The Pandemic Election: Combatting Chaos

This post first appeared at BillMoyers.com on Oct. 27, 2020.

When Trump leaves office, he will lose the US Department of Justice as his personal law firm. He will lose Attorney General William Barr as his wingman. And he will lose his power to undermine the rule of law. That’s the prism through which to view all of his re-election efforts.

In fact, the moment that Trump is no longer president, he’ll face potential criminal charges:

  • He is “Individual-1” in the federal case against Michael Cohen involving hush-money payoffs to porn star Stormy Daniels during the 2016 campaign.
  • He is at the center of obstruction of justice crimes outlined in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, which noted specifically that “a President does not have immunity [from prosecution] after he leaves office.”
  • The Trump Organization is the subject of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s investigation into potential financial crimes and insurance fraud.

Trump is also a defendant in several civil cases that threaten him financially:

  • The New York attorney general is probing whether the Trump Organization overvalued real estate to get bank loans and tax breaks. The Internal Revenue Services is interested in his federal income tax returns.
  • State attorneys general and hotel and restaurant operators are pursuing claims that Trump abused the presidency for personal financial gain.
  • E. Jean Carroll is suing Trump for monetary damages after he publicly denied her rape allegations and allegedly damaged her reputation. In another defamation case, Summer Zervos, a former contestant on “The Apprentice,” claims that Trump sexually assaulted her.

So when Trump declares at rallies and in tweets that the election is rigged, remember that he’s using every lever at his disposal to rig the election himself. But Americans can resist his assault on democracy. Among every citizen’s most potent weapons is this: forewarned is forearmed.

Suppress the Vote

Mail-in Voting

High turnout is Trump’s mortal electoral enemy. To lessen the impact of the pandemic, many states have expanded access to mail-in voting. Trump and his Republican allies have been working tirelessly to undermine those efforts.

June 15: A Trump political hack, Louis DeJoy, becomes postmaster general and immediately implements changes that slow mail delivery, including prohibiting overtime, reducing the number of automated sorting machines, and removing numerous mail collection boxes. In July, on-time delivery of first-class mail, which includes election ballots, plunges from 90 percent to below 80 percent.

June to Present: Without any evidence, Trump claims more than 100 times that mail-in ballots will lead to massive voter fraud and a rigged 2020 election. Attorney General William Barr echoes those false claims.

July to Present: The Trump campaign and the Republican party file lawsuits in Iowa, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and the Navajo Nation in Arizona seeking to block those states’ programs that make mail-in voting easier. Trump and the GOP also intervene to help defend Ohio’s Republican secretary of state against a lawsuit challenging his reduction in ballot drop box sites to just one per county, thereby making voting more difficult. In Texas, Trump loyalist Gov. Greg Abbott has ordered a similar reduction.

Many of Trump’s strategies are playing out in the critical battleground state of Pennsylvania, which Trump won in 2016 by only 44,000 votes out of six million cast. This time, the Democrats’ mail-in advantage is more than 1 million ballots. So the Trump campaign has tried to halt the use of ballot drop boxes altogether, used cell phone cameras to monitor voters picking up and completing mail-in ballots, and surveilled voters in Philadelphia — a Democratic stronghold — by videotaping ballot drop boxes.

Mail-in voters have a remedy: Follow all instructions carefully and submit ballots promptly. Time is running short, so explore alternatives in your state here: https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/how-to-vote-2020/.

Suppress In-Person Voting

Trump is enlisting an “army” to intimidate Democrats during early voting and on Election Day.

Aug. 20: Trump repeats his persistent lie that the election would be rife with fraud and says that he wants “sheriffs and law enforcement” at the polls. Trying to recruit 50,000 volunteers in 15 contested states to monitor polling places, he tweets, “Volunteer to Be a Trump Election Poll Watcher,” including a link to the “ArmyforTrump.com” website.

