June 11, 2020 | Reading Time: < 1 minute

What does “steal the election” mean?

The president can’t cancel the 2020 presidential election, but he can find ways to “steal” it, as Joe Biden said last night. The debacle in Georgia Tuesday is a case in point. The Washington press corps doesn’t seem to be taking the possibility seriously. I suppose it’s hard to take something seriously when it sounds…

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The president can’t cancel the 2020 presidential election, but he can find ways to “steal” it, as Joe Biden said last night. The debacle in Georgia Tuesday is a case in point. The Washington press corps doesn’t seem to be taking the possibility seriously. I suppose it’s hard to take something seriously when it sounds so impossible. In any event, if the press corps has a bias, it’s a bias toward the status quo.

Am I making too much of this? If not, why? Let me know your thoughts. —John Stoehr

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.


  1. Jim Prevatt on July 30, 2021 at 10:44 pm

    You probably aren’t making too much of it. I wouldn’t put any bad thing against the monster in chief. At the same time when push comes to shove (sic) I think the good military patriots will have him dragged kicking and screaming out of the White House after Biden is inaugurated in January 2021.

  2. Jeff Baker on July 30, 2021 at 10:44 pm

    No, you are not making too much of this. One of the biggest problems the media has had, and continues to have, with this administration is the failure to realize that much of government, particularly the executive branch, relies on officials following a set of norms and expectations which are not codified in any way. They are just traditions, and the administration realized early on that they could generally ignore these longtime norms at will and the media was not going to call them out on it. Why anyone would believe that they would follow the norms and expectations of presidential succession I really don’t know.

  3. David Gottlieb on July 30, 2021 at 10:44 pm

    No You are not. I think as we have seen, Trump will do anything to keep power and attention on himself and I cannot envision him going quietly if Biden wins. It would make for a huge mess if Trump just decided to say the election was “rigged” for whatever reason and decided not to leave the White House on January 20th. This will then put a lot of his supporters in Congress in a bind towards either backing him and being sore losers or backing the Constitution. Hopefully, the constitution wins out. Whatever happens in the months ahead though, it will make for a lot of drama and controversy and one could hope that the media covers it through a lens without the status quo as the backdrop unlike four years ago.

  4. Chris on July 30, 2021 at 10:44 pm

    The word steal implies, I think, a sort of one off “heist.” Similar to how Trump slowly & methodically wore Americans down towards accepting his brand of fascist rule -which the press was too slow in reacting to, too – beginning in Georgia and culminating in all across the country later, Republicans will have a multi-faceted, prolonged system in place that the press, again, will be too slow in reacting to. It’s up to US to stay “woke” and to pay attention to these voter suppression events and call these Republicans out!

  5. Burgs on July 30, 2021 at 10:44 pm

    I’m not sure that there’s anything Trump wouldn’t do in service of his own goals. So practically, I think we’re relying on his underlings to ignore any of his illegal commands out of self-preservation. The less likely the chances of him winning look, the harder it’s going to be for him to corrupt the people under him into cheating as his powet to protect him looks less assured.

    Trump’s authoritarian influence is clearly starting to crack. Whether the dam breaks fully remains to be seen.

  6. LDMark61 on July 30, 2021 at 10:44 pm

    I work on this issue, John, and have pushed for expansion of voting rights and access to the ballot in Kobach’s home state. I know this mess and you are not “making too much of it.” To contextualize just how serious and even probable the scenarios you imagine might be, one has to understand that the GOP efforts to suppress voter turnout, make more fraught/costly/onerous to cast a ballot, de-/under-fund election offices has been a multi-state, decades long endeavor. Trump is simply the pustule atop a mountain of acne that’s erupted under Republican hands. This cannot be separated from the societal eruption against systemic racism; indeed, it is part of the reason the country is convulsing. Were media to really being to DO the hard work of anti-racism learning, they collectively might be able to help the country understand just exactly where we have come to. Trump et.al. will ride the oozing infection to whatever end… but I think they misunderstand the virulence of the infection.

