Donald Trump’s Senate Trial Could End With A Secret Vote, Which Could Spell Doom

It's technically possible for the Senate to hold a vote via secret ballot following the impeachment trial.

Donald Trump speaks at the signing ceremony for S.1709, The National Defense Authorization Act
Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images

It's technically possible for the Senate to hold a vote via secret ballot following the impeachment trial.

When President Donald Trump is tried in the Senate in the next few weeks, the Senate could, theoretically anyway, hold a secret vote on whether to convict him and remove him from office, Quartz reports. Some pundits are predicting that a secret ballot could spell doom for the 45th president.

Trump’s Senate Trial

Now that Trump has been impeached, the Constitution requires that he be tried in the Senate. There, it would require a two-thirds majority vote — that is, 67 votes — to convict him and remove him from office.

Currently, there are 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats, and two Democrat-leaning Independents in the Senate. That means that, for Trump to be removed from office, every Democrat and Independent, plus 20 Republicans, would have to vote for his removal — a situation that, by most measures, seems unlikely in the extreme.

But If There’s A Secret Vote…

However, it’s technically possible for the vote on whether to convict Trump and remove him from office to be held in secret. If that happens, some analysts predict that as many as 30 or more Republican senators could vote to convict, effectively ensuring Trump’s removal from office.

One such analyst is Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, who predicted back in September that, if the vote were held in secret, there would be as many as 35 Republican senators voting to remove Trump from office.

senator jeff flake
  United States Congress / Wikimedia Commons (GPL)

The Path To A Secret Senate Vote

The Senate is allowed to effectively enact and enforce its own rules for Trump’s Senate trial, and indeed, Senate Majority Mitch McConnell has already promised that Trump’s Senate trial will end in his acquittal.

However, any rules proposed for the trial can be enacted with a simple majority vote in the Senate. That means that, in order for the final vote to be held in secret, all it would take is a 51-49 vote. And for that, only three Republican votes are required (assuming that all Democrats and Independents vote for a secret ballot).

The Ethics Of A Secret Ballot

Holding Trump’s conviction/acquittal vote in secret could stack the deck against Trump and allow senators to vote their consciences, rather than according to what they believe their constituents expect of them.

However, that flies in the face of the ethical standards of open government that Americans have come to expect, opines Quartz writer Ephrat Livni.

“Senators are elected representatives and we, the people, might rightly expect to be privy to their true opinions and for them to go on the record with critical decisions,” Livni writes.

However, there’s also a precedent for governance in secret that Americans have tolerated for centuries. The Supreme Court has steadfastly refused to allow cameras into its chambers, and indeed, much of what goes on within the institution is done secretly.

“Transparency’s virtues are contextual, not absolute,” Livni writes.