I think that every four years we hear some variation of the phrase “this election is the most critical election in our time” or “this election is for the soul of the country”.
I have lived through the tumultuous riots and protests of the 60s and 70s. I remember the impact of the establishment of OPEC and the subsequent rampant inflation. Viet Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan, 9/11, Cuba, etc. etc.
Us, Boomers thought we’d seen it all and survived it with our bruises, scabs, and scars proudly on display. I looked at the Presidential competitions I’ve witnessed and saw huge contrasts in the past. Who can forget the acrimonious Goldwater/Johnson campaign of the mid 60s? Bush/Dukakis on the 80s?
What kept these and others from being cataclysmic was the veneer, or at least the hope, that each participant had the best interests of this country and the world at heart. Of course almost no one runs for President of this country unless that person has a huge ego as well as the backing of too many groups pushing their own self-interest.
In our time, we have come from our divisions being largely behind closed doors and often healed after events passed to an acrimony that is public, personal, unforgiving, and seemingly never ending.
That brings me to my apprehension about the upcoming election. We have had elections during each and every crisis this country has faced. From our civil war, through two world wars and various smaller conflicts. Through scandals, and with characters of both virtue and criminality. Through depressions and inflations and through epidemics. Historically we, and most other democracies in the world, have seen it all in one form or another. However, I think this year finds us facing yet another number of crises current and speculative that are unique and have the potential for unprecedented chaos.
First, let me look at some of the current obstacles to a peaceful and efficient election. The biggest, in my estimation, obstacle is that of how to get the physical polling stations open and staffed. During the recent primaries, there were a number of states that had to close down polling places because of the lack of workers who were staying home to avoid infection from Covid19. The result was often long lines and an unknown number of voters electing not to go to the polls and stand in the lines. The lack of volunteers to staff polling places and count absentee and mail in ballots will be a recurring problem in November. Add to that, we have the logistics of verifying and then tabulating the authenticity of mail in ballots that seems complex. What postmark is required for a ballot to be valid? What arrival date of the ballot is valid? What if the post office does not use a dated postmark? What if there is some post office delay in the ballots getting to the district? Given the current climate of unrest in many cities, does asking the National Guard or the active duty military to staff stations create a climate of intimidation?
Speculatively, we have the problem of how media will cover the events of the day. With the possibility of a significant number of mail in and absentee ballots, can media even talk about the results on the evening of November 3rd? (great summary by the New Your Times of this question). After election results are reported, how will the media respond? Certainly there is no doubt about some (most?) of the outlets having a bias that could well influence their coverage and inflame their viewership.
Then we come to problem of how long does any state wait to certify the results of their own state’s election? What if they certify the results narrowly in favor of one candidate and subsequent ballots arrive giving his or her opponent the majority? Trump has already said that mail in results could take “months or years” to tabulate.
Then of course we have the phenomena of an incumbent President seemingly doing everything he can to cast doubts on the results of our election, even floating the idea of delaying the election “With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???. “ July 30, 2020. What will be his reaction should he lose both the popular and electoral votes?
Thinking of post-election behavior-What will be the reaction of the supporters of either candidate to a loss? What if the loss were in the Electoral College while carrying the popular vote? Would either side start violent protests? What if either party sued for results to be overturned because of some of the legal problems with a key state having a legislature of different party than a governor? And finally, what if Trump loses and refuses to accept the result? What role congress? What role he Supreme Court?