  7. Shazbot Vexed on July 30, 2021 at 10:44 pm

    I’m glad Joe Biden is not blind to the fact that Trump will stop at nothing to secure another four years in office. I am concerned, however, that Biden and his democratic allies are not being imaginative enough in considering the many ways Trump will illegitimately launch attacks on our free and fair elections. Biden seems to think Trump will try to delay the election, or simply refuse to leave if he loses (Chris Cilizza at CNN also seems unable to think outside the pedestrian box of Trump whining about losing and refusing to leave). I think Trump and his team have already telegraphed their primary line of attack. They saw how the Comey announcement of an investigation into Hillary in October 2016 destroyed her poll numbers. It’s why they tried to extort Ukraine to announce an investigation into Biden, resulting in Trump’s impeachment. And that’s why I think Trump intends to have Bill Barr either announce an investigation into Biden or, perhaps, even have him arrested. What would the media do in that case? They’d blast the allegations, no matter how fanciful, no matter how bogus. And the Republicans would pile on. Combined with continuing voter suppression efforts in key battleground states (Texas, Georgia, Wisconsin, North Carolina) and continuing blatant violations of campaign-finance laws (dark money funneled through PACs and SuperPACs, unchecked foreign interference), this will create the conditions by which Trump can win even if he is behind by five or more points heading down the final stretch. And it’s why the Democrats ought to be doing all in their power to expose Barr’s manifest corruption now, so as to be able to make the (true and correct) argument that Barr’s actions are corrupt and criminal. Without laying that groundwork now, the Democrats will be caught flat-footed in the fall when Barr unleashes Trump’s “October Surprise.”

    • Troy N Wadford on July 30, 2021 at 10:44 pm

      HAT TRICK 🎯🎯🎯

  8. RUArmyNavyMominTX on July 30, 2021 at 10:44 pm

    No you’re not. I lived in GA for six years, voted in every election, including primaries and NEVER had problems, but I lived in a predominately white, Republican-leaning area. Journalists need to document this reality; if you live in a suburban white area, you will NOT have trouble. Conversely, those who live in a lower-income, predominately minority area you will have trouble. These are established experiences and need to be highlighted immediately; alternately, allow UN voting rights observers in these areas. Too, John Roberts should be ashamed of himself and his legacy will be that he allowed voting suppression to exist because of his decision on the Voting Rights Act. Saving Obamacare the first time will be his footnote.

  9. Rhea Graham on July 30, 2021 at 10:44 pm

    I was in DC when the Supreme Court ruled in December 2000. I stayed up all night watching news coverage in my hotel room. It felt like a very deep inflection point.

    • John Stoehr on July 30, 2021 at 10:44 pm

      It was indeed.

  10. Bach on July 30, 2021 at 10:44 pm

    I think it’s hilarious, if it weren’t so serious an issue, watching democrats complaining about democrat election supervisors failing so miserably in their duties, and then blaming President Trump for their incompetence.

    • Shazbot Vexed on July 30, 2021 at 10:44 pm

      I don’t see Democrats blaming President Trump, per se, for voter suppression activities in elections, which are run by the states. They are, however, blaming Republicans in states where Republicans have been actively interfering with free and fair elections (and, w/r/t certain southern states, blaming Republican John Roberts for his judicial activism in being the decisive vote gutting the Voting Rights Act). The Secretary of State in Georgia, where minority votes were suppressed this week, is a Republican. Likewise, the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court, in party-line votes with Republican majorities, forced the in-person election to occur there during the height of the Covid-19 outbreak, endangering lives. In Texas, the Republican Supreme Court and Republican Attorney General have thwarted attempts to make absentee voting available to all Texans, not just those who are over the age of 65. In Florida, Republicans have sought to overturn the will of the voters who overwhelmingly passed a referendum restoring voting rights for ex-convicts. In that state, Republicans in the legislature and Governor DeSantis have tried to impose an unconstitutional poll tax to thwart the will of the people and suppress the vote. There are many other examples, but I’m guessing facts don’t really matter much to you.

      • Bach on July 30, 2021 at 10:44 pm

        I was with you all the way. I was going to research more to become better informed. Right up until, “…but I’m guessing facts don’t really matter much to you. ” Sadly, That closing comment tainted all of your arguments.

        • Shazbot Vexed on July 30, 2021 at 10:44 pm

          Sure, Jan.

  11. thunderspirit on July 30, 2021 at 10:44 pm

    No, I don’t think you are. I’ve been saying to anyone who’ll listen that the 2018 election made it clear to this administration* that they can’t afford to let people vote. Wisconsin and Georgia were the trial balloons for November planning.

