Every single court that has weighed in–more than 50 at last count, including the Nevada Supreme Court covering where I live and the U.S. Supreme Court covering where we all live–has rejected claims on behalf of Donald J. Trump that he lost his 2020 presidential re-election bid due to massive voter fraud. The main reason for the goose eggs across the board–perhaps the most singularly unsuccessful legal effort in the entirety of U.S. history–is, of course, that no one produced probative evidence supporting his fraud charges. (Having Rudy Giuliani with his hair dye problems as a lead lawyer probably didn’t help, either.)
Yet according to a poll last month by Yahoo News/YouGov, two-thirds of all Republicans continue to believe that “the election was rigged and stolen from Trump.” A CNN poll last week put the number even higher: 78%. The incumbent got 74 million votes, presumably mostly from Republicans. So that is a lot of doubters, even if not very many of them showed up at Saturday’s “Justice for J6” rally in Washington, D.C. From Trump’s perspective the Big Lie clearly has worked.
OK. Sitting in the comfort of the New to Las Vegas world headquarters, I am going to come at this from another angle. The hell with the lack of what lawyers like to call admissible evidence. I’m looking at history. World history. Going back into the 1980s.
Examining nearly 35 disputed-after-the-fact national elections on five continents, I can’t find a single credible example of widespread voter fraud affecting the outcome where the fraud was committed by the party out of power. Trump and his Republicans in 2020, of course, controlled the extensive executive machinery of the U.S. Federal Government. More to the point, I can find only one other good example of an incumbent national leader making a big election fraud allegation. That was Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi after Romano Prodi ousted him in 2006. And Berlusconi, who like Trump carries significant personal baggage, produced no proof of the claimed fraud.
There is a very logical explanation for this pattern. The party in power trying to hang on usually has the money, the courts, the prosecutors, the control of the election machinery, the police, the military, the guns, the teargas, the mace, the jails. The muscle. The party out of power generally has none of this. It’s really just that simple. (I am excluding from my universe any scrutiny of provincial, regional or local elections, where out-of-power parties not facing overwhelming incumbent resources sometimes have swindled their way to victory.)
Now Trump has loooooong experience as a promoter/propagandist–decades of making boastfully false claims about his business career and economic endeavors, which aside from a handful of properties have mainly faltered or even failed. I would submit it is this expertise he has developed peddling flawed products that has enabled him to sell his narrative of a stolen election to so many folks despite a lack of proof and, I would suggest, requiring that logic be suspended.
Trump, who has said he doesn’t read books, is clearly no student of history. He suggested Canada burned the White House in 1814 (it was England), Andrew Jackson was upset about the Civil War (he died 15 years earlier), and Frederick Douglass is still doing good work for blacks despite his death in 1895. On the world front, Trump said North Korea was once part of China (it never was) and that President Clinton negotiated a bad deal with current North Korea leader Kim Jung Un, who didn’t come to power until a decade after Clinton left office.
Much of the public does read books, but folks may not have a full understanding of recent global history. So let’s do some time-traveling around the world.
In Malawi, an incredibly poor landlocked country in southeastern Africa, the 2019 presidential election was so corrupt that locally it was called the “Tipp-Ex Election” after a brand of correction fluid used to alter paper ballots. But it was the Democratic Progressive Party of incumbent President Peter Mutharika wielding the white-out, not the opposition Malawi Congress Party of challenger Lazarus Chakwera. In a rare outcome for any national election in the world, the Malawi Constitutional Court, the country’s highest, overturned the election on grounds of fraud. The court ordered a new election, which Chakwera actually won. He’s still in office.
That came two years after the highest court in another African country, Kenya, also ordered on fraud grounds a rare election re-do penalyzing incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta of the Jubilee Party after his opponent, Raila Odinga of the Orange Democratic Movement, alleged electoral fraud. But again, it was the incumbent party being accused. The fraud allegations centered around missing or altered summaries from individual polling districts and evidence of shenanigans in the way they were transmitted electronically–shades of some of Trump’s allegations of IT fraud involving election machines–to the capital Nairobi for compilation. Kenyatta won the repeat vote.
Allegations of voter fraud against the powers-that-be are something of a way of life in Uganda, another East Africa country. The last three presidential elections, in 2011, 2016 and this year, were all won by incumbent Yoweri Museveni and his National Resistance Movement over voter fraud claims of his opponents–not against them. International observers from such places as the European Union and the U.S. State Department routinely criticized what they called dubious practices and a lack of transparency.
