Per title. This criticism is the one levelled by Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei - that the incumbent president ought to be able to stop electoral fraud if it's there. Off the top of my head, every time I've seen electoral fraud alleged it has been the opposition alleging fraud.

Trump has alleged there will be widespread fraud since before the 2020 election. Has Trump ever explained why he was unable stop it?

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    Comments are there to request clarifications or to suggest improvements, please avoid extended discussions.
    – yannis
    Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 21:20
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    Please also avoid comments which attempt to answer the question. If you would like to answer, please write a real answer.
    – Philipp
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 14:40

7 Answers 7


I think the obvious answer to this question is that Trump doesn't want the issue of voter fraud to have a solution; he wants the issue to be a problem. If there were any evidence that widespread, significant voter fraud existed, then it would make sense to ask why Trump took no steps to stop it. One would expect a president to address a national crisis of that sort. But there is no evidence of large-scale voter fraud in the US — no legal evidence, no statistical evidence, nothing tangible at all — so asking this question is at best pointless. It’s on the same level as a UFOlogist asking why Trump (as incumbent) hasn’t taken steps to ward off an invasion by space aliens. And if we can’t answer the question without stepping into the fantasy world the question invokes, what we are left with is the suggestion that Trump has a different agenda in mind: he is not raising a real problem that needs to be solved; he's raising a fake problem for some other purpose entirely.

I suppose we'll always have the question of whether Trump actually believes the world he's invoking — there are plenty of UFOlogists, flat-earthers, climate change deniers, QAnon supporters, etc, all of whom have swallowed a fantasy hook, line, and sinker — but that's mostly irrelevant. I prefer to think Trump is making a manipulative lie, not suffering a persistent delusion, out of respect to the man and the office. But I cannot abandon reality in order to give him the benefit of the doubt.

The issue of voter fraud has been raised almost exclusively by Trump and his allies in the farther reaches of the Right. It is intrinsically linked to the 'Deep State' conspiracy theory, and within that conspiratorial model it cannot possibly be resolved by conventional political or legal means. Since the problem cannot be solved within that worldview, the only credible reason it would be raised would be to delegitimize the election process as intrinsically flawed, providing:

  • an argument that Trump should remain in office whether or not he wins the popular vote or Electoral College, and/or...
  • an opportunity save face by claiming he didn’t lose fair and square, but was cheated. see this Washington Post article (paywall)

It's best to see this maneuver as sleight-of-hand, invoking a shadowy opponent which has corrupted the electoral system through mysterious, unspecified means — all without evidence — so that Trump can say he has to fight back to protect his rights. It provides a thin veneer of justification under which Trump and his supporters can dispute or contest even the clearest election loss.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation about what Trump's political strategy might be has been moved to chat.
    – Philipp
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 11:54
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    "No statistical evidence." I think this one needs some nuance. Given that we're dealing with re-election of Donald Trump during a pandemic, there are A LOT of statistical anomalies in this election. There is statistical evidence that weird things are happening, which the conspiracy theorists are seizing on to argue their point.
    – LShaver
    Commented Nov 10, 2020 at 3:16

The question isn't about what Trump can do to stop it. David covers that well, though a lot of things we thought Trump couldn't do he is doing. It is about Trump's own explanation about why he can't. Trump claimed "I have an Article 2, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president". The Attorney General, well after the election, has issued a memo authorizing the Department of Justice to investigate voter fraud. He has pursued other expansions of executive authority and has pushed the bounds of Federalism. Why not for this issue?

I'll address Trump's own inconsistencies between his claimed problem, his claimed rules, and his actions. Because he did try to do something about it, or at least find his alleged fraud, back in 2017. We've been here before.

In May 2017, Trump established the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity to back up his claim that he "won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally". The commission was led by Vice President Pence and voter fraud enthusiast Kris Kobach; another politician who has long made claims of fraud, is in a position to find them, but never seems to.

This was searching for the more traditional claims of voter impersonation, fraudulent registration, and double voting. These had already been extensively investigated and found to be vanishingly small. Most are clerical errors or honest mistakes.

