The question of who takes over a position of power has always been a major cause of civil war. In England, it was the War of the Roses, which saw several nobles lay claim to the English Crown. That is why the current line of succession to the British Crown names over 200 people and their place in the line.
The US does not have monarchy or such a clear line as both Republicans and Democrats vie for power. Both sides have intimated that they may not recognize the election results if there is a question of its validity. Last week we mentioned that Democrats had “gamed” a scenario where Biden would not concede the election and try to manipulate results in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, where the governors are Democrats, although the state’s voters may prefer Trump.. Trump himself declared:”
'The only way we're going to lose this election is if the election is rigged”.
Meanwhile, the Democrats accused Trump of trying to manipulate the outcome by limiting the use of mail-in ballots.
It would help if there were clear rules outlining all the possibilities that may occur in November. However, there is only the 20th Amendment of the US Constitution and various laws from the states and federal government concerning elections.
The problem is that the 20th Amendment had been rushed onto the books in the early 1930's. Previously, the Constitution had the election in November and the inauguration in March – an ideal system when the US was a vast wilderness without good roads or trains. The 20th Amendment had changed the inauguration to January 20th and had set forth rules for picking the president if there were any problems in the election. But they had not considered every possibility, especially if the contestants were more concerned with acquiring power, not following the rules of fair play.
As it stands, the 2020 US Presidential Election stands on the edge of disaster. One of the key problems is mail-in ballots, which are ripe for fraud and can take weeks to open and count. But instead of working in advance to fix any potential problem with mail-in Trump is making it difficult to put procedures in place to prevent such occurrence, despite having himself voted by mail-in in the past, and despite the practice of using absent ballots or voting that way by many states.
The US Constitution and law are firm on presidential elections. The election must take place across the nation on November 3rd. That date cannot be postponed nor can mail-in ballots postmarked on November 4th or later be considered. Ballots without valid postmarks are also illegal.
The states have one week to declare a winner. One week after the election, the states must appoint the electors for the president and vice president. The electors must then meet and vote in their states on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December. Failure to follow this federal law could lead to disqualified electoral votes by that state.
Of course, Congress has a say if there is a question of who is to be president. They meet on January 3rd (each state getting one vote if there is a question of who should be president). However, if there is an uncertain election result for president, then there is a good chance that there will also be unfilled seats in the House of Representatives. That then leaves it up to the US Senate, which has 2/3 of its members not up for election in November. They can then pick a Vice President. When the House manages to acquire a quorum, they can then pick an acting president.
The problem is not the rules. The problem is that there are numerous holes in the law and both sides have powerful incentives to work the rules and law to their own benefit.
Here are some possibilities:
The State without qualified electors. Let us say that it is a close election with Biden winning the popular vote nationally but losing the electoral vote by a small margin – a margin so small that the votes of a single state could change the outcome. If Wisconsin, goes for Trump (who is leading there in the latest poll), would the Democratic governor slow up the counting of mail-in votes to make it impossible to name electors one week after the election?
In a case like that, the law says that without named electors, the state does not get a vote in the Electoral College. Undoubtedly the case would go to the courts and finally the Supreme Court – whose ruling would upset the losing side.
And, what if the sickly Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Ruth Ginsberg dies before a decision? A 4 to 4 tie would complicate the results more than a clear majority ruling.
A State Refuses to Send Electors. The Democratic team that gamed outcomes to the election also supposed that some states like California and New York might refuse to send their electors and would support secession from the US instead. In that case, Trump would be reelected as president, but the absence of some states would cast a shadow on his presidency.
Picking an Acting President. If there is no president on January 20th, the House of Representatives can pick an acting president. Some have suggested calling upon a former president to fill the role, since they have the experience. The problem is that the party that the acting president belongs to would be unwilling to move the process along to pick the new president.
Shifting Allegiances in the House. If January 3rd rolls around and several House seats have not been declared, one side or another might have an interest in delaying the vote in hopes of giving their presidential choice a better chance of winning. Some unsavory deals may be made to shift critical votes. There may also be pressure placed on state election boards to declare a winner (or not declare a winner) to determine the outcome of the vote.
Switching Electors. If there is some question about the vote, some legislatures can appoint the electors. This gives the legislature the ability to ignore the voters of the state and pick another presidential candidate if they wish.
Although faithless legislators would probably be defeated in the next election, they would surely be up for a nice job in the new administration in Washington.
President Pelosi. If there is no President or Vice President on January 20, Speaker of the House Pelosi could become President if the Democrats continue to hold the House and she is reelected. United States Code Sec. 19, Titled “Vacancy in the Offices of Both President and Vice President; Officers eligible to Act, says, “If by reason of…failure to qualify,, there is neither a President or vice President to discharge the powers and duties of the office of President, then the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall, upon his resignation as Speaker and as Representative in Congress, act as President.”
Subsection C of that statute provides that the individual would continue as president until the end of the term.
This could encourage Democrats, who are less than eager to have a mentally unfit Biden as President to slow up vote counts. It may also be the reason why Democratic planners have looked at Biden not conceding. The strategy may not be to put him in office, but to guarantee that the Democrats would control the White House with Pelosi
Although any of these strategies may change the outcome of an election, they will also have a negative impact on the future.
The key to elections that are accepted by all the citizens are transparency, fairness, and speedy results. If the 2020 election is determined by gamesmanship instead of the will of the voters, the results could be dangerous. America is in a state of civil unrest where the death of one black man by police can lead to riots across the country and the injury and deaths of many.
Although “gaming” the system in order to win the 2020 presidential election may put one candidate in the White House, there will be millions of voters who will be dissatisfied and unwilling to accept the results as should be done in democracies. As we have seen, it only takes one incident to inflame a sector of the population.
Those who have been following the riots and protests have noticed a growing level of violence against the establishment. In May, violence against the police was limited to rocks and firecrackers. Today, its firearms and Molotov firebombs. Police are even being ambushed when responding to calls.
There could even be violence during the counting of votes.
In the 2000 presidential election, crowds of people stormed offices where votes were being counted in Broward County, Florida. Imagine what could happen in today’s overheated political climate. Vote counters could be injured or killed, ballots could be lost, or illegal ballots would be added. Offices could be burnt, thus disfranchising large groups of voters.
The US election system is on a precipice. Two political parties are determined to remain in power no matter the long-term consequences. Trump is signaling to his base including armed supporters not to accept a defeat in the presidential election. What happens will start to unfold on November 4th and the country will be standing on the edge of civil unrest if no decisive win is clear enough and fast enough to be in place.