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A Crisis after the US Elections?

A Crisis after the US Elections?

Wednesday, 9 September, 2020 - 07:15
Robert Ford
Robert Ford is a former US ambassador to Syria and Algeria and a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute for Near East Policy in Washington

The American presidential elections on Tuesday, November 3 are 55 days away and it is possible still for either Donald Trump or Joseph Biden to win. The election is actually 50 elections at the state level, and opinion polls in key states such as Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina and Florida indicate the popularity of the two candidates is very close.


Last week President Trump urged told his supporters to send their ballots by mail and then vote again at the polling stations on November 3. The North Carolina state government responded that voting twice in one election is a serious crime, but Trump said mail voting suffers from serious fraud, and his supporters should test the reliability of the mail voting system. If the system is strong, his supporters who vote by mail will not be allowed to vote again at the polling stations. State election officials emphasize that they have the needed controls to stop fraud in the election.


In the previous presidential elections, the final results arrived late on election day or the next morning, Wednesday. If Trump or Biden wins by a big margin in all the key states at the polling stations on November 3, we will know the result Wednesday morning. However, it is more likely that the initial results from polling stations will not be a big victory for either candidate. Votes for Trump and Biden with mail ballots could decide the election in many states.


This year, because of the coronavirus, millions of Americans are reluctant to wait in long lines at the polling stations and so they will vote by mail. As an example, in the state with the biggest population, California, mail ballots in the 2020 primary election mail ballots were 72 percent of the total. In the crucial state of Florida, mail ballots were 80 percent of the total votes in the primary elections this year. And counting all the mail ballots after November 3 will take weeks.


According to opinion polls, the proportion of Democratic Party voters who will vote by mail is bigger than the proportion of Republican Party voters. This means that the night of the election, the results from the polling stations likely will show a bigger proportion of the votes go to President Trump before the mail ballot results and all those additional Democratic votes begin to appear. In addition, votes in rural areas are counted and reported to state government election headquarters before results from cities with large populations. The Republican Party’s base is in rural areas. Trump maybe will have a lead in the results Tuesday night and Wednesday before his lead begins to diminish in the next days as results from Democratic mail ballots from the cities begin to arrive.


Former Democratic Party candidate for president Senator Bernie Sanders and the national politics writer David Brooks last week both raised the possibility that Trump will declare victory quickly after the election while he still has the lead before all votes are counted and reported.


Trump surely will emphasize the accusation of fraud with mail ballots. In elections in important states where mailed ballots change the results, Trump will pursue lawsuits in the courts to reject the mail ballots. It is not difficult to imagine that militias who back Trump will descend to the streets too. At the same time, the Democratic Party could also use the courts.


Our national postal agency is delivering mail more slowly after the agency appointed a new director from the Republican Party. The agency last month warned 46 states that mailed ballots may arrive too late to be counted. Moreover, many states have reduced the number of voting centers in communities where Democratic Party supporters live, forcing those voters to stand in longer lines if they don’t vote by mail.


In 2000 George W Bush was finally announced the winner against Al Gore after five weeks of court cases about the legitimacy of a few thousand votes in Florida. America survived. Bill Clinton in 2000 was finishing his term and stayed away from the Florida court cases. In 2020 Trump will try to intervene and pressure. In 2000 we only had the court case in Florida. In 2020 we could have court cases in many states and each state’s result will be vital to knowing the final presidential election result. And in 2000 there was little risk of violence but in 2020 we may see protest marches and deployment of militias from the right and the left.


I hope I am wrong, but we should expect America to suffer from paralysis and terrible political division for weeks and perhaps months after November 3.


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