We recently asked you, our readers, for your burning questions about the upcoming US presidential election.
Will President Donald Trump actually leave the White House and hand over power should the election result show he is losing to Joe Biden? And if he refuses to leave office, can he be forced to leave office?
Obviously this becomes a moot point if Mr Trump wins the election, and that absolutely could happen. However, for the purposes of this article, we will delve into the hypothetical scenario of a Biden victory.
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First, let’s put the question in context because if you are preparing for the campaign, you may not know the basis for it.
Mr Trump has repeatedly claimed that an increase in the number of Americans voting by mail this year, caused by the coronavirus pandemic, will lead to widespread election fraud.
In September the president was asked if he would commit to a “peaceful transfer of power” after the election if he lost.
“Well, we have to see what happens,” Trump replied.
“You know that I complained a lot about the (postal) ballot papers. And the ballots are a disaster.
“Get rid of the ballots and we will be very peaceful – frankly there will be no transfer. There will be a sequel.
“The ballots got out of hand.”
The subject has surfaced several times since then and Mr Trump has never changed his stance.
The day after those initial remarks, he doubled in size and called postal ballot “a big scam”.
“We want to make sure the elections are fair and I’m not sure that can be done,” he said.
During the first presidential debate, Trump claimed the election had been “rigged”. Host Chris Wallace asked him if he would count on the Supreme Court to resolve disputes over the outcome.
“Yeah, I think I’m definitely counting on you to look at the ballot papers. I hope we don’t need them in terms of the choice itself. But for the ballot, I think so, because what happens is incredible, ”said the President.
Hence the question. It is based on Mr. Trump’s multiple refusals to ensure a peaceful transfer of power.
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Next, let’s create a plausible picture of the scenario in which Mr Trump could try to challenge the outcome.
As of this writing, more than 58 million Americans have voted in person or by mail within eight days of the election. That’s around 45 percent of the all Turnout from four years ago.
So it’s clear that the expected increase in postal voting is actually happening.
The Bipartisan Policy Center has predicted that between 50 and 70 percent of votes cast this year will be postal votes. In 2016 it was just over 20 percent.
This is a real problem, even if Mr Trump’s warnings about fraud are absurdly exaggerated (they are, and you can read about the evidence here).
The problem, put simply, is the potential for a long delay in the announcement of the election result. The counting of postal ballot papers takes much longer than the ones handed in personally on election day.
“We all have to take a deep breath and be patient this year,” warned the democratic election commissioner Ellen Weintraub in August.
“There is a significant chance that we will not know what the results are on election night.
“No problem. If it takes a little longer for the votes to be counted accurately, we need to do so to make sure all the votes count. ”
It is important to understand that the United States does not have a single system for counting votes. Each state essentially conducts its own elections and sets its own rules.
Some allow poll workers to start counting early ballots before polling day. Others forbid any of these votes from being counted until the polls are completed.
Some states will accept ballot papers that arrive by mail within a window after election day, provided the postmark indicates they were sent before the deadline. Others don’t.
Some give voters a chance to fix mistakes that would otherwise result in their ballot being discarded. Others immediately cast these ballots.
By and large, we can assume that states that fall into the first category for each of the rules above will report their results fairly quickly. That group includes Florida and North Carolina on the east coast, where polls close early at night.
Other major swing states like Pennsylvania and Michigan will be slower. It could be days before they declare a winner.
The other factor to consider here is that early voting, including postal voting, is likely to be overwhelmingly in favor of Mr Biden, while election day in-person voting should be in favor of Mr Trump by a similar margin.
So our hypothetical scenario looks like this.
The early return on election night, disproportionately based on personal voting, suggests Mr Trump is winning in a handful of key states. The President declares victory while Mr Biden refuses to admit.
In the next few days, the early voting will be counted step by step and will eventually push Mr Biden forward. Is then claims victory, and Herr Trump refuses to admit, claiming that there are millions of fraudulent postal ballots and the election was rigged against him.
There is a constitutional crisis.
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So what’s next?
If Mr Trump tries to challenge the election result, it will likely be done in court. You may have noticed that he hinted at such a challenge in the remarks mentioned earlier, saying he thinks “this will end up in the Supreme Court”.
Lawyers representing the Trump campaign would address any reported electoral irregularities in the states concerned.
Put aside the idea of massive fraud here. That right edge page on your Facebook feed might insist that there is evidence of such a scam, but here in the real world – at least for now – there is absolutely none.
Irregularities, on the other hand, will definitely occur, as voting by post is a more technical process. Some states require voting papers to be contained in an internal security envelope. Ballot papers can be disqualified if someone puts their signature in the wrong place or writes a slightly different version of their legal name, or for a number of reasons.
Unless the election came as a result of a Bush-Gore situation, and the entire outcome depends on a few hundred contested ballots, none of it is likely to invalidate a Biden win.
It’s hard to imagine that a majority in the Supreme Court – even with a newly-seated Judge Amy Coney Barrett – would join Mr Trump’s rhetoric and throw out postal ballots en masse.
After the legal process is exhausted, the electoral process will continue.
On December 14th, in each of their states, voters meet and officially cast their votes for the president (if you’re wondering what the hell I’m talking about, here’s an explanation of how the electoral college works).
The new congress will take place on January 3rd, and both houses will meet on January 6th to officially vote.
We reach Inauguration Day on January 20th. Mr. Biden appears at the Capitol to be sworn in as America’s 46th President, and Chief Justice John Roberts undertakes.
What is Mr. Trump going to do? Lock yourself in the Oval Office and refuse to come out? Are you ordering the military, whose senior officers he has denigrated for years, to intervene on his behalf?
If he tries, there could be immense unrest. But it’s not a plausible way for Mr Trump to stay in power.
The moment Mr. Biden is sworn in, the nuclear codes expire, the “football” becomes his property and the secret service recognizes him as president. When the former president at the time gives orders to the military, they are ignored.
Even if the authorities don’t march Mr Trump out of the White House, he will no longer have official power.
Personally, I don’t think any of this is going to happen. Much more likely and consistent with Mr Trump’s personality is that he claims his defeat is fraudulent and complains very loudly about it, but leaves his office voluntarily.
He can complain whatever he wants. This does not change the result.
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