  12. Thornton Prayer on July 30, 2021 at 10:44 pm

    No you are not. Trump has been broadcasting for years that he will do everything possible to stay in power. He knows he has massive legal and criminal exposure once he’s out of office, so he will abuse the power of the Presidency to protect himself.

  13. Bix F. on July 30, 2021 at 10:44 pm

    The press corps needs to consider Trump’s cease and desist to CNN over a poll as dress rehearsal for elections officials in November.

  14. John Philpin on July 30, 2021 at 10:44 pm

    The media should listen to and then act on the advice of Jay Rosen … who’s been imparting essentially the same advice since Trump tripped triumphantly down the travelator and has been travelling down ever since.

  15. Olivia Ramseur on July 30, 2021 at 10:44 pm

    I think there is a possibility that Trump could try to “steal” the election, but I think steal is the wrong word. I think he would use systems in place to his advantage in order to win, which is essentially what every politician from any party does (if you can even call Trump a politician). This is already shown through gerrymandering and voter suppression that we’ve had years and years before the Trump administration, but is also shown in his strong opposition to vote by mail, which he knows would increase voter turnout, especially amid the pandemic. It’s a good thing on the part of the democrats that they recognize that Trump will try to “steal” the election, but it’s possible they might be thinking on a big scale of cancelling the election or Russian intervention and forget about our own electoral problems here.

  16. hw on July 30, 2021 at 10:44 pm

    We already know the 2020 playbook, we have to create our own long-term plan to change the way elections are run. Our current Democratic leadership isn’t up to the task. Marc Elias has performed yeoman’s work as election law counsel, but it will take years of sustained effort and consistent turnout of Democrats to change the laws state-by-state. If even 1/3 of the protestors were to vote in November, there would be a tidal wave shift that would allow well-crafted legislation to avoid a challenge by even our biased SCOTUS. Turnout must be a priority going forward for Democrats for every local, city, and state election…it damn sure is for Republicans.

  17. Lily Crowell on July 30, 2021 at 10:44 pm

    I don’t think you are making “too much of this” at all because the president already stole the election in 2016! An election with international interference and domestic voter suppression is not a fair and democratic one. Further, Trump has more power now and more opportunity to “steal” the election as Joe Biden put it in terms of altering vote totals or hacking into state systems. The media should absolutely be making a bigger deal out of this possibility; this idea poses a threat to American democracy and everyone should know about it.

  18. Angela Duong on July 30, 2021 at 10:44 pm

    I think it was fitting for Biden to use the word ‘steal’ in this context because it accurately paints Trump as this malicious tyrant, willing to misuse the vast amount of power he has at his disposal. It would actually be unwise to be too specific here. Imagine if Biden said instead that Trump was going to collude with Russia again—which Trump has also formerly accused him of. It would turn into another blame game in the media, which would be extremely unproductive considering that the nation is scurrying to deal with both a race-war and COVID-19 simultaneously. By putting in into layman’s terms, however, Biden places the possibility of Trump’s deceit at everyone’s foresight, so they can be more conscious of any and all the tactics–voter suppression included–that he may deploy in order to taint our democracy. Hopefully then, albeit unlikely, more people will hold him at an even higher standard of conduct this time around.

  19. Meg Alberding on July 30, 2021 at 10:44 pm

    I don’t think you are making too much of it, and I think the media should cover this more. If they were to cover this in a factual way, it could help communities recognize the importance of voting, especially in this election, and then come up with ways to make it more accessible for everyone (transportation to the polls, flex days for work, etc). By not covering it, we are setting ourselves up for something similar to 2016, where the election was riddled with corruption and poor voter turnout. Trump’s discontent with mail in voting will also add to the potential problems in November, so it will be important for his remarks to be fact checked leading up to the election.

  20. Michael F on July 30, 2021 at 10:44 pm

    I don’t think you’re making too much of this at all. Fixing elections via gerrymandering and voter suppression efforts are popular tools of the republican party. During the early weeks of Covid in America, Wisconsin was forced to go through with their primaries while other states postponed. I say forced because the republican lead state supreme court overruled the democratic governor’s executive order to postpone elections. For many rural counties, voting took place relatively business as usual. However, Milwaukee, a city of nearly 600,000 only had five open polling places when they would typically have over 100. This was the suppression of Wisconsin’s minority voice and liberal voice.
    Furthermore, the NYT reported in May that “The Brennan Center for Justice estimates the pandemic-associated costs of properly running the 2020 elections (including the primaries as well as the general) at $4 billion. So far, Congress has promised $400 million, with Democrats pushing for more and Republicans blocking their bills” (Emily Bazelon). If states want to be ready for whatever style of voting is going to take place in November, they need to start working on it now.

