News that President Trump has contracted COVID-19 has brought uncertainty to the country and created a motley of concerns over the political circumstances ahead.
But prior to the President's diagnosis, several alarming possibilities for our political future have been raised as we head into November's election. Last Friday's news concerning Trump's diagnosis does not change the underlying factors that could cause chaos in November. Fortunately, as voters we have rights and resources in place to help handle any trouble that may come on Election Day.
Here are five undesirable scenarios, unrelated to COVID-19, that could happen on Election Day, and what we can do about them:
1. Valid voters are denied their right to vote
Republican operatives have been making baseless claims of voter fraud for years.
A number of state governments have also used various laws to wrongly purge valid voters from voting rolls and stop valid voters from casting their ballots. For example, the current Governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, used his power as Georgia Secretary of State l during the 2018 election to defeat Stacey Abrams by purging thousands of Georgia voters from the state’s voting rolls in a racially-biased manner.
Regardless of the attempts at disenfranchisement, most states recognize the rights of a citizen to cast a ballot, even if their registration is being challenged. Make sure to check your voter registration ahead of time (you can do so by going to this website and selecting your state), and check to see if your state requires you to bring ID with you when you go to vote.
If your voter registration is valid but you are being challenged, federal law allows you to sign an affidavit declaring your right to vote and then cast your vote. You can make this request at your polling station if you are being told you are not properly registered. Additional resources about your right to vote are located here.
2. Voter intimidation on Election Day
Trump's call during Tuesday's debate for his supporters to show up as "poll watchers" on Election Day was interpreted by many as a plan to intimidate voters.
As Blavity previoulsy reported, Trump has already threatened to employ off-duty police officers as poll watchers, raising fears that non-Trump supporters and Black voters would be targeted for intimidation. With Trump as the incumbent president, he may be able to employ such intimidation on a scale not seen in recent memory, discouraging or denying voting rights for many Americans.
Voter intimidation is a federal crime punishable by up to one year in prison. Georgetown University has prepared fact sheets for each state specifically related to laws against militia members showing up at the polls. Voters experiencing intimidation or witnessing voters being harassed can get help by calling the Election Protection Hotline at 866-OUR VOTE (866-687-8683). Additional information on combating voter intimidation can be found here, and resources about your right to vote are located here.
3. A large number of voters don't realize they've made a mistake with mail-in voting
President Trump argued in 2016 that millions of votes had been fraudulently cast against him, and that was after he had already won!
He has already set up expectation among his supporters that unprecedented numbers of mail-in votes will result in “a fraud like you’ve never seen.” In reality, many years of data from a variety of US states shows no evidence that mail-in voting has ever led to widespread voter fraud in America.
As detailed by Business Insider, a more likely scenario is not that absentee ballots will be lost or fraudulently cast, but that many of them may be discarded for being filled out incorrectly or for arriving after the deadline specified for them to be counted. In 2000, there were enough improperly marked ballots in Florida (remember “hanging chads”?) to swing the outcome of the election. Even more discarded votes this year could very well change the outcome of the 2020 vote. And as Blavity previously reported, Trump has sought to sabotage the postal system as a way of interfering with the vote, possibly bringing about the very scenario he's warned against.
Vote.org has put together a handy list of absentee ballot requirements for each of the 50 states. The list also provides a link for requesting ballots. NPR, meanwhile, has a list of important dates for each state, including deadlines for registering to vote, requesting ballots, and mailing ballots in. To be on the safe side, register, request and return well before the deadlines if possible.
4. The election is handed over to lawyers and judges
If the vote count is unclear or there are irregularities on Election Day, one or the other campaign could end up filing a case for the courts to intervene. A serious dispute in the vote count would likely make its way to the Supreme Court to decide, giving the judiciary the final say in the election.
Trump's nomination of judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court has already been controversial. When Trump was asked in the first presidential debate if he was "counting on the Supreme Court, including a Justice Barrett, to settle any dispute" over the vote count, the president admitted that he was. If a newly-appointed Barrett casts decisive vote to help Trump win the election, this could delegitimize the justice and the Court as a whole in the eyes of many Americans.
One way to guard against this outcome is to push Senators to delay hearings on Judge Barrett until after the new president takes office. This would prevent President Trump from stacking the court. Delaying the nomination process until January lines up with the standard that Republicans themselves established in 2016 when they refused to recognize President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee. And it would even protect the Senators themselves, as Republicans are willing to risk infecting their colleagues with COVID-19 to push the nomination through.
You can contact your Senators by calling the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Let them know that you oppose rushing through Judge Barrett’s nomination. Additional contact information is available on the Senate website here. For advice on having a productive call with your Senator’s office (hint: practice what you want to say before you get on the line), look to these tips from the organization Global Citizen.
5. Trump wins
Although he’s currently trailing in the polls, there’s still nearly a month left for Trump to come from behind and pull off another upset victory.
If he does so in the current climate, he will be emboldened to continue down the same path he has gone – downplaying a pandemic that has killed 210,000 Americans and could kill hundreds of thousands more, especially Black Americans; presiding over a wrecked economy that has made inequality even worse; catering to white supremacists and fighting police reform; refusing to acknowledge racism; in short, making America worse, not great.
Perhaps one of you can figure out a way to appeal to Trump to change his mind, or alter his ways. But so far, not even contracting COVID-19 alongside his wife and close advisors and being hospitalized has caused him to acknowledge the seriousness of the disease. This makes any prospect of a major change of heart for Trump very unlikely. Therefore, the best way to avoid four more years of this president’s policies is to vote.