Sept. 8: At a rally in North Carolina on September 8, Trump tells the crowd, “Be poll watchers when you go there. Watch all the thieving and stealing and robbing they do. Because this is important. We win North Carolina, we win.”

Sept. 29: In the first presidential debate, Trump says, “I am encouraging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully, because that’s what has to happen — I am urging them to do it.”

In-person voters have a remedy: Any attempt to “intimidate, threaten, or coerce, any other person for the purpose of interfering with the right” of another person to vote is a federal crime and violates similar laws in most states. If you see something, say something to one of these organizations:

  • Election Protection Hotline: 1-866-OUR-VOTE or 1-888-VE-Y-VOTA (en Español)
  • US Department of Justice Voting Rights Hotline: 800-253-3931; TTY line 877-267-8971
  • Local and state officials, including poll workers, county clerks, elections commissioners, and state boards of elections

Deceive the Public

In 2016, almost 139 million people voted. As of October 26, 2020, more than 40 million voters had already mailed in their completed ballots. When election night ends, millions of mail-in ballots will not yet have been counted.

Because Democrats’ requests for mail-in ballots vastly outnumbered requests from Republicans, most of those uncounted votes will be for former Vice President Joe Biden. That means Trump could be ahead on election night based on reported in-person and partial mail-in vote totals. He might declare himself the winner, even though Biden had won a landslide victory based on the mail-in votes not yet tallied.

There’s nothing new about this post-Election Day “Blue Shift.” “On election night in 2012, Barack Obama trailed Mitt Romney by some 30,000 votes at the moment Mr. Obama was projected to win his re-election bid,” The New York Times editorial board reminded us recently. “By the time the votes were tallied, Mr. Obama had five million more votes than Mr. Romney.”

In 2018, the phenomenon was even more pronounced. As polling places closed and states reported vote totals, the anticipated “Blue Wave” for Democrats in Congress seemed absent. The party’s net gain in the House was only 26 seats. But by the time all mail-in votes were counted a few weeks later, the Democrats had flipped 41 seats.

Litigate the Outcome

“I think this will end up in the Supreme Court,” Trump said of the election when he nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett in September. “And I think it’s very important that we have nine justices….” Trump thinks Justice Barrett will be his voter suppression ally. Soon we’ll find out.

In Pennsylvania, the Republican party sued and lost its effort to block the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s order extending the deadline to receive mail-in ballots by three days. The GOP’s appeal to the US Supreme Court resulted in a 4-4 tie — with Chief Justice John Roberts joining liberal members of the Court, so the three-day extension remained. But on the Friday evening before Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s scheduled confirmation vote in the Senate, Republicans asked the Court to take another look at the case — and do it quickly. And it asked the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to order that any ballots received after 8:00 pm on Election Day be kept separate from other ballots.

In addition to Pennsylvania, more than a dozen other lawsuits in key battleground states are already in the US Supreme Court’s pipeline, including cases involving Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio, and Texas. Biden could win by sufficiently large margins that litigation becomes irrelevant to his Electoral College victory. But if he doesn’t, the resulting court fights — coupled with Trump’s incendiary tweetstorms and post-election rallies — could make the 2000 contest for Florida culminating in Bush v. Gore look quaint.

Of course, Trump could win the election fair and square. But he and his enablers know that’s unlikely. Nothing else explains their behavior. For example, five members of Vice President Mike Pence’s staff, including his chief of staff and his longtime political adviser, recently tested positive for COVID-19. But rather than follow CDC guidelines to quarantine for 14 days, Pence is campaigning in battleground states. Apparently, the White House regards spreading the coronavirus as essential work.

The Election Will End, Eventually

On October 25, Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows told CNN, “We are not going to control the pandemic.” Even if Trump were not surrendering the country to COVID-19, it would still be around on January 20, 2021—when Chief Justice Roberts inaugurates the winner of the Pandemic Election. The US Constitution sets that date and, regardless of whatever chaos envelops the nation after November 3, it is immutable.

Read all installments of Steven Harper’s Pandemic Timeline.

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