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Apparently Secret Ballots Are an Option for the Impeachment Vote & That Would Be a Game Changer

Hypothetically, it could happen.


People gather at the base of the U.S. Capitol with large IMPEACH and REMOVE signs

As the House of Representatives moves forward with impeachment (again), Democrats have announced that they have enough votes to move proceedings into the Senate. Just as with the last time we went through this, it’s unclear if the Republican-led Senate could have enough flipped votes to remove Trump from office.

But as it turns out, there’s one possible option that could, hypothetically, encourage a number of GOP senators to vote their conscience, rather than their fear of displeasing Trump: secret ballots.

Politico’s Juleanna Glover wrote about this “surprisingly plausible path” back in November of 2019, as the first impeachment inquiry was drawing to a close. The idea was renewed this week in a tweet from the podcast Mueller, She Wrote.

“A secret impeachment ballot might sound crazy, but it’s actually quite possible. In fact, it would take only three senators to allow for that possibility,” Glover wrote.

After the House votes to impeach, the Senate drafts their own rules for the trial. Mitch McConnell will need a simple majority to pass whatever rules he wants for the trial, meaning just 51 Republicans.

In 2019, that meant that “if only three Republican senators were to break from the caucus, they could block any rule they didn’t like. (Vice President Mike Pence can’t break ties in impeachment matters.) Those three senators, in turn, could demand a secret ballot and condition their approval of the rest of the rules on getting one.” (Emphasis mine.)

In 2021, the Republicans have a much smaller margin for their majority, even considering that Georgia’s Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff haven’t yet been sworn in. (Ossoff’s opponent David Perdue’s term has officially ended, though, so I’m not positive, but I don’t believe he’ll get a vote either. According to the Senate website, his seat is technically vacant.) Right now, there are 51 Republicans in the Senate, which seems to mean that only one would have to detract to force a specific rule like secret ballots.

Getting even one senator to make that request is a challenge, though. Any Republican who makes that request is signaling pretty loudly that they plan to vote against Trump, which they’re all still terrified to do.

If there were a secret ballot, we’d likely see a margin of a lot more than just one voting to remove Trump. Back during impeachment #1, it was said that 30 or possibly 35 Republican senators had indicated they would vote to remove Trump from office if the vote were private. Instead, only one Republican senator (Mitt Romney) voted guilty on only one of the two Articles of Impeachment.

If that many senators felt Trump should be impeached then—before the deranged tweets and speeches inciting violence, before an actual riot overtook the Capitol—how many more think so now? Even Mitch McConnell is reportedly saying he thinks Trump has committed impeachable offenses. If only he would do something about it!

With only a week left before Joe Biden’s inauguration, it’s really disappointing that so many Republicans are still this afraid of going against Trump. They are truly committed to their cowardice.

(via Politico, Mueller, She Wrote on Twitter, image: Paul Morigi/Getty Images for MoveOn)
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Vivian Kane (she/her) has a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband Brock Wilbur and too many cats.