The commission quickly gained national attention by making broad requests for voter information from every state including names, addresses, party affiliations, birth dates, felony convictions, voting histories, the last four digits of voters' Social Security numbers. For many states handing out this information was illegal. Other states provided what voter information was already public. Others refused to comply, pointing at no evidence for voter fraud, fears this information could be used for voter suppression, and questions about the integrity, security, and transparency of the election commission.

Despite making many claims, and after numerous lawsuits, the panel disbanded in January 2018 without presenting any findings or evidence of widespread voter fraud. After that the investigation was transferred to the Department of Homeland Security. DHS declared Kobach was not working with them and destroyed the voter data gathered by the commission; they already had access to it. As far as I know, DHS has issued no findings of widespread voter fraud.

Rather than concluding there was no widespread voter fraud, the Trump administration continued to make the claim. They blamed the commission's lack of findings on the refusal of states to cooperate, and the numerous lawsuits.

As with Trump's new claims of vote-by-mail fraud, this commission had made their conclusions and was searching for evidence. But the search simply highlighted what was already known: voter fraud is vanishingly rare in the US. As such it was embarrassing, counter-productive to the utility of the claim, and shut it down.

Why claim voter fraud and then not do anything about it? Why repeatedly claim it exists and is widespread enough to change Federal elections when decades of investigation has revealed only a handful of actual instances? Because the claim alone is useful for voter suppression or for de-legitimizing an election you think you might lose.

Kris Kobach, the man Trump entrusted with his Election Integrity Commission, provides an example. Kobach has a long history of making unsubstantiated claims about widespread voter fraud. He's used those claims to push for strict voter registration and ID laws known to suppress turnout. As Kansas Secretary of State, he wielded the power to hunt out and prosecute voter fraud. Kobach only filed nine cases and obtained just six convictions; all six were older citizens who were unaware they had committed a crime.

In Fish v. Kobach, Kobach was required to show evidence of voter fraud used to justify the proof-of-citizenship requirements of the Kansas Secure and Fair Elections Act. He was unable to do so. It was found Kobach had made substantial obstacles to voter registration in violation of the National Voter Registration Act and the 14th Amendment.

Kobach's supposed attempts to combat non-existent voter fraud were themselves found to be voter suppression.

Trump will not explain why he is unable to stop it because he doesn't need to. He merely needs to keep repeating the claims and get others to amplify them. Claims of widespread voter fraud themselves are useful, or Trump believes they are, to influence voters and policy. When put under investigation, such as by a commission or in a court, the claims rapidly fall apart.

Trump will, however, make excuses for why he is unable to find or stop it. These are useful to provide plausible arguments to keep the claims alive despite a continuing lack of evidence. Most recently unfounded claims of fraud have been used in court to try and halt or influence the counting of ballots after election day, but once again when pressed in a court-of-law they could provide no evidence. Despite this, Trump continued to make claims of widespread voter fraud stating on Nov 5th, 2020: "If you count the legal votes, I easily win, if you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us."

UPDATE (Nov 10th): Trump's Attorney General has issued a memo authorizing federal prosecutors to pursue any "substantial allegations of voting and vote tabulation irregularities.". He certainly thinks there's something the Federal government can and could have done.

The memo came after days of the Trump administration failing to provide evidence for their claims, and Biden's lead has solidified. This adds evidence that the Trump administration is using claims of election fraud as a tool to remain in power and investigating the claims is a last resort.

Richard Pilger resigned as head of the Justice Department's election crimes branch in protest because the memo defies long standing DoJ policy of extreme caution in public investigation of an ongoing election. Such an investigation risks legitimizing the claims. There is no evidence justifying taking that risk.


Has Trump ever explained why he, as incumbent President, is unable to stop the alleged electoral fraud?

As what is essentially an unfunded mandate, The US Constitution relegates control over voting in federal elections to the individual states. The federal government has little control over elections covered by states. There are federal level laws and court cases that have found some activities conducted at the state level to be illegal or unconstitutional. but for the most part laws and procedure regarding voting are set at the state level. Due to the federalist nature of the US Constitution, the federal government has little, if any, control over how states conduct their elections.

This is why different states have rather different rules regarding absentee (aka mail-in) ballots. It is these absentee ballots that Trump is claiming are wrought with fraud. There is absolutely no sign of any massive election fraud (voting more than once, voting for someone else, election volunteers inventing ballots, ...) in this election. Mr. Trump is not happy that he was not declared the victor on election night.

