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The Count: Trump’s Plot To Steal The Election

The Count is a daily newsletter and live show from The Appeal and NowThis, focused on what happens in the scenario that the 2020 presidential race is too close to call on election night, President Donald Trump makes good on his promise to not accept the election results, and what we can do in the 77 days between election day and the inauguration to uphold our democracy.

President Donald Trump and his allies across the country are already laying the groundwork for their plans to steal the election.

Today, we’ll look at:

  • The Republican plan to treat established voter trends as fraudulent.
  • Election night and how Trump wants to stop the ballot count and claim victory.
  • Loopholes in the Electoral College system that allows Republican legislatures to support their preferred candidate when results are unclear—and their plan to make results unclear.

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  • 22 days until election day.
  • 57 days until the deadline for all ballots to be counted.
  • 63 days until electoral college slates send their votes to Congress.
  • 86 days until Congress counts electoral college votes.
  • 100 days until inauguration day.


Earlier this year, President Trump said the quiet part out loud, admitting that reforms designed to spur more people to vote, including increased early voting and mail-in voting, would harm him and the GOP: “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” That’s why longstanding GOP voter suppression tactics such as closing polling locations, voter roll purges, and overly-restrictive voter ID laws aimed at restricting access to the ballot have only intensified this election cycle.

But there are three unique strategies that Trump plans to use to try to steal the election after votes have been cast. Those are the strategies that we are focused on today.


  • WHAT IS THE “BLUE SHIFT”? — Over the last two decades, votes counted after election night tend to be from Democratic voters, meaning that the election day count understates the actual percentage of votes that the Democrat candidate received in the election. Academics have dubbed this phenomenon the “blue shift,” and it is thought to be driven by the fact that Democratic voters are more likely to cast both provisional and mail-in ballots, which often take longer to process and count.
  • NATIONAL MAIL-IN VOTING INCREASES — In states that record this data, Democratic voters have already returned 1.4 million mail-in ballots in early voting, but only 653,000 Republicans have done so, which forecasts the potential of a “blue shift” again this year.
  • PA MAIL-IN VOTING INCREASES — In Pennsylvania, a crucial swing state, Democratic voters have requested mail-in ballots at a rate of 3 to 1 over Republicans. There could be as many as 10 times more mail-in votes in 2020 than in 2016. State law prohibits these from being processed until election day. These are signs pointing to a “blue shift” in Pennsylvania this year, a key swing state in the Presidential election.
  • “BLUE SHIFT” IN PA FOR MORE THAN A DECADE — Since 2004, the blue shift has resulted in every Democratic presidential candidate receiving over 22,000 votes in Pennsylvania between election night and the final results. Given the increased mail-in voting numbers this year, it’s likely that trend will not only continue but intensify in this election.
  • RECENT “BLUE SHIFT” IN AZ — In 2018, Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate Martha McSally was up by 15,403 votes after Election Day. However, after all of the ballots were processed and counted, McSally ultimately lost to Democratic candidate Kyrsten Sinema by 55,900 votes.
  • TRUMP PLAYBOOK: “BLUE SHIFT” = “BLUE STEAL” — Trump will mislabel this pedestrian phenomenon as fraud. Indeed, Steve Bannon, President Trump’s former chief strategist, is literally on a cross-country media tour, spreading the false idea that Democrats are trying to “steal this election from President Trump’s game day vote” and that the “blue shift” is actually the “blue steal.”

“They keep referring to the election as like game day … like this is a football match, as opposed to a decision regarding the future of our nation. They’re trying to convince people that the one true vote count happens on Election Day, which is completely divorced from the reality of how people are voting and what is necessary to count like all of the millions of votes in this nation.”—The Count co-host Emily Galvin-Almanza


  • TRUMP WILL USE THE “RED MIRAGE” — If Trump and the GOP are leading in key swing states on election night, because the disproportionately Democratic mail-in votes are counted after Election Day, then Trump will use this “red mirage” to declare victory early and call for the ballot count to be halted, under the guise of preventing fraud.
  • TRUMP’S DONE THIS BEFORE — In 2018, in line with the “Blue Shift” phenomenon, Democratic candidates in Florida started making large gains in both a U.S. Senate and a gubernatorial race during post-Election Day counting (though neither candidate ultimately won). President Trump tweeted: “The Florida Election should be called in favor of Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis in that large numbers of new ballots showed up out of nowhere, and many ballots are missing or forged. An honest vote count is no longer possible-ballots massively infected. Must go with Election Night!”
  • MEDIA COVERAGE OF ELECTION NIGHT PLAYS INTO TRUMP’S HANDS — Because the media covers election night like it’s the Super Bowl, and each network desires to be the first to call a winner, Americans have become accustomed to election winners being called on election night, even though there may be millions of votes left to count on election night. But this practice, and the public expectation it creates for knowing the winner on Election Day, could feed into Trump’s strategy of calling the race for himself on November 3rd, and then claiming that any post Election Day counting is fraudulent.
  • THE GOP STRATEGY ISN’T JUST BLUSTER — In 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote but needed Florida’s Electoral College votes to take the presidency. George W. Bush’s campaign sued to stop a hand recount of ballots, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Bush’s favor. The lawsuit bypassed the will of the voters, as a final analysis found Gore had actually won the most votes in Florida.


