Grassroots advocates on Wednesday expressed alarm over reporting by journalist Barton Gellman in The Atlantic about a "contingency plan" that Republican sources say the Trump campaign is developing in order to "bypass" the election results on November 3—but urged voters to mobilize rather than "agonize" and prepare to work to protect the results should the president challenge them.
As Common Dreams reported earlier this month, some election watchers are concerned about the possibility of a "red mirage" on election night; as returns from in-person voting are tallied, Trump may appear well-positioned to retain the presidency for a second term while mail-in ballots favor Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
"Never in this country's history have we failed to have a peaceful transition of power from one president to the next. We must do all we can to make sure Trump isn't the first."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)
"If the Election Night results get changed because of the ballots counted after Election Day, you have the basic ingredients for a shitstorm," a legal adviser to Trump's campaign told Gellman.
"There is no 'if' about it, I said," Gellman writes. "The count is bound to change. 'Yeah,' the adviser agreed, and canvassing will produce more votes for Biden than for Trump."
As Trump has already spent months calling into question the validity of voting by mail and has explicitly said he sabotaged the U.S. Postal Service in order to keep mail-in ballots from becoming the primary method of casting a vote in 2020, Gellman's article explains that the president is almost certain to claim the continued tallying of votes after November 3 is both illegitimate and unfair.
"With every day that passes after November 3, the president and his allies can hammer home the message that the legitimate tabulation is over and the Democrats are refusing to honor the results," Gellman writes. "Trump has been flogging this horse already for months."
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is set to give a speech Thursday about the need to protect the election results should Trump refuse to accept them or allow the count to be completed, noted the gravity of Gellman's warning.
"Never in this country's history have we failed to have a peaceful transition of power from one president to the next," Sanders wrote. "We must do all we can to make sure Trump isn't the first. In this election the future of American democracy is at stake. We must not lose."
Following election night, Gellman writes, the U.S. may enter an "Interregnum"—a period when normal government is suspended as officials and, potentially, the courts, determine who is the winner of the presidential election. During the 79-day period between Election Day and the swearing-in of the winner, the country will go through several "intermediate steps" which in most presidential elections have been treated as mere formalities, including the meeting of electors from all 50 states and Washington, D.C. on December 14, when the electors will cast their ballots.
Gellman reports that the president may be relying on this gathering to secure his victory, rather than Election Day:
According to sources in the Republican Party at the state and national levels, the Trump campaign is discussing contingency plans to bypass election results and appoint loyal electors in battleground states where Republicans hold the legislative majority. With a justification based on claims of rampant fraud, Trump would ask state legislators to set aside the popular vote and exercise their power to choose a slate of electors directly.
"The Trump-campaign legal adviser I spoke with told me the push to appoint electors would be framed in terms of protecting the people's will," Gellman writes. "Once committed to the position that the overtime count has been rigged, the adviser said, state lawmakers will want to judge for themselves what the voters intended."
When asked by The Atlantic about the legal adviser's claims, the Trump campaign accused the magazine of peddling a "conspiracy theory intended to muddy the waters" and claimed the president is fighting for a "trustworthy election."
But three Republican leaders in Pennsylvania told Gellman "they had already discussed the direct appointment of electors among themselves, and one said he had discussed it with Trump's national campaign."
With electors loyal to Trump tossing out the popular votes of the states the represent, the Electoral College could convene "without a consensus on who had legitimate claims to cast the deciding votes," leading the task of counting electors' votes to the president of the Senate: Vice President Mike Pence.
"This means that Pence has the unilateral power to announce his own reelection, and a second term for Trump," Gellman writes.
Avoiding this outcome, he continues, depends heavily on the results of the U.S. Senate and House races:
If Democrats win back the Senate and hold the House, then all roads laid out in the Electoral Count Act lead eventually to a Biden presidency. The reverse applies if Republicans hold the Senate and unexpectedly win back the House. But if Congress remains split, there are conditions in which no decisive outcome is possible—no result that has clear force of law. Each party could cite a plausible reading of the rules in which its candidate has won. There is no tie-breaking vote.
The Trump campaign is discussing plans to ask state representatives to set aside the election results in their state and select Trump electors *even if Trump loses the vote in their state.*
That would be the death of American democracy. That is not an overstatement. It’s a fact. https://t.co/U28TTML396
— Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariotti) September 23, 2020
The Nation correspondent Jeet Heer noted that Gellman's article is supported by "Trump's own words"regarding his desire to have a new, right-wing Supreme Court justice confirmed in time for the election to decide the election amid the so-called "hoax" of mail-in voting.
1. It's important to understand that Trump's own words support the Atlantic story. The plan is to use engineered election uncertainty to bring in the courts & do Bush v. Gore Redux. https://t.co/ytWpIx5Qtl
— Jeet Heer (@HeerJeet) September 23, 2020
While acknowledging the gravity of Gellman's warning, voting rights and pro-democracy advocates urged readers to educate themselves about the action that's already being taken to avoid the president's engineering of favorable election results.
"Don't agonize, organize," tweeted Indivisible co-founder Ezra Levin, directing social media users to his organization's voter outreach campaign in order to "drive historic turnout" and to Protect the Results, an initiative developed by Indivisible and Stand Up America.
This is scary, but unsurprising. Trump is a loser on his way to losing, so he's trying to cheat. There are 2 ways to prevent that:
1) Drive historic turnout. https://t.co/Rc3HB71puD
2) Prepare to protect the results. https://t.co/6e5aPMrTwf
Don't agonize, organize. https://t.co/xpFDboyfVB
— Ezra Levin (@ezralevin) September 23, 2020
"In 2020, we will not allow Trump to follow through on those threats," reads ProtectTheResults.com. "We will demand that every vote be counted, even if it takes days or weeks to get an accurate count from critical states, especially given the expansion of mail-in and absentee voting during the Covid-19 pandemic. We will organize to ensure that the loser concedes, and that Congress, the Electoral College, and state officials honor the accurate, final vote count."
Sanders echoed the sentiment on social media:
What we must do now:
Ensure Biden wins in a landslide
Hold Congressional hearings on how local officials plan to handle Election Day processes
State legislatures must allow votes to be counted as they come in
Help Americans understand we may not know results on Nov 3
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) September 23, 2020
"Mass mobilization is already in the works if Trump tries to steal the election," tweeted organizer Aaron Huertas, urging voters who fear Trump's actions after Election Day to engage ahead of time with groups committed to protecting the results, including Hold the Line and Front Line Defenders.
Talk to @FlyingWithSara about what unions can do, too!
Your audience has agency if the worst happens.
— Aaron Huertas (@aaronhuertas) September 23, 2020
Gellman also offers advice to voters, urging them to vote in person and volunteer to work at the polls if they can do so safely and to "spread word that it is normal for the results to keep changing after Election Night."
"Take agency," Gellman writes. "An election cannot be stolen unless the American people, at some level, acquiesce."