What to Expect as Election Day Approaches
Richard A. Arenberg
(op-ed appeared in the Brown Daily Herald)
This is the most consequential election of our lifetimes. This election features candidates as polarized as any in American history. This election has exhibited the highest level of voter enthusiasm perhaps ever — more than 79 million Americans have already voted. This election will be a landslide for Democrats.
Oops, I used the “l-word.” It takes courage to say “landslide” out loud. After all, in these unprecedented times, it’s hard to say anything for certain.
Still, I try to predict with some sense of humility. I can hear myself saying quite confidently in 1980 that Ronald Reagan “can win the Republican nomination, but he’s far too conservative to be elected president.” Of course, on election night, he buried President Carter by nearly 10 points and won 489 electoral votes, while a totally unexpected wave defeated 12 Democratic senators including Senate lions Warren Magnuson (D-WA), George McGovern (D-SD), Birch Bayh (D-IN), John Culver (D-IA) and Frank Church (D-ID).
If I am correct in anticipating a landslide, expect the Democrats to take control of the Senate, and by a substantial margin with a night like in 1980. Democrats are likely to have at least 52 seats and could have as many as 54 or 55 in January.
On the other hand, especially given the unknown impacts of COVID-19 on Election Day, the shadow of President Trump’s unexpected victory in 2016 and the vagaries of the Electoral College, this could be a very close election. And if the election results are close in some battleground states, expect weeks of chaos, litigation and delay.
If this becomes the reality, young people should not despair. All indications are that younger voters have and will vote in greater numbers this election and may very well determine the outcome. This represents a hopeful future.
Many of you know the long litany of ways Trump has attempted to undermine the credibility of this election. He has raised questions about the validity of mail-in votes, currently being cast by millions of Americans — without presenting any evidence for his assertions about potential fraud.
He has also stated, as he declared to his supporters at a Wisconsin rally, that “the only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged.”
If President Trump believes that there is any opening to refute an undesired election result, he will almost certainly challenge mail-in ballots in one or more states. Both parties have assembled huge armadas of lawyers prepared to descend on any state in which a problem is asserted.
It is quite clear that the president will resort to any means necessary to preserve his presidency. He has talked about taking the election to the courts and cited the need to accelerate the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett in order to decide election cases. Speaking about the 2020 election, President Trump has said, “I think this will end up in the Supreme Court. And I think it’s very important that we have nine justices.”
Add to this his refusal to commit to a post-election peaceful transfer of power or even disavow potentially violent right-wing groups, and we have a recipe for disaster. President Trump seems to have no intention of even acknowledging a potential loss, saying, “There won’t be a transfer, frankly. There will be a continuation.”
This is not normal.
In a democracy, accepting the will of the people and peacefully transferring power is not optional. We should expect more from our leaders.
In the highly contentious 2000 election, when it was left to the Supreme Court to determine the winner by a 5-4 margin, the loser, Al Gore, was the first to address George W. Bush as “president-elect.” And in 2008, when Barack Obama defeated John McCain, McCain said, “I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating (Obama), but offering our next president our goodwill and earnest effort to find ways to come together, to find the necessary compromises to bridge our differences.”
Some analysts fear the election could be delayed or the results tampered with or ignored. Given the clouds on the horizon, we should be vigilant. We cannot tolerate actions which will endanger the integrity of the election.
We should be prepared on Nov. 3 to discover that the outcome of the election is not yet certain. It may take a few additional days to properly and completely tally the vote. Illegitimate or premature claims of victory should be rejected. All efforts to foster uncertainty and chaos either during the wait for final results or after they are reported must be resisted.
If challenges to the outcome are made in court, they should not be frivolous and should not be made simply in an effort to delay. If there is an effort to subvert, delay or bypass any step in the electoral college process, it should be called out and blocked.
While many of us are aware that this year, “Election Day” may last for weeks, and may be followed by further delay, federal law and the Constitution stipulate important dates in December and January as part of the process for electing the president. For example, Electoral College electors cast their ballots on December 14th, the votes are counted in a Joint Session of Congress on January 6th and most importantly, the terms of the President and Vice President expire at noon on January 20th. Americans must remain vigilant, as each stop along the way may pose an opportunity for mischief.
It may seem odd that I expect a landslide election, but retain a high level of concern about potential irregularities if the vote is close. I fear the uncertainties and chaos which could be caused by a number of troubling scenarios. I am optimistic that they will not occur, but maybe for the first time in recent memory, Americans are unable to take the election process in our democracy for granted.
Richard A. Arenberg is Interim Director of the Taubman Center for American Politics and Policy, a Senior Fellow at the Watson Institute, and Professor of the Practice of Political Science at Brown University. He worked on Capitol Hill for 34 years as a senior staff advisor to Senator Paul Tsongas (D-MA), Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), and Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (D-ME). He is co-author of “Defending the Filibuster: The Soul of the Senate” and author of “Congressional Procedure: A Practical Guide to the Legislative Process in the U.S. Congress.”