How To Steal An Election (And Get Away With It)

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Photo by Obi - @pixel6propix on UnsplashAllow me to disclaim the following up front: I do not condone the stealing of elections. I believe every voter should be given a fair opportunity to vote and that every vote should count. I also don’t condone shoplifting.

Now, back to reality.

First you must recognize that national politics is no longer about doing good. It’s simply a business.

There’s no other way to describe it. When that much money is involved, and people have figured out a way to profit from all that money, well, that’s the very definition of a business.

There’s a word for those who seek to do good through running for public office. We call them “losers.”

It’s very rare for someone with no pecuniary interest in the office to win. Those with purely altruistic intentions most often see their ideals conflicting with the business demands of marketing a successful campaign.

And that’s what a political campaign is: marketing.

Don’t take my word for it. Listen to what the Simon School professors told me. You see, the capstone project for anyone seeking to earn an MBA was to create a virtual business and design a strategy to increase revenues and maximize profits.

Now, mind you, this was back when a “virtual business” meant a purely fictitious enterprise. There was no internet back then. Today, a virtual business means one operating within the virtual world of the internet.

Said another way, our capstone project was to imagine a theoretical business on paper, then build a profitable business plan for it. This is the essence of entrepreneurism. This was the spirit of the 80s, which apparently hadn’t yet withered away in 1991 when I was awarded my MBA degree.

Here’s the nut. I didn’t want to waste my time creating a theoretically profitable business. By the time my capstone project was to start in my final term, I had already created profitable businesses in real life.

No, I wanted a challenge. I wanted to take those business and marketing skills (my concentration was Finance and Marketing) and do something more creative, something truly outside the box, something I had never done before.

I recalled something I learned as an undergraduate student more than a decade earlier. The political science professor teaching the class I took lamented over the demise of political parties. He surmised the cause was the rise of the political entrepreneur – candidates who ran and won not on the basis of their political experience, but because they were well known in some other arena.

These celebrity candidates spawned from Hollywood, professional sports, and even NASA. This professor did not consider them worthy of serving high public office (like in the House of Representatives, the Senate, and especially the White House).

Perhaps he had forgotten that our Founding Fathers were not professional politicians. Nor did they expect their successors to make politics a career. Indeed, George Washington – The Father of Our Country – famously proclaimed his disdain for political parties in his Farewell Address:

“…designing men may endeavour to excite a belief that there is a real difference of local interests and views. One of the expedients of party to acquire influence, within particular districts, is to misrepresent the opinions & aims of other Districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heart burnings which spring from these misrepresentations. They tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection. The Inhabitants of our Western country have lately had a useful lesson on this head.”

I need not remind you that George Washington was a farmer and a soldier, not a professional politician.

In many ways, however, he was the ultimate entrepreneur – the self-made man.

With this in mind, I proposed to my professors, rather than designing a theoretical business engineered to maximize theoretical revenues, I offered to design a theoretical political campaign engineered to maximize theoretical votes. When they heard this, there was an audible pregnant pause in the room.

At first, I thought they were going to throw me out. No one had ever proposed such a radical idea. But, despite being one of the top business schools in the nation, it was still a graduate school. Such venues tend to embrace radical ideas. And mine was no exception.

“Chris,” they said, “this is a great project. It is the ultimate sales and marketing project. The candidate is the product. The voters are the customers. The election winner is the one who not only makes the best selling points, but delivers them in the most efficient and effective way. We’re excited to see what you come up with.”

What I came up with not only earned an “A” and stamped the official seal on my degree, it also became the blueprint for two successful political campaigns over the next six months.

So, if you see politics as a business, you’re more likely to win.

Before I go any further, I should disclose that this real business of politics didn’t describe the position I won – Mendon Town Board. There’s not a lot of money involved at the local level. When you get to the state and Federal level, however, well, you can read the headlines as much as I can.

Those races exhibit the same cutthroat nature you find in the most competitive businesses. Indeed, go back and reread what George Washington said. Does that sound like he’s describing what’s happening today?

When you’re playing to win, you do everything possible to leave the battlefield victorious. You use every sales and marketing trick in the book.

Which is where we get to how to “steal” an election. I put the word “steal” in quotes because the first thing you do is engineer the election rules to your advantage. If, for example, you aren’t as good as your opponent at bringing your voters out on Election Day, you change the rules to extend Election Day to a week or even a month. That takes away your opponent’s advantage.

It also gives you an opportunity to steal more votes. Here’s how.

Let’s say, on any particular day, you can successfully sneak in 100 more votes without anyone noticing. If you’re limited to just one day (Election Day), you only end up with 100 votes. But if you can get voting extended a week, that’s 700 more votes, and if a month, that’s 3,000 more votes.

You see how that works? It’s like shoplifting. You’ll never get out the door if you steal a big item all at once. You can, however, steal the same value of goods if you sneak out just a little each day. The only difference between shoplifting and stealing an election is that in the former you’re illicitly taking out and in the latter you’re illicitly adding in.

Another rule you’d want to change is how the votes are counted. If your allies control the voting process, you’d want the votes counted in one centralized location. It’s a lot easier to hide any shenanigans from your opponents if there’s only one place where the votes are revealed.

Back in the day when I ran for office, every election district was manned by members of different parties. That makes it harder for anything untoward to occur at the voting booths. It’s the same way today.

What’s different is how the votes are counted. When I ran, representatives from both parties observed the official tally within each voting district. That way, each party could add the numbers up from all the districts and see what the final vote was. As a result, you had three different groups adding up the numbers. Though only one was official, it was nearly impossible to sneak in illicit votes.

New York State doesn’t do that anymore. All the votes go to one common collection point.

It’s easier today than ever to steal an election. And, like in any cutthroat business, if you want access to the largess of public funds, there is no excuse for not winning.

You do what you have to do. Nothing personal. It’s strictly business.

So, if you’re a political party and a political candidate living in this political reality, don’t just complain about the rules being “unfair” and demand a change. Use those same rules to your benefit. Only when the other party sees how the rules can be used against them will there be a consensus to stop the steal.


  1. […] we live in. Now, would you like to know how it’s done? Read this week’s Carosa Commentary “How To Steal An Election (And Get Away With It)” for the bonus at the end which explains the only way to stop it (it’s not what everyone is […]

  2. […] we live in. Now, would you like to know how it’s done? Read this week’s Carosa Commentary “How To Steal An Election (And Get Away With It)” for the bonus at the end which explains the only way to stop it (it’s not what everyone is […]

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