Simple question, but it's been bugging me for quite some time.

If we know for a fact that Russians interfered with the 2016 US presidential election, why can we proceed with inaugurating Trump, without fully knowing the extent to which the hacks influenced the election results?

  • 41
    Define "hacked".
    – tar
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 16:49
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Philipp
    Commented Jan 20, 2017 at 9:46
  • @tar Having no free will; Like you being hacked while creating your account here.
    – m4n0
    Commented Jan 22, 2017 at 17:46
  • 2
    To clarify things, only the DNC leak is suspected to be a hack. There is no major entity suggesting the results were electronically manipulated and the Podesta e-mails is suspected to have been Social Engineering (something distinctly different from a hack).
    – Lan
    Commented Jan 23, 2017 at 15:03
  • @Lan Technically correct, but for better or for worse any unauthorized access to computer systems is described as a "hack" these days. It's probably better to roll with it than try to re-educate millions (if not billions) of people on the "proper usage" of a word (in the end, the "proper usage" is how it's used by the speakers).
    – user11249
    Commented Jan 23, 2017 at 15:23

5 Answers 5


Russian Hacks

Technically, the US intelligence didn't claim that the Russians hacked the election itself. What they claimed was that the Russians ran a campaign to "undermine public faith in the US democratic process".

They didn't hack into the voting machines to change the vote tallies and votes are still cast by Americans. Thus, the results are still true and legally valid.


Terms of President

Constitutionally, it is set for the winner of the presidential election to take office on January 20 of the year after the presidential election.

It also specifically mentions that the incumbent President's term will end at noon on 20 January.

The Twentieth Amendment to the United States Constitution states:

Section 1. The terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January, and the terms of Senators and Representatives at noon on the 3d day of January, of the years in which such terms would have ended if this article had not been ratified; and the terms of their successors shall then begin.

(emphasis mine)

Electoral College certification

So, regardless of what happens, the election is certified after votes by the electoral college are counted.

The Twelfth Amendment to the United States Constitution states:

The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted.

The person having the greatest number of [electoral] votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed

(emphasis mine)


Since Presidents-elect can't be impeached before the inauguration, the inauguration will go on regardless of any other factors such as the claims that the election is hacked.

There is really no other options available. This is also considered a peaceful transition of power.

  • 3
    Right, I get the certification thing because of the constitution, but what bothers me is that there was no precedent for this when the constitution was written--surely the founding fathers couldn't have conceived of foreign powers being capable of interfering with our elections.
    – anon
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 12:18
  • 56
    Of course they did. Foreign powers have been spying, killing, plotting, deceiving since ... there were governments. This is one of the reasons one needs to be American born to become president - in order to reduce split loyalties as well as the appearance of split loyalties.
    – Mayo
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 14:42
  • 3
    The constitution does not provide for the impeachment of the president elect. He would have to assume office before being subject to impeachment.
    – phoog
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 19:01
  • 4
    Multiple comments deleted. Comments are meant to give constructive feedback to the answer author. Please don't start lengthy discussion about voting machine security, constitutional amendments or corruption in the democratic party.
    – Philipp
    Commented Jan 20, 2017 at 9:52
  • 4
    @James I've read the report you linked as well as JAR-16-20296 from the FBI and DHS. They both corroborate, not contradict, what you quoted from Panda's answer. A direct quote from the document you cite: "DHS assesses that the types of systems Russian actors targeted or compromised were not involved in vote tallying." (emphasis in original) If you have evidence to the contrary, please write your own answer and present it. Same for if you have a Constitutional way to delay the inauguration. The comments are not meant for answering the question.
    – reirab
    Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 19:53

What would we do instead? Keep Barack Obama?

There is zero provision in the United States for delaying the inauguration. In fact, it's not even clear that the inauguration is legally necessary. At noon on January 20th, 2017, Obama is out and a new president replaces him. There's a ceremony, but the constitution does not include any mention of it. The actual wording indicates that the new president takes office at noon, period. There is also some provision for what to do if the president-elect can't take office, but none of that delays the transfer of power.

It would have been possible (too late now) for people to have challenged the votes. This could have been done prior to the electoral college vote in December (and in fact there were recounts requested and at least one completed). Also, Congress could have refused to certify the votes when they counted them. Some people actually did attempt to refuse certification, but there wasn't any significant support for it.

It's also worth noting that Republicans had the votes to control the backup plan. If for some reason, no candidate received a legitimate majority of the electoral college votes, the vote would have gone to the House. The Republicans control more than the necessary twenty-six state delegations in the House. And the next step after that is the Senate, where Republicans control fifty-two of a hundred seats.

There are other questions about how this could have gone differently, but it didn't. And Republicans would have won regardless.