The problem is with absentee ballots. Two issues have arisen:

  • Can they be processed as they arrive, or does this have to wait until after polls have closed?
    Some states do not allow absentee ballots to be processed or counted until after polls close. Those states will naturally be late to report given the massive amounts of absentee ballots cast this year. There is a valid concern for releasing initial results from absentee voting: Doing so may have an effect on whether people vote later.
  • Do those absentee ballots need to arrive before polls closed, or can they arrive later?
    Some states deem absentee ballots that are postmarked on or before Election Day be valid so long as they are delivered within some reasonable amount of time after Election Day. Other states require that absentee ballots must be delivered to the state before polls close on Election Day.

Neither of these (only counting absentee ballots after polls close when state laws demand this, or counting late-arriving snail mail ballots postmarked on or before Election Day when state law allows this) constitutes election fraud.

Note well: I am not claiming that voting fraud does not exist at all. For example, people have occasionally been found to have voted twice in one election. This is small scale crime rather than massive voter fraud and does not turn elections.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JJJ
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 3:49
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    The first paragraph of this answer argues that the federal government has little control over how states conduct elections. This might have been true at the time of en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giles_v._Harris (1903), but since then the en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voting_Rights_Act_of_1965 famously regulates elections. More relevant to Trump's claims, the en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Voter_Registration_Act_of_1993 in effect forbids states from requiring documentary proof of citizenship to vote. Regardless of the value of these laws, they seem to be federal regulation of elections.
    – A. Rex
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 11:48
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    @A.Rex And at least part of the Voting Rights Act was stricken down by the Supreme Court exactly because it violated the Constitutional grant of power to oversee elections to the individual states.
    – reirab
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 17:30
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    It's unfortunate that this answer wasn't accepted, as this is the one that correctly answers the question that was asked. Regardless of how one may feel about Trump's motivations in his claims of voting fraud, the fact remains that the President has little-to-no direct authority over county election authorities.
    – reirab
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 17:38
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    @reirab It's a very good answer. The question is about Trump's explanation. If Trump said he can't because of separation of powers, that would be the answer. He hasn't. Far from it. His speeches, actions, and litigation have shown very little regard for separation of powers. Instead he thinks "I have an Article 2, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president." The question is about Trump's inconsistencies between his made-up problem his made-up rules.
    – Schwern
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 19:10

Trump presents himself as a "winner" and his ego rests upon that. He also sees everything as a zero-sum-game; in any endeavor, there is only one winner and everyone else loses. Proactively alleging fraud gives him an "out" in the face of a result which is not in his favor. He can use the allegation as grounds for lawsuits which he can press for as long as his resources hold out, perhaps wearing down the opposition, perhaps eking out some small wins here or there. Alternatively, he can walk away claiming he never actually lost because the system is rigged against him. Any mention of an inability to stop the alleged fraud would amount to an admission of failure, something else his ego prohibits.


Trump cannot legally stop voter fraud by himself within the existing legal system because he works at a different level of government than where that problem is. All he can do is ask people below him to work at their level to do their jobs better, and maybe get really frustrated in the process. Before I go on about government, let me try to describe this in a completely different example:

Pretend the owner of a chain of fast food restaurants wakes up grumpy one morning, goes through the drive through and has a bad experience. He then orders the young woman at the window to re-make all of his food. Why can't he do that? After all, he owns the restaurant, and in fact the whole chain. Also, he's a customer that day. He cannot order her to do that or anything else because she does not work for him! She works for her manager who works for that person's manager who works for the regional chain, and they then work for the owner. The owner can order the chain to do something, and the chain can order the region to do something and so on back down, and it will not be a fun day for anyone, BUT, the poor young woman at the window is going to be protected by her manager who knows she should not and cannot take commands from people she doesn't know who pull up at the window because that is not her job. Her job is just to serve the food and take the money. Therefore, the owner has no authority to command her to do anything even though he owns the whole place.