  21. Mo'ath on July 30, 2021 at 10:44 pm

    You are right! We all should worry about this, but I do not think “stealing” elections is a Trump phenomenon as there have been many instances in the past of gerrymandering, voter suppression and the biggest of all is denying felons- in some states- and incarcerated citizens the right to vote. I think that this election cycle is the most heated and polarized and any chance of voter suppression or “stealing” will have serious consequences on the credibility of the democratic system which will take years to repair. The fact that “stealing” the election has become a topic of discussion is indicative of a growing distrust among voters which is going to further polarize the country after the election.

    • Indigo Pellegrini de Paur on July 30, 2021 at 10:44 pm

      Mo’ath, I like your response because it puts the concept of “stealing” the election into context. As you point out, this “stealing” is gerrymandering, voter suppression, and denying some felons and incarcerated citizens the right to vote. Though Trump might be the most transparent politician about how he benefits from voter suppression, he is definitely not the first politician to be a beneficiary of this corrupt system.

      John, I am interested in your assertion that the press-corps leans towards the status quo. What IS the status quo? I hope we can talk about this more in class!

  22. Greg Walker on July 30, 2021 at 10:44 pm

    If the job of the press is to report unbiased news and are not serious about their job then they should look for another profession. The american people need to get SERIOUS about THINKING REASONABLY. Being serious is just a selfish emotion. Try awareness of reality.

  23. Ben Dachman on July 30, 2021 at 10:44 pm

    I find your insight here very compelling. Just the other day, Michelle Goldberg wrote an incisive piece in the New York Times detailing how corporate, Washington-DC insider media pretend as if the GOP and Democrats are all good faith actors on a leveled playing field. To this end, Michelle Goldberg viciously condemned an outlet like Politico for seriously posing the suggestion that Trump was conflicted between serving the white-identity inclinations pervasive throughout his base and governing effectively an increasingly multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-generational society. Just as Trump only serves the most grotesque impulses of his base, the same is absolutely true of his GOP counterparts in their discussion of voter suppression and mail-in balloting regarding this year’s electoral contest. The GOP keeps making asinine and completely unsubstantiated claims that mail-in balloting is rife with voter fraud and therefore shouldn’t be implemented on a nation wide level. And then, many “delusional” folks in the mainstream press might admit that although GOP concerns are unmerited according to the data, they are at least well-intentioned in attempting to maintain the integrity of our elections. NEWSFLASH: the GOP doesn’t give a you know what about the ‘sanctity of the ballot box.’ They repeatedly attempt to restrict minority access to polling booths virtually every single election cycle in order to bolster their own electoral prospects. It’s time we call it out; and good on Biden for having the nerve to say the obvious—Trump doesn’t acknowledge a constitutionally-devised system of institutional checks and balances designed to mitigate his power. He is a wannabe autocrat with zero respect for the rule of law.

  24. Marina on July 30, 2021 at 10:44 pm

    I think your assumption can be correct given the example of the Georgia Debacle. The press corps should take head within regards of the 2020 election due to the fact that the Georgia Debacle could very well be on a national level. Underestimating the effect of this instance can truly undermine our democracy.

  25. BSB on July 30, 2021 at 10:44 pm

    I think you are absolutely correct. I fear we are in the midst of a 21st century Civil War. I just saw an ad on an RV site that I follow for FREE tee shirts that read “I stand for the flag and kneel for the cross”. These are gun doting voters led by a man who doesn’t even know how to hold a bible let alone read it or read our Constitution. So yes John, I fear the election can be stolen.

    • BSB on July 30, 2021 at 10:44 pm

      And BTW… we here are preaching to the choir. My only hope is that the BLM protests are reaching way beyond!

  26. Sebastian Kulkarni on July 30, 2021 at 10:44 pm

    I think you are correct in stating that the President can “steal” the Presidential election. However I also believe that Biden is digging into Trump slightly by saying this given his poor leadership in office thus far. The bias in the election is clearly towards Biden as demonstrated by CNN and the New York Times on multiple occasions.

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