Tories are the parties of the rich, promising to cut corporate taxes and regulations, and corporations are heavily involved in politics (since the Powell memo), there is plenty of money for right wing media. Not so for left wing media (and still the right wing complain of media’s ‘left wing bias’!).

Foreign nations which are opposed to Democracy (or to American interference or competition) use social media and their own tv stations to create division, and to swing support towards the more autocratic party.

In a major scandal, Cambridge Analytica mined Facebook users’ data to do oppositional research and influence the elections in 2018.

The US and Russia are the biggest interferers in others’ elections, but other countries do it too. Saudi Arabia has interfered in both U.S. and UK elections (particularly the Brexit referendum). America is the most interfered with, too. Sometimes one party is on good terms with interfering foreign nations, for example Donald Trump liked Saudi Arabia and Russia.

They also use reframing — for example calling the estate death tax and implying it affects far more than a few very rich families (for example claiming that family farms have to be sold).

The lying so-and-sos

Many politicians (but not all) will tell as many lies as necessary to get or keep power. Donald Trump, for example, told 30,573 lies over the 4 years he was in office. On his campaign, he promised many of the policies of Bernie Sanders, which he had no intention of keeping.

Boris Johnson got elected by promising to get Brexit done — which he did, I guess, but not as he promised it. He promised that poor people would not have to sell their homes to get care in their old age, and that there would be high speed rail to Bradford and Leeds — broken promises. He’s raised National Insurance and failed to protect the triple lock on pensions and so on.

Pandemic twist

In 2020 Republicans tried a new twist. Their front man, Donald Trump, had repeatedly downplayed the coronavirus, so that Republicans were a lot less concerned about voting in person during a pandemic than Democrats were. Democrats were far more likely to want to use an absentee ballot. Republicans resisted sending them out if they could. And if they couldn’t, they resisted beginning to count the absentee ballots until after the polls closed, at least. This meant even if a Republican candidate appeared to be leading earlier in the evening, a rush of votes for the Democratic candidate could swing the election to them later on. Totally predictable and predicted, but the Republicans falsely cried foul when this happened. Absentee ballots are also a way to avoid long queues (lines) or intimidation (meritless challenges or armed ‘poll watchers’) at the polling station in predominantly minority / Democratic areas controlled by Republican state legislatures. A lot of Republicans died, and are still dying, but it did not win him the election.

Republicans have declared war on absentee ballots, at least in blue states, even though some of them (including Trump) have used them and had them delivered by others. Senator Rand Paul tweeted: “How to steal an election: ‘Seeding an area heavy with potential Democratic votes with as many absentee ballots as possible, targeting and convincing potential voters to complete them in a legally valid way, and then harvesting and counting the results’.” Harvesting is a loaded term used by conservatives to imply corruption or fraud when ballots are delivered by anyone other than the voter. It can happen, for example throwing away ballots or voter registration forms collected from people you believe will vote for the opposition. People can also be fooled into signing something other than what they thought they were signing.

Stop the Steal

There are always some who will contest close elections, in the hope they can get enough ballots rejected to swing the result their way. George W Bush succeeded by getting the Supreme Court to give him Florida in 2000 and hence the presidency. Donald Trump and his party have taken it to a whole new level. They alleged massive fraud in the 2020 elections — enough to cast doubt on the whole process and American Democracy itself — just in the hope of retaining power, and to hell with the country. So far, as usual, only a tiny amount of fraud has been found — people voting in 2 states, or voting for a dead loved one, and nearly all those fraudulent votes were for Trump. That did not stop him demanding recounts and audits or repeating his egregious claims, and his party from demanding the voter-suppressing voter ID to counter virtually non-existent fraud. He lost lawsuit after lawsuit, even when the judges were Republican appointees.

When that didn’t work, he went to the next stage. The US has an Electoral College system, and the US House has to count and certify the votes of the electors. Trump planned to have his VP Mike Pence declare him the winner, despite the votes. This would have been illegal, and Pence would not do it.

The Final Solution — Treason

When Pence refused, Trump followed in the footsteps of previous Republicans and resorted to treason. He ginned up his cult followers at rallies, on television and on social media, telling them that the election had been stolen and it was patriotic to stop it. He incited a mob at a rally near the White house on 6 January 2021 and off they went, gallows prepared, to prevent Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi and the House from certifying the vote for Biden, by killing them if necessary. And while many of them were just a mob, there were some highly organized and targeted people among them, ready to steal the ballots and with ties to handcuff people. There is great deal still to be learned about what happened and how much each person knew on the day, but it is clear that it did not happen spontaneously. They want nothing short of permanent rule.

How is it for you?

Is your country going autocratic and/or fascist too? Is it (still) a democracy? Is your right to vote under threat? Are your freedoms to vote and protest being curtailed? There should not only be laws against these shenanigans, but they should also be enforced, with culprits suffering the consequences. The UK is currently going more autocratic, with suppression of protest, often bypassing government, and introducing voter ID. These must be resisted if we do not want to lose our democracy.




Open University BA, UMIST MSc, OU BSc Environmental Studies. Interests: environment, COVID19. Double #ostomate. Thom Hartmann’s newsletter editor. Views my own.

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Sue Nethercott

Sue Nethercott

Open University BA, UMIST MSc, OU BSc Environmental Studies. Interests: environment, COVID19. Double #ostomate. Thom Hartmann’s newsletter editor. Views my own.

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