In 1996, Idriss Déby, who had come to power six years earlier in a coup d’etat, won his third term as president of the West Africa nation of Chad–the world’s seventh poorest and routinely ranked as one of the most corrupt–in a two-round election. International observers said the process was plagued by electoral fraud on the part of his Patriotic Salvation Movement, but not by his opponents. However, what comes around, goes around. After winning election to five more five-year-terms, including this year, Déby was killed fighting rebels trying to mount their own coup.
I could go on and on about post-election fraud claims in African national balloting. The 2003 vote in Rwanda. The 2004 contest in Cameroon. The 2007 election in Nigeria. The 2009 contest in Equatorial Guinea. The 2010 general election in Ethiopia. The 2013 election in Zimbabwe that featured colorful allegations of dead people poised to vote for incumbent Robert Mugabe. The 2015 votes in Zambia and Togo. The 2016 balloting in Gabon. My point is not that there was election fraud, but that the fraud claims were made against the incumbent and not the opposition.
But a lack of hard-core electoral fraud by the those out of power is hardly unique to Africa. Consider Asia.
Armenia is a former Soviet Union holding that in its own way tries hard to be democratic. But when incumbent president Robert Kocharyan of the Republic Party of Armenia ran for reelection in 2003, opposition candidates and international observers agreed there was significant electoral fraud by the party in power, including ballot-box stuffing. Kocharyan won.
The next time around, in 2008, Kocharyan was term-limited out, so his same-party prime minister, Serzh Sargsyan ran. He, too, won, despite opposition claims that voters were switched during counting to him. Five years later, in 2013, Sargsyan ran and won again, despite a litany of election fraud so extensive–multiple voting, non-secret voting, incorrect vote counting–that even Amnesty International complained about the irregularities. The opponents were not accused of widespread fraud.
The same pattern of fraud by the incumbent and not by the party out of power was founded in other disputed Asian elections. The 1999 presidential election in Tajikistan. The 2003 vote in Azerbaijan. The 2007 race in Turkmenistan. The 2009 presidential election in–of all places–Afghanistan, where the incumbent pro-U.S. president Hamid Karzai won re-election over complaints of widespread ballot-box stuffing.
Moving back to Europe, the authoritarian Alexander Lukashenko has won five elections to be president of Belarus. But all except the first, in 1994–when he wasn’t an incumbent–were marred by increasing complaints against him of election fraud (and, it almost goes without saying, not against the opposition). The watchdog Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe says there hasn’t been a free and fair one since 1994. Lukashenko’s latest re-election, in 2020, featured riots protesting election irregularities.
In neighboring Ukraine, another ex-Soviet Union nation, an early presidential election, in 2004, featured all kinds of voter fraud allegations, including allowing votes after the polls closed, against incumbent Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych from the Party of Regions. You might recall his main opponent, Viktor Yushchenko, was seriously poisoned during the campaign with dioxin and needed medical treatment abroad. His supporters did not face fraud allegations. Yanukovych won the run-off election against Yushchenko, but the Ukraine Supreme Court voided the run-off on grounds of election fraud and ordered a re-do. This time, Yushchenko won.
In South America, the 2018 presidential election in Venezuela resulted in incumbent Nicolás Maduro, a protege of leftist Hugo Chávez, winning reelection over several candidates despite international criticism of the way the election was conducted by the Maduro administration. These included vote-buying by the incumbent party and, even worse, withholding medical care from Maduro opponents. The scandal created a national crisis that still continues.
Finally, in North America, there’s the 1988 presidential election in Mexico, won by Carlos Salinas de Gortari, the candidate of the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). His victory drew claims of election fraud, accompanied by street protests, from main opponent Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas of the National Democratic Front, which itself faced no such charges. But what made this race noteworthy is that six years later, Salinas’s predecessor and fellow PRI stalwart, Miguel de la Madrid, actually admitted in his autobiography that the election had been rigged! PRI officials and then Salinas, de la Madrid wrote, announced Salinas’s victory despite not having the supporting election data. This is not dissimilar to what Trump did on Election Night 2020.
Trump and his supporters nevertheless apparently believe he was done in as an incumbent by widespread voter fraud at the hands of his out-of-power opponent, and that it is normal for those in office to make such claims. Besides being sort of a weak look for Trump, world history doesn’t offer a lot of credible support.