So many shocking things have become normal now under this administration that it’s kind of hard to imagine what would genuinely jolt the nation at this point. And with regard to November’s election, the shocking-but-normal reality is that we know Donald Trump will cheat. There was a terrifying piece in the Times on Sunday laying out all the different moves he could pull to steal the election that his opponents are war-gaming to prepare for and counter. One little nugget from it: Trump could issue orders that impact cities in battleground states like “declaring a state of emergency, deploying the National Guard or forbidding gatherings of more than 10 people.”
Everyone knows he’ll cheat. Even his supporters know he’ll cheat. His cheating is one of the things they love about him. So that he’ll cheat—while loudly accusing the other side of cheating—is a given. We just don’t know yet exactly how. Here are five all-too-plausible scenarios. Trigger warning: They may literally make you sick, especially the last one.
Scenario One: He steals it “fair and square.” In other words, he wins like he did in 2016, eking out a 78,000-vote, three-state Electoral College margin (or something along those lines) while losing the popular vote. Except this time, he’s likely to lose the popular vote by more than last time, perhaps far more. Why? Because Joe Biden’s margins are likely to be bigger than Clinton’s were in the large blue states, and Trump’s margins are likely to be smaller in the big red states like Texas and Georgia. So he could lose the popular vote by five or six million this time instead of the 2.8 million of last time.
The result would not, strictly speaking, be “cheating,” since these are the effed-up rules of our democracy, though there would still be the usual, run-of-the-mill cheating he’d do during the election—colluding with Russia, blocking vote-by-mail, doing the kinds of things the Times article suggested he’d do to put a few of his short, vulgar fingers on the scale. So there’d be plenty of cheating done on the way.
Scenario Two: The Florida felon option. Remember how Floridians voted nearly 2-to-1 in 2018 to allow felons who’d served their time to vote, with even a majority of Republicans agreeing? Then remember how the Florida legislature passed a law in 2019 saying felons had to pay all costs and arrears before they could vote?
Fortunately, the latest news seems to be that a federal judge is leaning toward siding with the voters over the legislature. But the right-wingers are going to fight this tooth and nail. I have no idea what they’ll come up with, but imagine a scenario, say, where Biden narrowly wins Florida, the Trump campaign declares fraud and demands a recount, the governor agrees, the courts agree, and lo and behold just enough ex-felon votes are invalidated to flip the result. If you think that sounds too outlandish, all I can tell you is that you’re not paying attention.
Scenario Three: The Supreme Court steals it. The Florida scenario is one of several that could involve the Supreme Court handing Trump a second term. The sickest and most shameless SCOTUS scenario would involve the following. Remember how in Bush v. Gore the five conservative justices in essence ruled against states’ rights, that supposedly time-honored conservative principle? That is, Florida wanted to recount the votes, but the court—in an unsigned decision that they insisted did not set precedent—overruled the state.
Well, this time, they might do the exact opposite! In other words, let’s say Trump ekes out a really narrow win in a red state, Arizona perhaps, and it is that win that put him over the top, and there are questions about the validity of the tally such that some people are demanding a recount, but the state says no. It goes all the way up to the Supreme Court, and the court rules 5-4 with Arizona because hey, states’ rights! Again, if you think this is outlandish…
Scenario Four: The faithless elector possibility. Team Trump has already teed this one up, and I’ll actually be surprised if we don’t see this happen to some extent. As you know, even though we cast votes for presidential candidates, the president is officially elected by the states’ electors when they meet in December. In any Republican-controlled states that Biden may win, the state can simply appoint electors who might refuse to vote for Biden. Of course the Democrats could do the same, but come on, which side do you think is more likely to do this?The Supreme Court is expected to hand down a decision next month on whether electors have to vote for the candidate who won their state. Wanna bet it’s 5-4, with the conservatives saying electors can do as they please?
Scenario Five: The House of Representatives steals it. This is the mother of all nightmare scenarios, one I’m really not sure this county would survive.
Imagine, first, an Electoral College tie, 269-269. Yes, it can happen. Under the 12th Amendment, a tie goes to the House, which votes for the next president. Easy-peasy, right? The Democrats control the House, so President Biden, your day has come.
Not so fast. First of all, it’s not the current Congress that votes, it’s the next one, the one the nation will elect on Nov. 3 (yes, I’m correct about this). OK, but that Congress is still likely to be Democratic, so what’s the problem? Here’s the problem. The 435 members of the House don’t vote as individuals. They vote as state delegations, each delegation getting one vote. That’s right. So for this vote, Lynne Cheney (Wyoming’s lone legislator) will have a voting power equal to that of the 45 California Democrats (and seven Republicans). Let that sink in. Cheney’s vote on this matter would carry more than 50 times the weight of Nancy Pelosi’s.
It is completely insane. Why is it this way? It was a compromise designed to placate—you guessed it—states’ rights advocates, who feared the big states would push the small states around but who won so many arguments that it’s actually the small states that push the big ones around (see United States Senate).
So who controls state delegations? Right now, the Republicans do, 26-25 (the District of Columbia counts here). But as I said, it would be the next Congress that would vote. So Democrats would need to flip one state, and of course hold all the seats in states where they have majorities now. Democrats are up one seat in Pennsylvania, 9-8. Republicans are up one in Florida, 14-13. In Michigan, it’s Democrats by 7-6-1, the one being Justin Amash. How would he vote, assuming he’s re-elected?
But if Democrats can’t flip a state delegation, then the 26-25 Republican edge will hold. So picture it. Trump has lost the popular vote by five million. Through rampant voter suppression and other dirty tricks like those mentioned in that Times piece, he manages to finagle an Electoral College tie. Then it goes to the House, where this nutso scheme they came up with in 1803 when state population differentials weren’t anywhere near what they are today is used to hand Trump re-election. And to really rub salt in the wound, under the terms of the 19th century law that still governs this process, presiding over all this would be a smirking Mike Pence.
We. Are. So. Screwed.