  • SENDING FRAUDULENT ELECTORS — Traditionally, the candidate who receives the most votes in a state has their slate of electors sent to vote for them to Congress. Typically, that slate is selected by the governor. But state legislatures can also send electors. And there’s no clear mechanism that stops legislatures or governors from sending electors to support their candidate.
  • THIS COULD LEAD TO THE NIGHTMARE SCENARIO — A Democratic governor, based on vote totals, could select electors that will cast their votes for Biden. But if that state has a Republican-controlled legislature, lawmakers, citing “fraud” in the aftermath of a “red mirage” on election night could select a separate slate of electors that would support Trump. This scenario is most worrisome in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin–three crucial swing states with a Democratic Governor and a Republican-controlled legislature.
  • COMPETING ELECTORS — On Dec. 14, these two slates of electors — the official set from the Democratic governor and the fraudulent set from the Republican-controlled legislatures — would meet separately and cast their electoral votes for the two competing candidates, and send those competing votes to Congress.
  • ELECTORAL COUNT ACT IS FAMOUSLY INCOHERENT — It’s up to the newly elected Congress—not the current Congress—to count the slates of elector votes on Jan. 6. There are multiple scenarios that could play out in Congress, and we will dive into them in future newsletters. For now, let’s just say one thing clearly: The 1877 Electoral Count Act, created to resolve such disputes, is famously incoherent and legal scholars disagree over how to interpret it and whether it’s even constitutional.
  • PRESIDENT NANCY PELOSI? — If there is still no clear winner by Inauguration Day, on January 20 the House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, becomes acting president. Pelosi is reportedly preparing for these scenarios, including how to respond to Republican legislatures sending their own slates of electors.
  • COMPETING ELECTOR SLATES HAS HAPPENED BEFORE… — Preceding the passage of the Electoral Count Act, the 1876 election between Democrat Samuel Tilden and Republican Rutherford B. Hayes saw three states send rival slates of electors to Congress. Because no law at the time addressed the question of how Congress should resolve this kind of dispute, the count was settled via a closed door meeting of a 15-member commission, after which Democrats ultimately agreed to accept Hayes as president in exchange for a withdrawal of federal troops from the South and an end to Reconstruction.
  • …AND IT CAN HAPPEN AGAIN — The 1876 election shows how important it is for the Democratic party, and Democratic members of Congress, to deny illegitimate Trump electors. As The Count co-host Alana Sivin said, “if the Democratic party isn’t strong we could end up with policies that really hurt people. You know in the election of 1876, the true winner allowed himself to get strong-armed into getting rid of civil rights for Black Americans.”


In future newsletters, we will interview experts and dive deep into the mechanics of how to prevent a stolen election. For now, though, remember this: The single best and most effective way to ensure a fair and free election–and increase the odds of avoiding this whole nightmare scenario–is massive voter mobilization and turnout. An overwhelming margin of victory, especially in key swing states, will drastically undermine any attempt to steal the election away from the will of the voters.


  • Republicans are spending $20 million on litigation, which is twice as much as Democrats’ are spending this year, and an unprecedented level of legal costs for an election cycle. The RNC is involved in 40 cases so far.
  • Trump’s voter intimidation rhetoric is so strong that Republican poll watchers are being reminded in training tapes to “behave yourself” and to not literally challenge every ballot. But in Montana, training tapes included attacks on mail-in voting by Democrats and the need to “monitor neighborhoods.”
  • Facebook is also not impressed, and has banned content that promotes voter intimidation and military-style language when talking about poll watchers. Last month, Donald Trump Jr. called for followers to “enlist” in an “army for Trump” and become poll watchers.
  • Rational fear over panic. Ed Kilgore wrote for Intelligencer about the need for “rational fear” rather than panic over Trump’s plan to steal the election. He also made the point that he’d “feel much better if we were hearing a chorus of Republican elected officials and conservative opinion leaders sharply rebuking the president’s war on voting by mail and distancing themselves from any post-election effort to contest the results.”
  • Justified Fear. The fear seems justified when we’re reminded that wargaming of the election turned up street-level violence in almost every scenario. The only situation that escaped this fate? A landslide for Biden.
  • So far 5.5 million people have voted early. That’s an astounding 73 times more than at this point in the 2016 election.

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