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Keep Trump on the ballot and let voters decide

It feels wrong to rail against Trump as a destroyer of democracy and then find a way to stop people from voting for him.

Army veteran Bob Perry entered a polling precinct to cast a ballot in the Massachusetts presidential primaries in 2020 in Seekonk.David Goldman/Associated Press

Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin has received letters and emails urging him to keep Donald Trump off the Republican presidential primary ballot in 2024. But he has no plans to try to do it.

“It empowers Trump. It gives him the ability to say ‘the system is rigged and they are out to get me,’ ” said Galvin, a Democrat who has held the office of secretary of state since 1994. “You are feeding into the narrative that there’s a conspiracy.”

It’s tempting to think the country can be done with Trump by making the case that he is constitutionally ineligible to run for president again, as some advocates, including some conservative law professors, argue. But for the country to be done with Trump, the voters have to be done with him.


That perspective is emerging as common ground between Republicans and Democrats who are elected by the voters of their state to administer state elections. With that role, they become guardians of election integrity, and several are speaking out to say they don’t think the job they were elected to do includes the authority to bar Trump from the ballot. Some have said they think that doing so would be bad for the country. “Anyone who believes in democracy must let the voters decide,” Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who knows firsthand what it’s like to be pressured by Trump to overturn the will of voters, wrote in The Wall Street Journal.

In an opinion piece for The Washington Post, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson — a Democrat who was threatened by Trump supporters who wanted her to reverse 2020 presidential election results in her state — points out that under Michigan state law, her office is required to ensure that any individuals “generally advocated by the national news media to be potential presidential candidates,” along with any recommended by state political parties, are on the ballot. But as Benson also notes, beyond that “is the very real value of ensuring that, in our democracy, voters and political parties have the choice and freedom to vote for or nominate their preferred candidate.”


Last week, New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan said that Trump’s name will be on the presidential primary ballot in 2024 as long the former president does what’s required under New Hampshire state law: He must submit his declaration of candidacy, pay the filing fee, and sign under the penalties of perjury that he meets the age, citizenship, and residency requirements to run for president. Scanlan also said, “At a time when we need to ensure transparency and build confidence among voters around the country, the delegate selection process should not be the battleground to test this constitutional question.”

The argument that Trump is constitutionally ineligible to run for president rests on a clause in the 14th Amendment that dates back to Civil War times and prohibits anyone who took an oath to support the Constitution and “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same” from holding higher office again. Those making this legal case say that what Trump did — from pressuring Raffensperger to “find” votes that would change election results in Georgia to trying to get then-vice president Mike Pence to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election by installing slates of pro-Trump delegates and encouraging supporters to attack the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 — means that he “engaged in insurrection.” But whether Trump “engaged in insurrection” is a legal question that, if pursued, would ultimately end up before the Supreme Court.


Whatever a hypothetical Supreme Court ruling might be, it’s hard to see the banning of Trump from the ballot as the right way to end Trumpism. For one thing, it’s far more likely to rally his supporters, just like his indictments on a variety of criminal charges. More importantly, it just feels wrong to rail against Trump as a destroyer of democracy and then find a way to stop people from voting for him.

From the blue state of Massachusetts, Galvin said he wonders where a crusade to get Trump off the ballot might lead. For example, he asks, what if some Democrats push the argument that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. shouldn’t be on the ballot because of positions which are widely characterized to be rooted in conspiracy theories? “There are elements in the Democratic Party who do think that,” Galvin said.

Meanwhile, Galvin asks, what if voters simply write in Trump’s name? “The voters have the right to do whatever they want,” he said.

With Trump in the picture, that’s an especially scary thought. But democracy has always been a risky business. It just so happens to be the business that is supposed to run this country.


Joan Vennochi is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at joan.vennochi@globe.com. Follow her @joan_vennochi.