This is the problem Trump has with the elections. As others have stated above, Trump's powers are in the Federal government, not directly in the states. You may have noticed that whenever he wants to get a state to do something he tries to convince that state's governor to do it or he tries to influence federal funds which the state receives for something in order to convince the state to make the choice he prefers. That is because the federal government does not have direct control over things such as the election process. In fact, while each state government makes the laws that control how the process proceeds in that state, the actual election process is controlled at the County level where there is an office dedicated to Elections for that county. For example, for Minnesota, https://www.sos.state.mn.us/elections-voting/find-county-election-office/ will provide access to the appropriate official for each county's election department. And Florida's Governor was quoted on Fox News saying that his method of cleaning up from the 2016 election problems was to get certain County Election Officials replaced - which you will notice was a state and local task, nothing that a federal official has any control over, because it does not concern federal property such as a federal courthouse, or violations of federal laws - as far as I am aware - which are the sorts of things which could permit the involvement of federal workers.

The other way the federal government can get involved you have probably already heard mentioned is if a legal case is heard at the highest level in a State Court and is the appealed to a higher court, which, the next court up is federal.

So, as you can see, just being president does not give Trump unlimited powers.

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    I'm upvoting this answer on the strength of the first few paragraphs. The last two paragraphs are irrelevant, though.
    – Allure
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 3:14
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    This is mostly the same answer as the previously deleted one. Again, you reason that anyone with access can add ballots, but you ignore the fact that election observers should prevent that from happening. As that's part of a misinformation campaign, I'll remove that section from your answer, but leave the remaining part to the community.
    – JJJ
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 3:19
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    "She works for her manager who works for that person's manager who works for the regional chain" This isn't actually true for most fast food restaurants. She works for the manager, who works for the franchisee who runs the fast food business and rents the building from the fast food chain. Most fast food chains are actually real estate businesses. This is arguably a better analogy for the relationship between the federal and state governments than you intended it to be.
    – nick012000
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 4:08
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    He also has no power over the US Postal service and not a lot power over the public service. A lot is controlled by congress. The President does not have the power to set up watchdogs- that is congress. Federal voting is controlled by the state government Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 6:55
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    @Meemaw we're not here to correct misinformation and it is within our purview as moderators to remove misinformation. If you want to discuss that viewpoint, please start a discussion on our meta. If you have a new Politics question (as to whether observers were allowed access) then please ask that as a new question on the main site.
    – JJJ
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 21:42

Whether Trump has said it or not, the fundamental issue is simple. Trump leads the executive branch of the federal government, which has no direct role in conducting federal elections and counting the votes cast in those elections.

Under the U.S. Constitution, as applied today, federal elections are administered by the executive branch of state governments (or the independent and locally elected District of Columbia government in D.C.), subject to federal and state legislation enacted before the election is held, subject to limited state and federal judicial branch supervision, and subject to a final count of electoral votes transmitted to it, conducted by the federal legislative branch.

Trump does not have any role in any part of the state and local governments that conduct the election and does not preside over the federal judiciary or the federal legislative branch (except for the single U.S. Senate vote of the Vice President in cases of ties in Senate voting and the ability veto of legislation enacted before the election is conducted and administer the administration of the decennial census which doesn't effect his own election).

Trump can and has gotten involved in the process as a litigant in state and/or federal court actions supervising state and local election administration activities, but his power there is no different from that of any other litigant.

Trump could and is trying to engage to U.S. Justice Department to investigate allegations of election fraud and litigate them in the federal courts, over the agency's objection because it sees no good faith basis for doing so, but that again, isn't control over the process. The lapse and court invalidation of parts of the Voting Rights Act has further reduced the role of the U.S. Justice Department in administering federal elections.


President is not a dictator, he can not just order people how to organize and oversee elections.

Regarding specific issues here is one mentioned by not Trump himself, but a Republican congressman that tried to make it illegal to backdate the ballots. As Congressman Thomas Massie wrote on Facebook:

Today another whistleblower came forth with allegations that postmarks on ballots are being backdated at the post office. [...] On September 16th, not only did I predict this would happen, I offered legislation to prevent it, and forced a vote on that legislation. The Democrats said they were passing the underlying bill to ensure election integrity at the Post Office, so I offered the text below as an amendment to that legislation. When I forced a vote on this, every Republican voted for it, and every Democrat voted against it.

Obviously this is not a proof that fraud did happen, but it shows that Trump or for that matter Republicans as a party(even when they all agree on something) can not magically control election process.


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