If we know for a fact that Russians interfered with the election, why can we proceed with inaugurating Trump without fully knowing the extent to which the hacks influenced the election results?

I find this question a bit confusing. Are you claiming that the Russian hacks influenced the election in and of themselves? We most definitely do not know that. The claim is that leaking the results of the hacks caused the election to shift from Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump. That remains contested.

What is generally accepted is that the hacks came from the Russians. Although the evidence for that is classified and not subject to public analysis. Also, additional classified, not public, information is said to prove that the Russians leaked the information to Wikileaks.

There remains zero evidence that the leaks of the hacked information impacted the election. Other than a few anecdotal stories, there is no proof that anyone chose to vote for Donald Trump and/or not vote for Hillary Clinton based on the leaked information. Even if there was evidence of that, it's not clear that that could invalidate election results. It is unquestioned that the relevant votes were cast by American citizens in accordance with their wishes at that time.

There is not now and never has been any proof that the Russians changed any vote totals. In fact, there is rather substantial proof that they did not. For example, the recount in Michigan did not indicate any signs of invalid votes cast nor significant differences between the local vote counts and the announced vote counts. Beyond that, it's not clear that they could impact vote totals via hacking. Election machines are not on the internet for exactly that reason. You don't hack them remotely but by gaining physical access and programming each individually.

Personally, I find the "Russians interfered with the election" construction misleading. What they are claiming is that the Russians made information available that was not public knowledge. They have no way of knowing what impact that had. However, even if it had no impact, they can still claim interference (however ineffectual). This lends itself well to political grandstanding but not to actual legal action to invalidate votes.

  • 11
    The inauguration is definitively unnecessary. This came up when there were questions about whether Obama said his oath properly. He became present at noon of that day regardless of when he took the oath. Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 15:29
  • 8
    This is mostly true, but you go too far to say “we have no way of knowing” how Russia’s selective release of confidential information affected the election. It’s not a clear-cut thing, but it’s equally untrue to say we know nothing. There is a lot of data from polling done leading up to and after the election. Following those trends and doing statistical analysis can lead to statistically-significant confidence that a given event affected the polls in a given way. Far from a surety, but also far from the zero knowledge you imply is possible.
    – KRyan
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 15:54
  • 3
    This is an excellent answer, but could you emphacise the most salient points (style, or TL;DR section)? They get lost in the total length.
    – user4012
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 16:48
  • 3
    @TimPederick thanks, I overlooked the latter clause, or maybe I connected it to the congressional terms and not the president and vice president (but it clearly does apply to them). But my point stands: if the president's term has begun (and even if he is considered to be the president in some sense), he is not empowered to act as president before taking the oath. That at least appears to be the plain meaning of the constitution's language.
    – phoog
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 19:52
  • 5
    There actually are a number of voting machines in use that connect to the internet. There are also some that operate on a local wireless network, allowing attacks that require being near the machines without needing to actually have direct physical access to them. In general, you should not assume any sort of industry-standard security practices to be present in voting machines used in the United States. Commented Jan 20, 2017 at 21:47

A foreign nation tried to influence the US voters. Big surprise, and so what! A foreign nation releasing information (true or not) to US voters is no reason to to scrap the constitution.

Absent something like a candidate arranging to assassinate one or more rivals, bribe the electors, or committing fraud with the vote count (and no, some random crazy that voted 5 times doesn't count) – a.k.a. election fraud – there's nothing to be done once the electoral vote is finished and certified.

Even if a candidate had committed ALL of the above beyond any shadow of a doubt, at this point the thing to do would be for congress to start impeachment hearings after noon on January 20th. There's no reason why they couldn't complete that by the end of the day.

If congress chooses to use it, it has the upper hand in the legislative/executive balance of power.

Edit in respone to a comment: I am not judging the claims, I am pointing out that they are irrelevant. Every citizen in the US could be 100% convinced that 100% of the people that voted for the President-Elect did so solely because of 100% false propaganda put out by the Russians, and it wouldn't matter. Once the electoral vote is complete and certified, there is nothing to do.

Nor should there be. Hindsight is 20/20, but buyer's remorse is for a box cereal, not the President of the United States.

If necessary, Congress can impeach him once he is in office. And will face the consequences of doing so or refusing to do so.


Just some facts.

The US interferes with other countries' elections all the time. Indeed, if Putin did interfere with this one, it had to do with Obama, and Hillary in particularly interfering with his. Whether Putin was elected honestly is another problem. But yes, we interfere all the time.

Second, the hackers did not invent the emails, they just released what was there. No one has disputed the contents of the emails as fake. Just like the Trump video tape, it is private information that is released against the will of the parties involved. But that is not election rigging.

All this said, our election system is pathetic considering we are in the 21th Century. It allows for minor fraud everywhere. But be wary of computerizing it more. Places like Russia, Cuba and Venezuela have state of the art voting system, with chip cards and everything. And guess what, cheating is really easy, just replace a few data records.

  • 3
    It would be useful to link to verified sources of where the US has interfered with elections in other sovereign states/countries. Particularly as you are stating it as fact.
    – BeaglesEnd
    Commented Jan 20, 2017 at 13:42
  • 4
    @BeaglesEnd: During the Obama administration it and entities related to it tried to influence both the Brexit vote and the re-election of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Links: ft.com/content/ba4fd8a4-089c-11e6-b6d3-746f8e9cdd33. washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/wp/2016/07/12/…
    – sixty4bit
    Commented Jan 20, 2017 at 17:40
  • 5
    @BeaglesEnd Here is an article of the LA times that reports on scholarly work counting 81 US interventions in Foreign Elections. latimes.com/nation/…
    – Joël
    Commented Jan 20, 2017 at 18:35
  • @BeaglesEnd Good enough? img.timeinc.net/time/magazine/archive/covers/1996/… Commented Nov 8, 2019 at 6:15
  • Whether or not the reference's are good enough is inconsequential; what is good is that anyone coming across the answer can verify the statements made in the answer. This is especially important when some states "Just some facts".
    – BeaglesEnd
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 10:17

Since this is a hypothetical question, rather than dispute the premise of the hypothesis, let's suppose for the sake of the question, the strongest and worst possible case. Suppose a foreign nation not only attempted to hack the election, to influence the outcome, but succeeded so well that the outcome was, for any neutral observer, demonstrably changed by that foreign nation -- so that the candidate that would have won seemed to lose, and the candidate who would have lost seemed to win. And that thereafter, the political mechanism of the nation was such that the resulting erroneous election proceeded somewhat automatically, inevitably, without interference, as though it were lawful and correct, so that the losing candidate eventually assumed and held office.

Supposing these worst cases, it would imply one, or several, of the following scenarios:

  1. The political mechanism of the nation's elections was so defective, eroded, or broken, that it was impossible for even incorruptible elections policing to correct or remedy. A Fail Safe for democracy.

  2. Those responsible for policing the nation's elections might be incompetent, oblivious, vain, and jealous. That is, they might be too incompetent to distinguish an erroneous election from a correct one, and oblivious of their own ignorance, vain that they believed themselves to be doing an exemplary job, and jealous so that if challenged they regarded the challenge mainly as a personal threat to their future livelihoods and civic respect.

  3. Those responsible for policing the nations's elections might be militantly biased in favor of the erroneously victorious party, and therefore would embrace the error, and make a coup of it.

  4. Those responsible for policing the nations's elections might be corruptible, and either might be:

    • rewarded by the erroneously victorious party, and therefore would embrace the error, and make a profit of it.
    • blackmailed or personally threatened by the erroneously victorious party, and therefore would embrace the error, and make a personal survival of it.

Note: DCShannon comments that the answer above currently lacks specific Russia-based illustrations. Other current answers address that better. This answer reflects more of a skepticism of the value of over-specificity. The origin of the hacks seems less important than the possibility of hacks. There could be a million possible origins: whether by a foreign nation, (Russia, et al), a domestic or international faction, a secret or quasi-secret society, or a lone wolf, but focusing on refuting one possible origin doesn't refute the various other possibilities, and distracts attention the greater problem implied by the hypothesis.

The systemic problem, (i.e. combining an erroneous outcome with the supposition of it being absolutely dependent on hacking), would be that such a feeble response of a national immune system to relatively trifling attacks implies a nation prone to infections. If the US election system suffers from a kind of computational Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, then it's likely the first instance noticed isn't the actual first instance, and probably not the last, more so if left undiagnosed.

  • I like your first paragraph. Doesn't hurt to examine the hypothetical even if it's not true in this instance. After that you completely lost me. This doesn't seem like an answer to the question at all.
    – DCShannon
    Commented Jan 20, 2017 at 22:31
  • @DCShannon, thanks. I see what you mean, and have added a note to the above answer regarding that.
    – agc
    Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 14:11
  • > the outcome was, for any neutral observer, demonstrably changed by that foreign nation. if we all agreed - tough luck in reality - that the outcome of the voting is unreliable, there is actually no legal means I know of that would void a 100% corrupt election - meaning to prevent the wrongly elected president to take power. the only remorse I think is an impeachment, though that's legally challenging as the impeachment would be solely based on things that the elected president did NOT do - hacking by a foreign power. it is actually quite an interesting scenario for some legal folks.
    – dannyf
    Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 17:47

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